Fartlek Sprinting Intervals

Fartlek Sprinting intervals is an unstructured interval session which basically involves riding along and doing some short, sharp intervals at appropriate time periods. The main idea is to try and make really hard intervals a little more interesting and fun.


Sprint by Dolanh (CC license)

Fartlek was developed in Sweden and simply means ‘speed play’. It was used by the legendary Finnish runnerĀ  Paavo Nurmi in the 1920s and soon spread to other sports.

Fartlek can be easily adapted to the sport and individual. Fartlek can really be whatever you want.

A typical Fartlek session for me involves:

  • 25-30 miles – 1 hr 30mins
  • warm up 20 mins
  • Sprint for 30 seconds *9-12 times
  • At least four minutes recovery between intervals
  • Therefore after 1 hour, you’ve done about 10-12 intervals.
  • Cycle home

Ideally, a really tough Fartlek session would be after a recovery day and followed by a recovery session. But, this week, I did a couple of hill climb efforts on Tues and Wed and then did Fartlek on Thurs. My legs felt quite fresh because the interval sessions were relatively short to what I have been used to in recent weeks.

For me, the key target is the intensity and speed of the interval, not the length. I choose Fartlek because otherwise I usually end up doing 3-5 minute intervals on hills. But, I want to work my anaerobic sprinting rather than this type of endurance. I want to work on leg speed, leg strength and really get as much speed as I can. By sprinting on an anonymous flat road, I know I’m only going to do it for around 30 seconds.

When doing Fartlek sessions, I just go for a ride on quite wide roads, that I know quite well (a local chain gang circuit around Merton and Ambrosden). Then at a suitable marker, I start sprinting for 20-40 seconds. Sometimes there is a target, like a small hill, or I sprint from one road sign to the next one in the distance.

Every interval is different, some is uphill, some is downhill, some with tailwind, some into headwind. The intervals into the headwind are the hardest.

Sometimes, the target is simply to get up to the maximum speed that you can.

‘Dancing up the hill.’

Here’s a fun interval, look for a road which has a downhill, followed by uphill. A tailwind is ideal. Sprint down the hill, in a low gear at a very high cadence. Maintain that cadence and speed as you begin the ascent. Then, if necessary go up a gear to get more power, and really sprint up the hill. You will flatter yourself with a brief time of sprinting up a hill at 30mph. You will know what it means to be ‘dancing up the hill’

The first couple of sprint intervals are great fun. Your legs are fresh, and you can really pick up some speed. After the first two, the tired legs make it progressively harder to get up to maximum speed.

Advantages of Fartlek Intervals

  • They can be more fun than doing them on a turbo.
  • It replicates riding conditions on the road. You get to use different muscles in the upper body as you pull on the bike to get up to speed.
  • It’s good fun having sensation of cycling really fast – even for a short time.
  • The key to this kind of session is the motivation to train at the highest intensity. Anything that helps maintain this intensity and focus is good. It would be good fun to find a training partner of similar standard, so you can try and beat them in all your intervals.

Disadvantages of Fartlek Intervals

  • Because they are so unstructured, there is a danger of leaving very long recovery time in between intervals or giving up half way around.
  • Hard to measure improvement in performance.


One Response to Fartlek Sprinting Intervals

  1. sm September 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Funny enough I’ve just this week started doing some unstructured sprints as part of my 30 min commute. So much fun aiming for a 140 cadence and a top speed, especially with a tailwind! So much fun in fact that I somewhat over did it this week leaving myself exhausted for my weekend ride. As always, the fun has to be moderated!

    And be sure to choose quiet roads and sprint on stretches where there are no junctions/turns so you’re not surprised by a car pulling out on you (they certainly won’t expect you to be travelling at the speed of light!) – quite the challenge here in London but possible.

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