5 Fartlek workouts you need to know about

By: Pat Riley

This Swedish word for “Speed Play” is a terrific workout that will give you big gains in your fitness while making your friends laugh when telling them about your workout. There are many ways to do a fartlek and you can play with your speed, strength, or effort anytime that you are working out (Outside or inside).


1. The Traditional

One of the first fartlek’s that I did when I  was younger was a tough a 5 warm-up, 3 on, 1 off (times 5-6) with a 5 minute warm-down. This is a great workout to do early in the season when you are building your base and strength. Easy to remember as well!

  • 5 Minute Warm-up
  • 3 Minutes on with 1 minute recovery Repeat x 6
  • 5 Minute Warm-down


2. The Cutdown

This workout is designed to teach your legs to run faster when they are tired. While the end of the workout looks like it is easier, believe me, if you do it right, your body and legs will feel a joyous pain you have not encountered before.

Before you plan the workout, you need to decide how many sets you will do. In this example, we will do 4 sets.

Remember that while each set lowers in time, your turnover should increase. This teaches your legs to run faster when they are tired.

  • 7-8 Minute Warm-up
  • 4 x 2 Minutes on – 90 seconds off
  • 4 x 90 seconds on – 1 minute off
  • 4 x 1 minute on - 45 seconds off
  • 4 x 30 seconds on – 15 seconds off (CRAZY HARD)
  • 7-8 minute warm-down


3. The Beginner

This workout is designed to help the beginner runner and is super easy to implement. More experienced runners can use this to break-up a long run.

  • 5 Minute Warmup
  • Every 5 Minutes, put a 1 minute surge in.
  • At 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. minutes, you will surge for 1 minute, then run the next 4 minutes at steady pace.
  • 5 Minute Warm-down


4. The Burcham

I used this workout every week when I coached Jacob Burcham. It helped him become one of the fastest milers in the country, while still in middle school (4:23 PR in 8th Grade). While this isn’t a typical fartlek, the speed play is still there.

The goal of this workout is to teach your legs how to handle and push through lactic acid buildup. This will also make your kick much stronger and faster. You can do this with repeats of any size (400s, 800s, mile repeats).

The main goal of this workout is to build lactic acid through repeats 1 and 2, spike it in repeat 3, and then push through the lactic acid in repeat 4. Repeat 4 is the most important as that is when the real improvements happen. The goal is to remain strong (Same pace as repeats 1 and 2) while learning to deal with the fatigue.

We did the repeats in sets of 4 (With 60-90 seconds rest between each repeat)

  • Repeat 1 – Build Lactic Acid (Pace will differ so set yours accordingly)
  • Repeat 2 – Continue to Build Lactic Acid (Same Pace as Repeat 1)
  • Repeat 3 – SPIKE Lactic Acid (We called this ‘The Hammer’ – Go at 95% effort)
  • Repeat 4 – (Most Important) Push through Lactic Acid - go back to the pace on repeats 1 and 2

After a set of 4, we would take a BIG 3-4 minute break before doing it again. In middle school, Jake could handle about 3-4 of these with a 10 minute warm-up and warm-down. Please vary for your fitness level.


5. The Float

This is an incredible workout that was first introduced to me by Galen Rupp’s coach, Alberto Salzaar. The goal is to hammer parts of the run, but the easy parts are “floating” till the next fast part. The fast parts should be 90% and the easy parts should be 80%. That is not much difference in effort.

These are best done on a track or measured area.

  • 5 Minute Warm-up
  • 300m on, 100m off, 200m on, 100m off, 100m on, 100m off, 400m off time times 5-6 or more.
  • 5 Minute Warm-down

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