Fartlek is a type of training where you do long, straight swimming interjected with random bursts of speed. Some of you might also recognize this type of training with “speed play.” Many of us maximize our fitness level with the energy systems: aerobic, anaerobic threshold, and sprinting. During those long aerobic sets, which can be boring and mindless, we can focus on something mindful. Fartlek training can help develop those fast twitch muscle fibers. Fartlek training is good for everyone. Whether you are a sprinter or a distance swimmer, Fartlek training is great for learning how to switch gears.
If you are swimming a 600 free for warm-up, swim a smooth, perfect 200 free and then break out into a full sprint for a 25 or a 50. Then, switch back to a nice, smooth, perfect 200 free, and repeat. For fitness swimmers or those who don’t like to do high intensity versus the clock, this relieves a lot of the pressure on speed work. Without a clock, swimmers can manage their effort at a comfortable pace and not worry about meeting or exceeding their best practice times.
Becoming familiar with switching gears at a moment’s notice is beneficial to swimmers of all levels. For pool swimmers, being able to pick up the pace when an opponent is breaking away, keeps you in the race. For triathletes, this skill enables them to pass or simply bring it home with some speed. Fartlek training helps you develop the ability to go from smooth to fast at will.
The benefits of Fartlek training are endless. For those of you who are short on time, this type of training can help you achieve longer distances, while at the same time working on several energy systems at once. This type of training also requires focus, concentration, and mindfulness to help offset the long distance sets we swim.
Fartlek training is also very versatile. Swimming, kicking, pulling and using alternating strokes are also an option. During the alternating strokes option, swim a smooth perfect 200 free and swim the third 50 as a specialty stroke going race pace, and the last 50 free smooth swim perfect. Kick or pull a long-distance set and every three minutes, kick or pull into a sprint for 20-30 seconds, and then resume kicking or pulling at a smooth swim perfect pace. You can also use this kind of training while swimming in and out of the walls, in and out of turns, and in the middle of the pool, to develop explosive speed.
Remember to stay mindful. During long, warm-up sets or aerobic based pull sets, maintain focus. Think of your warm-up as a chance to rehearse perfect technique. Think smooth, swim perfect during your aerobic training and maintain that mindfulness while you switch gears to fast swimming. Maintaining a good feel for the water translates to perfect stroke technique and in return a higher level of efficiency, which will make your swimming experience much more enjoyable.