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Cardio Fitness

Fartlek vs. Interval Training: What’s the Difference? 

When it comes to fartlek vs interval training, what’s the difference? Find the answer to this question and more here in our latest blog.

Published: 1/28/21

Fartlek vs. Interval Training: What’s the Difference? 

The fitness world is chock-full of change. With the exponentially growing field of kinesiology, our understanding of how our bodies work and how we can improve them expands every day. 

Having so many directions in which to take our health, not to mention the ability to research all of these directions online, is a wonderful privilege in and of itself. 

That being said, trying to figure out what each and every training technique can do for you can be an incredible challenge, so we’re here to try to make it a little easier for you. In this case, we’re going to cover two big words in the world of fitness: fartlek vs interval training.

What is Traditional Interval Training?

Interval training has exploded in popularity since it came to the forefront of fitness around 2014, and for a good reason. This fitness training style, characterized by bouts of extreme energy separated by periods of rest and/or relief, is extremely adaptable and doesn’t take up too much time—not to mention the fact that it’s an extremely effective way to get your body working and to find improvements in athletic performance across the board. 

You can apply dozens of movements to interval training—from strength training with weights to jumping rope to running. It gives you a well-rounded approach to working out. Interval training is known for being extremely time-efficient, burning tons of calories, and increasing speed and endurance (regardless of the type of exercise you choose to apply it to). 

What is a Fartlek Workout? 

Fartlek training is an approach to running. It was invented in Sweden in the 1930s to help the country’s long-distance running team that was losing to the Finnish team; the word “fartlek” actually translates to “speed play” because it is characterized by changing speed. 

The whole premise of fartlek training is going out for a run at a marathon pace, choosing a natural landmark—be it a tree, building, street, light post, or absolutely anything else that catches your eye—and picking it up to a quicker pace until you reach that landmark. Once you reach it, you revert to the slower pace until a new landmark catches your eye. 

The most incredible thing about fartlek training is its universal application.

Are you brand new to running? Great, you can start at a walking pace and jog to a landmark that inspires you. You can do the same with music; pick up the pace when the music does if it feels right. 

Are you on the path to a marathon? Even better. In fartlek training, you can quicken your slower pace over time to improve speed, or you can shorten those slower periods to increase endurance. If you do both, you’re bound to take your running to the next level. 

Fartlek vs. Interval Training

You may have noticed by now that fartlek training is actually a type of interval training! Swedish coach Gösta Holmér developed fartlek around the same time Gerschler and Reindel developed the original idea of interval training. 

An easy way to consider these modes of fitness training is that all fartlek training is interval training, but not all interval training is fartlek training. 

Interval training is an efficient, powerful method of improving strength and endurance and fartlek training is a natural approach to interval workouts. Instead of setting paces based on a stopwatch, fartlek training is all about using the natural world around you to decide when you’re going to pick up your speed as you go.

It’s intuitive, effective, and can bring some fun and spontaneity to your run!

What does Fartlek Training Look Like?

As we said before, interval training is any workout characterized by fast bouts of intense exertion. You can apply it to calisthenics, weight lifting, hiking, running, you name it. Sometimes it’s regimented (strictly timed interval training is a common approach to improving running performance), and others, as in the case of fartlek, it’s more fluid.

So now you might be wondering, what do fartlek running sessions look like?

It’s very simple. After a warm-up, you’re going to start at a marathon pace, pick a landmark ahead of you, and switch to a 5k pace to make it there, then return to that marathon pace until you choose another landmark. 

If you don’t know the difference between a marathon pace and a 5k pace, pick one speed that you could sustain for a long time and another speed that you could sustain for shorter distances (but still a little while). If you have tried Team Training, these would be your Cruise and More paces. You’ll naturally know which landmarks stand out, and it doesn’t matter how far away it is. It could be a building, a tree, a bench, another runner, or a street, and some of them can be a dozen yards away while others a football field away. 

Fartlek is an excellent introduction to running as well as an excellent way to improve speed and endurance while taking the pressure off to have a “perfect run.” All you need is a pair of shoes and an attitude that has you prepared to be inspired. If you would like to begin running, we have treadmills at all of our locations. You can also join in on running workouts via our virtual fitness platform iChuze Fitness—give it a try today!