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Fartlek is one of the best methods for speed training and endurance training for runners. Coming from a Swiss word that means "Speed Play", the Fartlek can be defined as a form of running where the runner varies his speed from normal running pace to a much harder pace, comes back to a cooling down phase and then again increases his pace. Fartlek is very similar to interval training, but the main difference lies in the fact that Fartlek workouts are not structured like interval training. Neither the distances nor the variation in pace are structured, and the runner can follow his or her own discretion for determining interval length, distance or pace.
Since Fartlek is a modified form of interval training, all the benefits that apply to interval training are also applicable to Fartlek. Fartlek training sessions can greatly help in increasing speed and endurance in runners. This is especially useful if you have reached a plateau in your training sessions. While experienced runners who are already into interval training can use Fartlek for increasing their anaerobic threshold and stamina, newbies to the running circuit can use Fartlek for helping their speed training and endurance training and for adding variety to their cardio workout program.
Fartlek scores over interval training in a number of ways. For one, it gives the athlete a chance to be more self aware, to test her limits more and to become a better judge of her own pace. Most coaches advise Fartlek to advanced or experienced runners because it requires a certain level of maturity to determine what pace to push oneself to without cutting back on hard work while also knowing what pace and distance to stop at to avoid injury and risk. The Farlek is also a key component in 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon training programs.
However, Fartlek can also be used by beginners and mid level runners for increasing their pace and endurance over a period of time. The fact that Fartlek can be practiced on the road, in the hills or the park, unlike interval training, which is generally done on tracks makes it easier to incorporate into a cardio workout schedule. Since there are no strict timelines or speeds top follow in Fartlek, these cardio workouts are easier on the runners’ psyche and are therefore more positive.
If you have not done any Fartlek training till now, then you can tailor a small cardio workout for yourself based on the basic principles of Fartlek mentioned above. A beginner’s Fartlek workout can be made up by introducing a few higher speed runs onto your regular running routine. Once you have reached your normal pace, push your pace up and run for approximately 200 meters or 30 seconds (base this interval on your own limits and comfort level), then slow down and jog till your breathing recovers. After this, run at your normal pace for 2-3 minutes and then shift to a higher speed for some time once again. Repeat this for at least 6 to 8 times during the duration of the run.
Incorporating such a Fartlek workout at least twice in your weekly schedule will result in noticeably improved stamina, endurance, anaerobic capacity and speed within a period of four weeks or less. Keep increasing one or more variables—the pace, distance or the times of your high intensity phases in order to keep bettering your speeds on the track.