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Runners doing running workouts

Tempo Runs, Intervals, Fartlek – Are These Running Workouts All The Same?

There are many training methods for runners but can you really explain the difference between each? Are you confused with the runners’ terminology? We are. That’s why we asked running coach Carita Riutta to explain the difference between some of the most famous training methods: tempo runs, intervals and fartleks.

All these three running workout methods aim to increase speed, speed endurance and basic stamina but they all do it a bit differently. Here are some workout examples and descriptions of how these methods differ from each other.

Take a look at the “how to” instructions below and try one of these running workouts on your next run!


“Fartlek” is a famous Swedish name for speed (fart) play (lek). The key to a speed play workout is the idea of changing your running rhythm and speed while completing a continuous run. In other words, you’ll be intermixing parts of slow running and faster running. Fartlek is a particularly great training method if you like to learn how to finish strong a race.

How you do a fartlek run is only limited by your own imagination! You can mix different speeds and distances as much as you like. However, keep in mind that the fast sections of a fartlek workout should not be sprinting because you need to keep on moving the whole time. If you are beginner and feel that fast running is followed by too much fatigue, you can walk the slower parts.

Example fartlek workout

Warm-up: 15–20 min jog

Fartlek: 20 min. Keep running, repeating sections of 2 minutes of slow running followed by 30 seconds of fast running. Repeat until 20 mins are up. Another option is to take some natural landmarks, such as lamp posts, and use them as your guiding light. Run past two lamp posts fast, then recover for the next 3.

Cooldown: 10–15 min jog

Tempo Runs

Tempo run, also called threshold training or running, is an important training method when training for example for a 10K or a half marathon race pace. In the heart of tempo running is the idea to practice running just below or at your anaerobic level. The main difference between tempo runs, fartlek workouts and intervals is that the tempo run should be a longer continuous run.

There are many ways to run a tempo run. If you know and follow your heart rate, you should follow the heart rate and keep it outside of your maximum heart rate zone. In an ideal situation your heart rate remains steady during the whole tempo part.

You can also follow your speed and average pace. Again, the pace should remain steady. To help with this, set up a training view that shows your pace and average pace on your Polar watch.

Example tempo run workout

Warm-up: 15–20 min jog

Tempo run: 15–30 minutes of continuous running at the same pace or heart rate. Use heart rate zones 3 and 4.

Cooldown: 10–15 min jog


There are as many types of intervals as there are runners on this earth! Intervals differ from tempo runs and fartlek workouts mainly because you will have a break between each repetition. Another difference is that your pace during intervals should be faster than your tempo run and fartlek pace.

Intervals are a great way to increase your speed endurance, running form and running economy. Keep in mind that interval training is a strenuous training method and you need to warm-up properly before and let your body recover afterwards.

Example Interval Workout

Warm-up: 10–15 min jog + pre-run stretching and running drills

Set 1: 5x2min at medium effort with 2 minutes of active rest between reps
Rest: 4 min
Set 2: 5x2min at maximum effort with 2 minutes of active rest between reps

Cool down: 10–15 min jog

Give these running workouts a try and see if they work for you. If you’re looking for a ready-made running plan, try Polar’s free running plan that you can set up in Polar Flow.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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