Workout of the Week: The Basic Fartlek

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This funny sounding speed session can be the key to reaching your next personal best. 

Need a fun, effective workout you can do virtually anywhere? Look no further than the basic fartlek. Here’s what it is, why you do it and how to make it work for you:

What: Fartlek—Swedish for “speed play”—refers to a series of faster-paced pickups during a run with a recovery interval in between. The length and speed of the pickups and recovery intervals can be dictated by the kind of training you need or how you feel that day. Fartleks can be done on roads, trails, track or treadmill. (It’s a great way to get out of a training rut too.)

Why: Shorter, faster pickups under a minute in duration will help you to improve your speed while longer intervals—up to 5 minutes long—are a good way to practice running your race pace. A mix of short, fast running and longer, steady segments will work your anaerobic system and increase your aerobic capacity, thus improving your ability to cover ground more efficiently.

How: There are a couple ways to do a fartlek workout. “Pure” fartlek, which is inherently unstructured by its very nature, requires nothing more than your imagination. After an easy warm-up jog of 10-15 minutes, find an object off in the near distance—be it a tree, rock or telephone pole—and run to it at a pace that’s a bit faster than your typical easy run pace. Once you reach your destination or start feeling fatigued, jog gently or even walk until you feel recovered, and then repeat the process all the way home. It’s that easy and totally up to you how far or fast you want to go.

The other option is to add some more structure to your fartlek workout by using a watch rather than landmarks. Here’s an example: Following an easy warm-up jog of 10 to 15 minutes, alternate running 30 seconds at fast (while holding good form) with 30 seconds of easy jogging. Repeat this sequence 5 times. Then alternate running 3 minutes at your 5K race pace with 2 minutes of easy jogging. Repeat this sequence three times. Finish the workout with 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging to cool down.

RELATED: The Halftime Fartlek

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