Fitness for squash: Fartlek training

4th January 2016

Looking for a fresh, fun, squash-specific physical session to add to your training? Try some fartlek interval sessions, and reap the benefits of this simple, effective, and highly flexible training method.

Interval training is perfectly suited to a repeat-sprint based sport such as squash, and we’ve got a number of great interval sessions of various modalities here on the site. With fartlek training however, the structure of the intervals becomes a lot less rigid. This allows for more adaptability within a session, as well as an element of randomness that more closely replicates the typical pattern of a game of squash.

Developed by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér in 1937, fartlek translates as ‘speed play’ from the native Swedish language. As a training method, it blends continuous training with interval training, mixing efforts of variable intensity controlled by the individual themselves. The idea is to help the body adapt to a higher workload, through short bursts of speed and sustained hard efforts amid periods of active rest and recovery.

A typical fartlek session would start with establishing how long the session will last for – for a reasonably well-conditioned squash player, around 30mins is a good duration, to begin with. The session would then start at a steady paced intensity, into which bursts of very high-intensity efforts are interspersed with lower intensity recovery periods.

The initiation of the higher intensity efforts are controlled by the individual – these can either just be selected periodically based on ‘feel’, or actual physical landmarks can be used. For example, if outside running on the street, the intervals might be broken down according to trees or lampposts – looking ahead and setting a target to sprint to the next traffic sign, then jogging to the next bench in the distance, then picking up the pace again to the next street corner and so on and so forth.

fartlekSome people like to mix things up with their fartlek intervals and set their efforts to be triggered according to something more abstract such as the music their listening to on their headphones – increasing intensity on the chorus and slowing down for the verses, or vice versa. Runners out in the park might get extra creative by using people out walking their dogs as their trigger – sprinting from one they pass to the next and then jogging between the next two for example.

As long as the individual commits to push themselves hard during the session, and considers the squash specificity of the intervals (keeping the work/rest ratio to short bursts), fartlek training can be extremely beneficial. Fartlek training is generally associated with running but can include almost any kind of exercise including cycling, swimming, and even ghosting.

The variable intensity and continuous nature of the session place stress on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, key to squash player conditioning. This shake-up and move away from set prescribed efforts helps both challenge the body and freshen the mind.


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST 
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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