Fartlek Training on a Treadmill

Runners on Treadmills in a Healthclub
Kris Hanke/E+/Getty Images

Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is an unstructured form of physical training in which you play with the speed and intensity of a workout.

While the term is most typically associated with treadmills and long-distance running, it is a technique that can also be applied to any continuous cardio exercise, including rowing and step machines.

Depending on your fitness level, fartlek training may intermingle running with sprinting or walking with jogging. It is meant, in part, to break up the monotony of treadmill-style activities by providing you the means to alter training based on self-set targets.

For example, when watching TV on the treadmill at the gym, you may decide to run during the TV show and sprint during the commercials. Or, when outdoors, you might use light poles as markers and jog between the first, run between the second, jog between the third, and sprint between the fourth.


The variable intensity and continuous nature of fartlek training offer both aerobic and anaerobic fitness benefits. Moreover, it takes you out of the "hamster wheel" mindset in which a machine or timer determines the pace and the intensity.

The unstructured nature of fartlek allows you to set your own goals based on how much or little you want to challenge yourself that day.

With fartlek, you tend to be more "present" in your training and less likely to fall into a rut or be stuck in the same routine/fitness level.

A Sample Fartlek Treadmill Workout

While fartlek training may seem like the easy way out for people who don't want to push themselves, don't mistake the term "unstructured" for non-intentioned.

Before starting any fartlek workout, set yourself a goal in terms of time or distance, as well as a plan on how you will vary the speed or intensity.

A prime example is the following treadmill workout designed by Mike Simon, an NSCA-certified personal trainer and cross-country/track and field coach based in Westchester, New York.

The distance and speeds are best for intermediate runners, but you can change the speeds based on your running level.

  1. Walking or slow jogging for five minutes at 3.5 miles hour at a seven percent incline for the warm-up.
  2. Next, run for one mile at six miles per hour at a one percent incline.
  3. Have a rest set by slowing your speed to five miles per hour for three minutes without changing the incline.
  4. For the work set, speed up to 6.8 miles per hour for 30 seconds.
  5. Have another rest set, again at five miles per hour for three minutes.
  6. Continue this pace, speeding up for 30 seconds and slowing down for three minutes until you reach 25 minutes.
  7. Now run for one additional mile at six miles per hour.
  8. Finally, cool down by jogging slowly at 3.5 miles per hour at a five to seven percent incline.

After your cooldown, finish with some stretches or yoga poses.

The point of fartlek training is not to set a routine for yourself and stick with it. It shouldn't be about routine at all.

You should start with a baseline workout and aim to adjust the speed, time, distance, or incline when you feel less yourself challenged.

A Word From Verywell

When you are sticking to a more intuitive approach, bring different sets of downloaded music for days when you are in full training mode or others when you are in more of a maintenance mindset. In the end, fartlek is all about challenging yourself, having fun, and keeping things fresh.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bacon, A.; Carter, R.; Ogle, E. et al. "VO2max Trainability and High-Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis." PLoS One. 2013; 8(9):e73182; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073182.
  • Kumar, P. "Effect of fartlek training for developing endurance ability among athletes." International Journal of Physical Education, Sports, and Health. 2015; 2(2):291-293.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.