The Freedom Of Fartlek

I’m old and mature now (pushing 57 years old), so the silliness of youth is far behind me. In this case, a form of silliness that demanded giggling when the term ‘fartlek’ was mentioned. It was essentially an involuntary response…you said fartlek, I couldn’t help but giggle and laugh.

But I’ve grown up, and can hear the word (even write it), without busting a gut. In fact, I haven’t fallen off the ‘fartlek giggling wagon’ for a full three years now.

So what is this strange Swedish word and how does it free up those who participate in it?

Fartlek means ‘speedplay’.  In the country populated by chaps named Olle and Ludvig, the word describes a type of training that simulates an interval-style of workout…without the rigidness of prescribed time periods of hard and easy efforts.

Fartlek training is more ‘free-form’.  When a incline meets you on the road, you step on the pedals. When it’s time for a hard effort, you may look up the road and walk down that cyclist three stoplights ahead of you. Playing with hard efforts is what fartlek is all about.

Hopefully you get the picture, and can see that the ‘play’ part of the ‘speedplay’ is pseudo-accurate.  It’s not completely play-like, since there’s effort involved…but it isn’t as hard on the psyche as is interval work.

Now that I think of it, we use the term ‘speedwork‘ interchangeably with interval training.

Interval training is work, not play.

There’s no denying it, there is no freedom anywhere near the concept of intervals. Once the interval session begins, there’s no wiggle room.  The clock is ticking and you had better ride/run for the prescribed amount of time and rest for the prescribed amount of time. This continues for the prescribed amount of time. With interval training you take your prescribed medicine…and it’s usually bitter.

Interval training is tyrannical.

Not so with Fartlek…when you feel like it, you step on the gas.  When you don’t feel like it, you let off on the gas.  Almost like a concert, with gas providing the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm.  It’s free-form, and a man less mature than myself would probably giggle about now.  Hey, who stepped on the frog?

Fartlek exercise practically emanates from the Bill of Rights…freedom to the left of us, freedom to the right of us.  But like any form of freedom, for those with low levels of incentive to do well (lazy people), fartlek training may not be enough to get the job done. Lazy people may spend somewhere between an hour and four days trying to discover the feeling to step on the gas.  Wait for it, wait for it…the waiting may go on indefinitely, and the training effect may never arrive.

But so it is with lazy people.  Whether they never step on the gas during a speedplay workout, or they find a reason to not become subject to the tyranny of hardcore speedwork, they’ll effectively pursue comfort instead of hardship.

And for that deficit they should be triumphed over, dominated, and shamed with defeat.

Using the power of that funny Swedish word, which makes one think of a person tasting flatulence, rather than the typical savoring of its aroma, there is a gentler, kinder way to reach your fitness goals.

Discover the freedom of fartlek training.

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