Speed play to move your fitness up a gear


Speed play – also known as ‘Fartlek training’ from its Swedish heritage – usually incorporates rapid speed change during a run, but it can also be used to describe changes in tempo in other cardio activities. Its attraction is that more energy is used up by varying the intensity of a work-out rather than by sticking to a steady pace, working at a single intensity, as in LSD (long slow distance) training.

The bottom line is a more efficient workout as the metabolism is forced to burn more calories during a session without having to increase the amount of time devoted to an exercise routine.

An unstructured form of interval training, intensity is varied in a sporadic manner. Moreover, as it’s suitable for most fitness levels, it can offer a good introduction to high intensity training, offering variety and easily customised to individual requirements.

A faster lane to fitness?

The central concept is to throw short bursts of speed into your workout, so helping you to boost your fitness by using the body’s two energy-producing systems:

  • the aerobic
  • the anaerobic

As with all interval training, it will improve performance in two key areas:

  • increased ability to tolerate high levels of lactic acid
  • improved rate at which lactic acid is removed from the muscles

The intensity of a fartlek session can be tailored to individual requirements, however, the slower phases should not last more than 2-3 minutes. For beginners, the beauty of fartlek is that it allows you to use your own senses to determine when to switch from vigorous to recovery intensity. You control how hard to push and when you need a break, allowing you to ease up, if you fear the risk of injury. Perhaps somewhat ironically, this regime can help reduce the risk of injuries that often occur with non-stop, repetitive activity.

Fun + enhanced performance

An excellent way of performing interval training, it can be a lot of fun, especially outside in a park, on a track or on a beach. A few sprints can spice up a regular jogging session, followed by some walks. This way intensity can be ramped up without burning out in a matter of minutes, with the speed and variety helping to boost overall fitness.

If fartlek training represents a departure from your exercise routine, start slowly. Your body will need time to become conditioned to this kind of training, so initially keep high intensity short and infrequent. For more specialised advice always consult your personal trainer.

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           About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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