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February 14, 2019

Whittle away at your workout with this helpful interval training method

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3

Fitness Workouts
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Setting out to be on the treadmill for a flat amount of time, say 30 minutes at a steady pace, can be challenging to tackle when while it feels like you’ve been running forever, but the treadmill’s timer is just creeping along.

Fortunately, there’s a way to break up your runs into bite-sized chunks that make it feel more approachable than the 30-minute-straight alternative, and it has a funny name – fartleks, also known as the 5-4-3-2-1 method.

Fartlek is Swedish for "speed play," and that is exactly what this run is all about. Unlike other types of runs (and there are surprisingly many), fartlek is unstructured and alternates between moderate to hard efforts with easy efforts throughout, according to Runner’s World

RELATED READ: What millennial women need to know about getting in shape

After a warm-up, runners start out with longer intervals and work their way down timewise (5 minutes, 5 minutes; 4 minutes, 4 minutes; 3 minutes, 3 minutes; 2 minutes, 2 minutes; 1 minute, 1 minute), while increasing the speed of threshold intervals. By the end, you’ll be exerting more effort, but it’ll feel easier since you’ll only be holding that rate of exertion for, say, one minute, Well and Good explains.

When enjoying a jaunt outside, it’s easy to play with speed, fartlek-style, by running at faster efforts for short periods of time like, running to that tree, or to that sign, followed by easy-effort running to recover, Runner’s World explains.

“When you have a block of recovery time that you’re working toward, it kind of helps you mentally. You know that there’s a recovery coming up and that if you push hard to get over the hump, you’re going to have a nice jogging period or rest period coming up,” Corinne Fitzgerald, head coach at New York’s Mile High Run Club, tells Well and Good.

You’ll notice that each time chunk has two “sets,” one in which you give it your all, while the other is used as an active recovery — running at a slower pace to help improve endurance and stamina over time. You could also walk during this time, depending on your stamina level. 

“Staying in the zone where you’re still working and not taking your heart rate completely back down keeps you in that fat burning zone. That’s why going only to your threshold and not going to your 100 percent means you won’t have to recover back down at your zero percent,” Fitzgerald explains.

While this method is most often associated with running, it’s easy to apply the 5-4-3-2-1 count to other aerobic activities such as spinning, the stairclimber, the elliptical and more.  

The purpose of this type of training is to help runners develop awareness of their bodies to utilize their different energy systems efficiently and when needed. The great thing about fartleks is the freedom to customize it to do whatever you want. You are not bound by a set structure, ACTIVE explains. As for frequency, it’s suggested to incorporate fartlek training at least once every two weeks. 

Well and Good provides this sample fartlek workout plan:

5 minutes: Active Recovery (at about 65 percent of your maximum effort level)

5 minutes: Threshold Pace (at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart-rate)

4 minutes: Active Recovery

4 minutes: Threshold Pace (increase slightly from last threshold interval)

3 minutes: Active Recovery

3 minutes: Threshold Pace (increase slightly from last threshold interval)

2 minutes: Active Recovery

2 minutes: Threshold Pace (increase slightly from last threshold interval)

1 minutes: Active Recovery

1 minutes: Threshold Pace (increase slightly from last threshold interval)


There are plenty of other fartlek examples all over the internet. For example, this runner’s website has a fartlek training plan for everything from a 5K to a marathon.

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