Fartlek, which translates as speed game, emerged in Sweden in the 1930s. This concept was implemented by the head coach of the Swedish Olympic team, Gösta Holmer, in his quest to improve the endurance of athletes.
Being an activity related to running training, its purpose is to play with speed in a natural way, putting time and heart rate control in the background
Inaddition to its sporting aspect, fartlek provides physical and psychological benefits. However, it is necessary to have expert guidance on its practice, especially if you are a beginner. Therefore, you should pay close attention to what this training routine involves, its benefits and recommendations to avoid negative consequences when practicing it, as you will see in this article.
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What is fartlek training?
Fartlek is a training system that allows you to improve endurance, cardiovascular system, anaerobic capacity and aerobic power in a single session. It consists of making changes of pace on different gradients, alternating randomly, and without resting until the exercise is completed. With fartlek, different muscle groups are used and coordination is improved.
The basic idea of this training is to increase and decrease the speed in free running. However, the intensity and duration are not planned, but rather adapted to the running terrain and can be alternated according to the runner. In some variants of Fartlek training, elevation changes are included in the terrain
In its original concept, the fartlek is performed on natural terrain, with different slopes and obstacles, leaving the athlete to determine on the fly the work to be done. Whereas, in the Polish fartlek variant, the sections of different paces are determined by the distances to be covered
Types of fartlek training
Basically, there are four ways of performing fartlek: by time, by distance, by terrain and by heart rate, which have the following objectives:
- Fartlek by time. With this mode, the most common, the aim is to maintain the anaerobic threshold for as long as possible. You run 2 minutes of fast running and 1 minute of slow running to recover. Another example: 5 minutes of medium intensity (50%), 3 minutes of gentle jogging at 40% intensity, and so on.
- Fartlek by distance. This training consists of dividing the intensity according to the distances. It is usually done in 400 meters at fast speed and 200 meters at slow speed, without stopping. Another modality is, in an uneven terrain, to test the ascent at maximum speed and the slow descent
- Fartlek by terrain. This is practiced with controlled descents and explosive ascents on uneven terrain. It is usually chosen a route with long and short slopes, with different degrees of inclination, with this it is possible to combine intensities, depending on the terrain.
- Fartlek by heart rate. This consists of running gently until the heart rate drops below 145 beats and increasing the pace until it reaches 180 beats, wearing a heart rate monitor on the wrist to check the heart rate.
Benefits of fartlek training
This type of training provides multiple benefits to the body. Among the most important are the following:
- It accustoms the body to changes of pace. It can enhance the athlete’s ability to make changes of pace with less energy expenditure, also gets used to breathe in these conditions. This affects the oxygenation of the muscles and also their performance
- It helps burn calories. As it is a high intensity exercise, it promotes the burning of calories during the workout, and even after finishing it. This contributes to weight loss.
- It benefits in a psychological sense. The fartlek has a direct impact on the psychological aspect of the runner, since overcoming limits will help increase endorphin and serotonin levels, which will result in a substantial improvement in self-esteem.
- It improves the capacity of the lower extremities. Fartlek strengthens the tone of the lower body and at the same time contributes to the development of muscle power.
How to practice fartlek?
Fartlek is both demanding and fun, and even more so when done in a group. In this case, running becomes a game of speed changes, where no one wants to be left behind
In this type of training, the heart rate should be between 130 and 180 beats per minute. For a medium endurance workout, it is usual to work between 40 and 60 minutes.
The volume of work should not be excessive; quality is privileged over quantity. The purpose is to perform specific times or distances in which the pace is varied and the intensity is increased
An example of a fartlek session lasting sixty minutes is as follows:
- 10 to 15 minutes of slow jogging as a warm-up.
- 5 to 10 minutes of jumping and traction exercises, depending on the characteristics of the terrain.
- Running at a fast pace for approximately 5 minutes.
- Walk for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Perform another interval of fast running for about 5 minutes.
- Run for about 10 minutes, introducing five sprints of about 100 meters each.
- Perform a hill at maximum speed.
- Jog for 10 minutes to finish the training session.
Contraindications of Fartlek
As with any workout, warm-up is key to avoid injury. But particularly with this method it is important not to make changes of pace if the body is not prepared, as it must adapt progressively.
Fartlek training also has its contraindications:
- Not suitable for those recovering from injuries. When you are recovering from an injury, you cannot use this system, unless a physiotherapist or a sports doctor advises and supervises you.
- It should be avoided by those with cardiovascular problems. For people with cardiovascular problems this method is not advisable, because it often reaches 160 or 180 beats per minute; it is also not suitable for hypotensive people, as it reduces blood pressure
Fartlek, born in Sweden and practiced in many parts of the world, is a fun and beneficial workout, as long as it is practiced with the assistance of a sports health professional.