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Learn the variation or fartlek method

This is an excerpt from Athletic Development by Vern Gambetta.

One method of work capacity development is the variation method. This is also called fartlek, which is the Swedish word for speed play. I like to think of this method as high-level game or race simulation. It is essentially a continuous workout in which intensity is varied throughout until the target time of the workout is reached. Various activities occur in different combinations and at varied intensities to make up all the movements of the game. The variation method affords the opportunity to incorporate all those varied movements and intensities into a workout that will simulate the demands of the game. The workout can be designed to be more specific to positions or to how an athlete plays the game. The variation method can be very structured or loosely structured depending on the objective. It can be inner directed (driven by the athlete) or structured to respond to demands from the coach to perform various activities throughout the workout. For nonendurance athletes, one fartlek workout in a seven-day microcycle for a maximum of six workouts is sufficient for achieving the desired training response. For endurance athletes, this is a great workout to simulate the various changes of pace that occur throughout the race. It is a race-hardening workout.

The following is an example of a variation workout for soccer. I call it the smorgy to describe the variety of activities that are incorporated. This particular workout was a game-hardening workout done late in the preparation phase for a professional soccer player. It was placed on Saturday, the sixth day of a training week, when cumulative fatigue was highest to achieve a game-simulation effect. It consists of six segments done continuously. The runs should involve curves, angles, and cuts. The goal is to simulate the demands of the game, and in the game very little running is straight ahead.

  1. 15/15/15 runs. 15-second walk, 15-second run, 15-second sprint X 6 sets.
  2. 10-second bursts (30 seconds easy jog recovery) X 10.
  3. Short/short/long X 10 reps. Two short touches with the ball followed by a longer touch; sprint after the ball. Easy dribbles for 30 seconds of recovery and repeat.
  4. 1-minute shuttle (20 meters-as many reps as possible in the minute).
  5. 30 seconds of juggling, then sprint 10 yards; repeat five times.
  6. One versus one with passive defense (in penalty area); three touches and a shot, then sprint to midfield. Jog back for recovery. Repeat five times.

Another way to structure fartlek workouts that is less movement specific but still very demanding metabolically is to pick a target time that you would like your athletes to achieve in the fartlek workout (for example, 20 minutes). Then devise a logical progression to get the athlets to that time goal. Assign a specific number of hard efforts for each time period. For example, use 10 efforts between 30 and 90 seconds in 20 minutes, then let each athlete determine the actual distribution. This allows you to control the density of the workout but the athletes can control the intensity. I have found that it takes a more mature athlete with a good work capacity to get a good training effect from this method. For less mature athletes or team-sport athletes, "whistle fartlek" is especially effective. The procedure is the same, but the coach blows a whistle to begin the hard effort and then blows the whistle again to signal the end of a hard effort until the number of hard efforts in the target time is reached.

This is an excerpt from Athletic Development.

More Excerpts From Athletic Development