The Sweetness of Short, High Intensity Training

The Fartlek, a Snapshot in Time

Fart-what? Fartlek. Talk about a fun, catchy word that offers a smile to runners in the face of interval training. If you’ve not yet heard of fartlek training, it was a term first introduced to distance running in the 1920s by Swede Gosta Holmer. Fartlek, literally translates to speed-play – “fart”, which means speed and “lek” means play. The term, interval training was attributed to German coach Waldemer Gershler in the 1930s. Influenced by the work of physiologist Hans Reindel, Gershler practiced alternating periods of hard work and recovery as a way to improve cardiovascular adaptation. Both he and Reindel agreed the recovery within the interval proved vital to the training effect. Gosta was onto something with fartlek interval training.

The Sweetness of Short, High Intensity Training

Fartlek intervals consist of unstructured intensity variables that blend steady state aerobic zone 1-2 training with interval training in the zone 3-5a intensity. Interval workouts include intermittent periods of recovery and various distances (e.g. from a car to a lamppost, a street corner to another particular street block or a driveway to a field of trees – you chose). Intervals are typically short in duration and high in intensity – it’s just the right combination of intensity to recovery that keeps runners feeling successfully challenged -- wanting a little more, and feeling like a champ. That’s what I call the “sweetness” of high intensity training (also known as HIIT).

Do You Fartlek?

When was the last time you ran fartleks? Maybe you’re new to running and have never heard of the term, are a seasoned runner and are making a return to running or perhaps you’re in the midst of your season and simply need a workout that will shake things up a bit. Regardless of run experience, fartleks can be practiced by anyone. They are an ideal way for a runner to practice pacing. The value of running fartlek intervals is that it teaches the runner to stay within their ability by recognizing when the effort is above their means. Fartleks make runners push themselves harder than they normally would and teaches them to recognize at what point they can pour a little more effort on or when they need to back off – an excellent way to simulate racing.


Grab your Mio heart rate monitor watch or wristband and let’s go! Use your RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to guide your intensity. Heart rate and pace should also be monitored but keep in mind that your heart rate will lag behind in shorter duration segments (this is because your heart rate simply doesn’t speed up / catch up immediately when you begin your high intensity portion / sprint of the fartlek).

Check out my fun, challenging fartlek running workout!

Do you have any questions about fartlek training or about running in general? Let me know in the comments section – I’d love to hear from you!

By Dorette Franks, founder of Fueling 4 Life and co-owner of Trifiniti Endurance. Dorette offers individual, group, and corporate fitness and nutrition wellness coaching to those seeking nutrition balance, weight loss and athletic performance. Her training plans have been utilized by Nike, The San Francisco Aids Foundation, the Golden Gate Triathlon Club, and has received accolades in SHAPERunners World, and Women’s Health magazines.



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