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Improving Through Speed Play


In English, the Swedish word fartlek translates as “speed play.” Unlike intervals that have precise rest periods, fartlek is continuous rowing that varies your pace based on feel and grit. These sessions improve your speed, endurance, and race tactics, and toughen your mind for the mid-race burn. 

Fartlek workouts mix easy rowing with race-pace work in one session. There is no need to achieve specific splits; instead, alternate between your low-intensity cruising speed and best effort. You can row a long session for 60 minutes or a short session for 30 minutes. Row a power pyramid beginning with 10 strokes at race pace, then paddle 10 strokes, then 20 strokes at race pace, then paddle 20 strokes, etc., up to 50 strokes, and then back down again. 

Another type of session is called surroundings fartlek. Row 30 minutes at 18 strokes per minute, including unstructured intervals. After your warm-up, pick a landmark in the distance—a telephone pole, bridge, tree, another crew—then row to it at a faster pace. Once you’ve reached it, slow down, and recover at your base rate as much as you need. Just don’t stop. Then zero in on a new landmark and pick up the speed again. 

No rules here. Pick the pace that feels good. After 30 minutes, rest a few minutes, then do it again. When you want to win your race, you need to put up a good challenge or at least make the other crew work hard to beat you. Being able to respond and push is key.

Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She specializes in training masters rowers, and her coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides the knowledge and support you need to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

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