How to Avoid Injuries with Fartlek Workouts

Athletes have one dream in common: to enjoy a long, injury-free career, But honestly, being free from injury is a long shot. You’ll need two things to make it happen: a bit of luck and a lot of discipline.

‍There’s a type of running exercise that helps minimize your risk of injury. Its name: fartlek workouts.

Fartlek is a Swedish word that means “speed play.” It’s speed interval training that improves your endurance and speed without catching a running injury. 

Unlike most endurance runs done at a single pace, Fartlek lets you run continuously at different speeds. It has been a staple workout for Olympic athletes since 1930.

More Than Just Another Run

Fartlek training is effective for speed and endurance conditioning. But more than that, fitness experts commend it for injury prevention.

Laura Norris, a certified running coach, noted that shifting quickly from easy to hard tracks could increase the risk of injury. Fartlek training can prevent this by helping you gradually adapt to faster running.

Here are more benefits of Fartlek training:

  1. It sharpens your mind over matter mentality. Fartlek trains your willpower. The more you incorporate speed variation into your training, the more your mind resists giving up. 
  2. It gets you into the racing mindset. Fartlek lets you gauge how much you can push your body while reserving enough energy to complete a race.
  3. Burn, calories, burn. Fartlek is more efficient than normal running because you burn a lot without spending more time.
  4. It’s highly adaptable to common sports. Sports like soccer and tennis demand you to shift intensity all the time. Structure your fartlek workouts to mimic these sports so you won’t get worn out easily during the actual game.
  5. Your run, your way. Fartlek doesn’t have any limits. You can choose to complete it on your own or with a buddy. Is there anything more fun than that?

Variety is the spice of life

And the same applies to Fartlek workouts! Whatever combination of time, distance and pace all depend on what you feel like. The possibilities are endless.

Just to give you a rough guide, here are some Fartlek exercises you can explore during your next workout:

  • Unstructured Fartlek

The key to Fartlek exercises is to listen to your body and engage with your surroundings. 

Here’s an example of how to do this:

  1. Choose a landmark along your favorite running route. It could be anything; a fire hydrant, a billboard or a unique-looking tree. 
  2. Do a 10 to 15-minute warm-up. 
  3. Increase your speed to a hard pace (about 75% of your maximum heart rate). Your breathing should make it hard for you to have a conversation, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air. 
  4. As soon as you reach your landmark, slow down until you’re breathing normally again. 
  5. Build up your speed at a steady running pace.
  6. Repeat until you’re able to run at a comfortably hard pace between four to six times.
  7. Do a cooldown run for 10 to 15 minutes.

Another option is to go with the “music version” of unstructured Fartlek workouts. It’s the perfect template for you to increase or decrease your speed. 

For example, you can choose to speed up during the chorus and take it easy during other parts of a song. 

  • Structured Fartlek

Here’s something for those who prefer more structure and routine. Structured Fartleks are timed, meaning that repetition is based on time instead of distance, like this:

  1. Start with a 10 to 15-minute warm-up at an easy pace.
  2. Run for 1 minute at a fast pace.
  3. Run for 2 minutes at an easy pace.
  4. Rest for 1 minute.
  5. Repeat for three to four sets.
  6. Cool down by jogging for 10 minutes.

Another example of a structured fartlek is the pyramid fartlek: 

  1. Warm-up.
  2. Run hard or sprint for 1 minute.
  3. Jog or run easy for 2 minutes.
  4. Run hard again for 3 minutes.
  5. Run easy for 2 minutes.
  6. Run hard for 1 minute.
  7. Do a 10- to 15-minute cooldown run at a steady pace.

You can also follow the 2-3-4-4-3-2 structure.

  1. Warm-up.
  2. Run hard for 2 minutes.
  3. Jog for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  4. Run hard for 3 minutes.
  5. Jog for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  6. Run hard for 4 minutes.
  7. Run hard for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  8. Run hard for 4 minutes.
  9. Run easy for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  10. Run hard for 3 minutes.
  11. Jog for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
  12. Run hard for 2 minutes.
  13. Do a 10- to 15-minute cooldown run at a steady pace.
  • Inclined Fartleks

This Fartlek routine can improve your leg strength, endurance, and speed. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Run up the hill as fast as you can.
  2. Once you reach the summit, run downhill at a slow, relaxed pace.
  3. Repeat if you prefer, or move to another variation. 
  • Indoor Fartleks

For a structured indoor Fartlek, follow this workout popularised by Mike Simon, a certified coach and trainer.

  1. Do a 5-minute warm-up. Your treadmill should be at a 7% incline and set at 3.5mph.
  2. Run for one mile at 1% incline and 6mph.
  3. Decrease the settings to 5mph for 3 minutes and at 1% incline.
  4. Increase your speed to 6.8mph for thirty seconds and at 1% incline.
  5. Decrease your speed again to 5mph for 3 minutes at a 1% incline.
  6. Keep alternating between 6.8mph for thirty seconds and 5mph for 3 minutes at a 1% incline for 25 minutes.
  7. Run for 1 mile at 6mph at a 1% incline.
  8. Do a cooldown jog at 3.5mph between 5% to 7% incline.

Switch up your pace to prevent injury

Running doesn’t have to be boring, and the same applies to preventing injury. Fartlek teaches us how to gain a lot by trying something new, adding challenges to the mix, and having fun while we’re at it. 

A piece of advice, though: consult your doctor or fitness coach first before engaging in any workouts. You don’t need to jump onto the bandwagon blind. It’s still best to take care of yourself early on.

How do you keep yourself fit and injury-free? Share your workout tips in the comment section below.

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