Fartlek Training Explained With Workouts And Expert Tips

Three women running
Fartlek training can liven up your run (Image credit: SolStock / Getty Images)

It might sound like a game invented by a crude children’s television character but Fartlek is actually a highly effective type of training run.

Fartlek is a Swedish word which translates to “speed play” and in essence, it means running at varying levels of effort in one continuous run. For example, you could jog at an easy pace for five minutes before breaking into a fast one-minute surge, then return to an easy jog for a couple more minutes, and then do two minutes at moderate effort.

We spoke to England Athletics coach and former international athlete Lewis Moses to find out how this technique can help runners and how they can incorporate Fartlek training into their routines. He also provided a series of workouts to try.

What are the benefits of Fartlek?

“It gives people the freedom to enjoy their workout without the pressure of having to hit certain splits or distances,” says Moses.

It also helps you keep your heart rate elevated throughout a session, enabling you to build endurance while hitting speeds that are usually higher than your threshold pace. “You get multiple benefits from the same session,” says Moses.

It is also an effective way of judging your pacing better and learning how to speed up and when to slow down, particularly for longer runs on trails with variable terrain.

“Inexperienced runners will often go out too fast on Fartlek sessions and then they struggle to finish the session or they slow down or walk. It trains you to manage your pace better—slow down in the first half so you can finish strong—and get into good habits so you are more likely to execute a better race plan,” says Moses.

How is it different from interval training?

Fartleks are similar to interval running sessions because there is speed work involved, but they can be less structured and often involve continuous running rather than resting breaks.

“A lot of interval sessions are structured in a way that they have a certain rep time or rep distance, and then you have a set recovery time within that,” says Moses.

An interval session on a running track could be 400m hard efforts, with a two minute rest in between, repeated six times.

“With a Fartlek run, the fun thing is that you have the license to play around with it,” says Moses. “That’s why I really like it as a concept for training. There is some element of repetition, but you can play around with the speed, terrain and recovery time and you are not aiming to put in the same effort with every repetition.”

Often the recovery periods during Fartlek training will be at an easy pace rather than standing still, known as active recovery. So even if you have run a hard rep you will keep running once it is complete, just at a much lower intensity.

“Interval sessions tend to have a lot more passive recovery, where people stand around letting their heart rate drop back down, whereas with a Fartlek you get that nice aerobic stimulus from that continuous effort,” says Moses.

How often should I do Fartlek training?

If you’re entirely new to running, don’t start with Fartlek. Begin with a couch to 5K plan and then, once you have an aerobic base from running regularly, start to mix up your training.

Fartlek can be incorporated into a running training plan as a high-intensity session every two to three weeks, assuming there are hill sprints and interval sessions in the program as well.

“For recreational runners, I’d look to get a Fartlek, an interval or a tempo type session into a plan at least once a week once they have built a base, and are comfortable and confident with doing the session,” says Moses. “But you shouldn’t be trying to do all these types of sessions in seven days.”

It’s also important not to make the session too long or too intense. If you are used to running continuously for 40 minutes then a Fartlek session should be no longer than this, including a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute warm-down.

“Look at the volume you’ve been doing and then try to piece together a Fartlek that has a similar amount of volume, aiming to progress that over time,” says Moses.

But the most important thing, he says, is to have fun with it. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a really good way to mix up your training as, let’s be honest, sometimes continuous running is quite boring. And people running on a treadmill also benefit from doing Fartleks because it makes the time go quicker.”

Fartlek Workouts

Sessions can be unstructured or structured. An example of an unstructured Fartlek could be running between lampposts mixing up the pace or effort when you pass each one. For example easy, hard, easy, easy, moderate, hard, easy. 

Or you could speed up and then slow down while doing laps of your local park. Another option is to run a loop near your home and try to set a PR on three or four of the local Strava segments.

Meanwhile structured sessions may include more repetitions or a recognisable pattern. Here are some examples.


This can be run continuously, starting with a warm-up at an easy pace for 10 minutes. 

  • 1min hard effort (8/10)
  • 2min moderate to hard effort (7/10)
  • 3min moderate effort (6/10)
  • 4min moderate to easy effort (5/10)
  • 3min moderate effort (6/10)
  • 2min moderate to hard effort (7/10)
  • 1min hard effort (8/10)

Warm down for 10 minutes at easy pace.

The pyramid can also be run with recoveries between each rep, which could be a minute between each one, or a half rep recovery. This would be two minutes after a four-minute rep, 90 seconds after a three-minute rep and so on.

3 minute / 1 minute

Warm up at an easy pace for 10 minutes. 

Repeat the following two or three times, according to your ability.

  • 3min at 10K pace
  • 90sec easy pace
  • 1min 5K pace
  • 2min easy pace

Warm down for 10 minutes at easy pace.

4 minute / 2 minute

Warm up at an easy pace for 10 minutes.

Repeat the following three or four times, according to your ability.

  • 4min moderate effort
  • 2min easy effort

Warm down for 10 minutes at an easy pace.

About Our Expert

Lewis Moses
Lewis Moses

Lewis Moses is former UK indoor 1,500m champion and Team GB athlete. He now works as a race commentator for RunThroughUK, Brighton Marathon and Trail Pursuit. He is also a England Athletics qualified coach and founder of New Levels Coaching.

Lily Canter

Lily Canter has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and currently specializes in running and fitness. She regularly contributes to Coach as well as Runner’s World, Well+Good, Fit&Well and Live Science. Lily is a UK Athletics running coach, the founder of the Great Bowden Runners club and a participant in multi-day ultra races. Her biggest racing achievement to date is placing second at the Ultra Challenge 100km in the Lake District. She has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Print Journalism and a PhD in Journalism Studies. She is also co-host of the award-winning podcast Freelancing For Journalists and teaches feature writing, podcasting and freelancing to university students.