Fartlek, Tempo or Interval Training – Know The Difference?

Whether you are a beginner runner or you have been running for some time, it is always good to seek for different ways to improve your performance. One of the best training programs to help you drastically improve your performance, such as running speed, or strength endurance, is called interval training.

There are three different interval training workouts, Fartlek, Tempo and Interval Training. So, what is the difference?

  • Fartlek is a Swedish for ‘speed play,’ and it is a creative, less-structured form of interval training. Benefits are improved mental strength and stamina.
  • Tempo is performed at a sustained effort over a predetermined distance. Benefits are improved focus, mental, and race simulation.
  • Interval training is short, intense runs followed by equal recovery time. Benefits are fat burning, endurance, and mind-body training.

Every runner is different, his/her different fitness level, running speed and running experience. So, which one of the three training programs is best for you?

What is Fartlek Workout?

Fartlek workouts are powerful, stress-free workouts and fast ways to spice up your run drills.

Fartlek is an unstructured interval running. Meaning, you can run as hard or easy and do whatever you feel like doing without measuring the time or distance. Usually, fartlek workouts are done on the road or trail. You can make them as easy and as tough, your decision. They can be done by anyone, including newbie runners, at any place. It is more of a mental version of interval training as you do not know how fast you run.

Fartlek runs can be fun yet an effective way of boosting fitness. Intervals are kept relatively short and frequent. You speed up and slow down during your exercise.

Coach Brand Hudson defines the fartlek in his book Coach Hudson’s Little Black Book:

“A fartlek can be used to accomplish just about anything that you would want to get done on the track. There are a lot of ways to raise fitness and get in great workouts, and they don’t all have to happen under the structure of an oval. Many times a fartlek can be used as a general workout, a light workout, or a ‘do-as-you-feel’ workout.”

Time-Based and Random Fartlek

There are two types of fartlek: time-based and random fartlek workouts.

  • A time-based fartlek workout is based on time, rather than distance. An example is 10x 30 seconds hard, 1-minute recovery (jog or walk).
  • A random fartlek is when the repetitions or the recovery is varied and the repetitions can be quite random. An example is run hard until you feel like slowing down. Run easy until you feel like speeding up. Repeat.

Fartlek Benefits

Fartlek runs can be used by a brand new runner or the professional runner. New runners can benefit from these runs because there’s less pressure to complete this kind of workouts. Other benefits are:

– Burn more calories during the drill in a shorter period
– Great to train for a specific result
– It can boost your running speed endurance and mental strength

When to apply Fartlek Workouts?

Fartlek workouts can be used as a bridge between base training and specific training or to help transition the athlete between easy running and hard running. I use fartlek workouts a month before a marathon race to improve my time and endurance.

Fartlek Training Example

You can make fartleks more structured or less structured. It is entirely up to you. You can sprint, go hard, and then run easy. Speed up then slow down. Rinse and repeat until you decide that you had enough. It means alternating fast run with slower running. Here are a few examples:

  • Always do a warm-up first.
  • Then, run to the nearest parking lot at a moderate pace, run to the first tree fast pace, run to the next door building in a relaxed pace, etc. Alternatively:
  • Hard – Medium – Sprint – Slow Run. Run hard for 30 seconds, followed by a jog for 30 seconds, followed by an all-in sprint for 10 seconds, followed by a walk for 30 seconds.
  • Timed fartlek – alternate 2:00 at race pace with 1:00 of ‘jogging’ adjust then number according to fitness.
  • Hill fartlek – get on a hilly trail and jog until you get to a hill, then charge up it at race pace.
  • Freestyle – run for as long as you feel strong and jog until you feel recovered and ready to race pace again.
  • Treadmill. Walk ‘uphill’ at a 5% incline for three minutes. Run at a 4% incline for two minutes, then a 2% incline for one minute, then a 1% incline for 30 seconds. Recover with two minutes walking at 0%. At every round increase speed based on your abilities and fitness levels.

If you are interested in improving your time, Fartlek training is a great workout.

What is Tempo Run Workout?

A tempo run, also called threshold run or a lactate-threshold, LT, is a moderately hard and continuous workout. It can be performed once a week to improve endurance and speed for any race distance, and it can be applied by anyone, regardless of your current fitness.

Tempo runs help more quickly clear out the lactate threshold (the burning feeling you get in your legs when running super fast), and it trains your body to sustain speed over distance.

Tempo runs are 20-30 minutes in length, and they are slightly slower in pace runs than your usual running. However, even though the tempo runs feel relatively comfortable, you should never push the pace as you risk to increase the possibility of injury or burnout.

The idea is not to speed up and exhaust yourself, instead build endurance.

How to Define Your Temp Pace?

The easiest way to find out what is your temp pace is to add around 24 seconds per mile to your 5 K PR. The result is about the speed you would be able to sustain for a full hour of running without a break. When it comes to length, typically, 20-30 minutes is sufficient or around 3 miles if your goal is a 5-K. If however, you are aiming at improving your endurance for a longer run, then your tempo should be also a bit longer.

Tempo Run Benefits

  • It boosts your lactate threshold.
  • It helps improve endurance and ability to run faster for a more extended period.
  • Help increase VO2Max(your body ability to take in oxygen and use it to make energy in the muscle).

Tempo Run Workout

Choose the pace concerning your current fitness level. When I run a tempo run, I usually visit the nearest football field where I run around the field area: fast-jog-fast-slow (two fast and two slow speeds per one round). I repeat this 5-10 times.

The distance of tempo runs vary. I like to start with a shorter distance and work my way up especially when getting ready for a half marathon. When I focus on the half-marathon, I increase my tempo runs to 10-12km. With tempo runs, my steps are lengthy, slower than a sprint and faster than a jog.

Interval Training

If you want to train to run faster, plus you are in good physical condition, such as you can smoothly run more than 30 minutes, than the interval training workout might be an excellent workout choice as it will help you get faster and improve your overall fitness and much more.

Interval training involves running a relatively short distance fast with fixed rest interval, with multiple repetitions. The idea with interval training is to practice at speed faster than you would race at, for small periods of time.

Interval Running Benefits

– Supercharges fat-burning. Helps you lose belly fat
– Improves your metabolism
– Makes you faster
– Tones your legs, glutes, and core
– It increases your muscle power

Running interval training workout

  • Use an interval timer.
  • Warm up then run for 20 seconds at a hard pace. How hard? On a scale of one to ten, make it 8. Next jog or walk for 60 seconds. Repeat 5-6 times. Finish with a few minutes cooldown.
  • If you plan to improve the speed, then this workout might be better for you. Warm up and then run for 30 seconds as much as you can. Take 2-3 minutes more active recovery and repeat 5-6 times. Finish with a few minutes cool-down.
  • Keep the intervals short.

Please note, the recovery period will vary from person to person depending on fitness level.

Running continuously at a steady pace will only make you good at running steadily. However, alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery period increases fitness and burns more calories over a short period than a steady workout. With interval workouts, you can improve your running speed tremendously.

All the above workouts are great to boost your fitness, improve the speed and endurance. Just remember, choose the exercise based on your current fitness and avoid doing too much too soon.

And if you are a beginner, interval training workouts might feel super hard. So, if that is the case with you, spend a few months building your stamina before adding interval training to your weekly routine. When you are ready for these three workouts, focus on short sprints first.

Start slow.
Don’t skip your warm-up.