OCD: Fun With Fartleks

Fartlek. It’s a fun word to say; you might even get a few snickers when you tell your class you are going to do fartlek drills!

A fartlek is a Swedish word for “speed play” and implies unstructured intervals. Years ago when I ran cross-country in high school, we used to do fartleks when running as a group. Our coach would say while out on a run, “See that sign way up there? Pick up the pace and race to it.” 

There are fun ways you can use fartleks in your indoor cycling classes. You can either increase your resistance against a constant cadence or increase your cadence against a set resistance, or do a combination of both if you want a larger increase in output. Do these on a flat road or climb, increasing your effort while seated or standing—all that matters is that power increases and it feels a little bit harder during the surge/interval. 

I like to use the music to define a surge in effort, either on the chorus or when there’s a change in energy.

Below are five options for implementing fartlek drills into your classes. 


  1. Author

    There are so many fun scenarios you can paint using this idea, between chasing someone, passing them, or running away from someone or something. Pacelines are another great example. I’m like you Ed, I do those more regularly, and not haphazardly like fartleks.

    Here is the ICA OCD post on how to do pacelines in case anyone reading this missed it:

    Or, another version I call the “reverse paceline”:

  2. Yes! I’ve used several variations of this. Had my riders visualize our class out for a group ride and approaching & passing other groups of cyclists.
    Since I regularly have 2-3 triathletes in class I’ve used the comparison of being on the bike leg in a tri and increasing our effort to pass a rider quickly/within the 15 second passing zone USAT rule.
    I’ve also described us riding in a paceline and our “fartlek” is while we’re at the front pulling, back off the effort for a bit as we move to the rear of the line, then get back into a “working” effort and then pick it up again once we’re at the front. The “paceline drill” is at more regular intervals than a true fartlek but similar enough.

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