Global Running Day is a worldwide celebration to encourage us all to get out and moving. Thousands of people in over 100 countries got involved last year, and this year’s turnout is looking to be even bigger. Being active has many forms and participation doesn’t have to be marathon distances. From running around the block to taking the dog for a long walk, anything is fair game as long as you’re having fun and encouraging others to do the same.

Running is a popular form of training exercise for many athletes no matter what the sport - whether it be swimming, rugby, or some sort of contact sport.

One form of training that helps with athletes’ performance is known as fartlek training. Today, let’s explore exactly what it is, how it came to be, and the evidence behind its performance benefits.

What is fartlek training?

Fartlek is a Swedish word and simply means “speed play”. The word ‘play’ is what separates fartlek from other types of speed training, including interval and tempo work. With fartlek, there is no strict structure and athletes are encouraged to play with speed as they run.

The training alternates between moderate to hard efforts with gentle efforts in the middle. These intervals have no specific length and are chosen by how you’re feeling at that moment. Get creative; your options are unlimited. You could pick a tree or a sign and sprint to it then follow with easy effort jogging until your heart rate returns to a steady pace.

The history of fartlek

Now a respected and well-known form of training, fartlek was created in the late 1930s by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér. At the time, Sweden was not having much success against their Finnish rivals. They were also struggling for resources and funding for training facilities.

Fartlek was created to be done anywhere and allows the athlete to run whatever distances and speeds they wish and to 'play' by varying intensity.

What are the benefits of fartlek?

If you’re running on your own, fartlek gives you creative control to train as you wish. Training that is free from a watch or a plan can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you’re running in a trail environment. It’s practically stress-free and can revive your love of running that race analysis and time obsession can chip away at.

In a group, fartlek training is a fun way to switch things up as you alternate the leader and mix up the pace. The whole group will enjoy the mental and physical benefits of being pushed along through an unpredictable workout.

All in all, fartlek training has been a popular option for athletes for over seventy years. It boasts a stress-free workout that improves stamina, mental strength, and mind-body awareness. Most importantly, the ‘play’ nature of this training can be a great way to boost motivation and is perhaps a fantastic reminder of why you fell in love with running in the first place. So if you're training for your next match or bout, maybe take inspiration from our Swedish cousins.

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