Research Says a Low Dose of High Intensity Interval Training Works Wonders…Really?


The latest research published in PLOS One Journal (April 26, 2016) showed men who did one-minute of “all-out” exercise on bikes experienced significant improvements in cardiometabolic health measures despite exercising for significantly less time. The length of the study was 12-weeks and the sprint-interval training (SIT) group exercised for 1:00, using a 3×20 second protocol, while the moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) group completed workouts consisting of 45-minutes of continuous cycling at ~70% HRmax. A 2-minute warm-up and 3-minute cool-down (using 50 watts as resistance) were used for both groups, resulting in 10- and 50-minute sessions for SIT and MICT, respectively.

According to Jenna Gillen, the lead investigator of the study, “the major novel finding from the present study was that 12-weeks of SIT in previously inactive men improved insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content to the same extent as MICT, despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and training time commitment. SIT involved 1-minute of intense intermittent exercise, within a time commitment of 10-minutes per session, whereas MICT consisted of 50-minutes of continuous exercise at a moderate pace.”
There is truth in saying short duration, “all-out” training can improve health and fitness outcomes,  just realize that you need to challenge yourself during the short bouts of intense exercise. Most importantly, be mindful that there are no quick fixes when it comes to health and fitness, if so, we would have less of an obesity epidemic on our hands in this country (a reported 69% of Americans are overweight or obese).


Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016). Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154075

Additional Reading

Eric Cressey, Interval Training: HIIT or Miss (2009). Performance and Health Blog.

Can High-Intensity Interval Training Really Improve Health and Fitness?

A paper published by Gillen and Gibala tested the hypothesis that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be used as a time-efficient strategy to improve health and fitness. Their paper was basically a literature review of HIIT research studies that used 2, 6, 12-15 weeks of low-volume HIIT. They state that results of these types of studies show promising results but more research is still warranted.

“While the findings from these small pilot projects are intriguing, large-scale investigations with appropriate participant screening and monitoring are clearly warranted, including randomized clinical trials to directly compare low-volume HIIT versus traditional endurance training in a comprehensive manner, especially in those with, or at risk for, cardiometabolic disorders.”

Research has consistently demonstrated the positive use of HIIT to improve among other things, aerobic capacity, insulin sensitivity, muscle oxidative capacity, and exercise tolerance with as little as one to three sessions a week.  Exercise sessions, typically, involve <10 minutes of hard “all-out” exercise followed by brief recovery periods coupled with a warm-up and cool-down that equates to, typically, <30 minute sessions.


Most governing bodies, like the CDC, WHO and Surgeon General, publish content stipulating 150-minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75-minutes of vigorous) exercise is needed to keep disease at bay.  Is it time to alter some of these findings due to the abundance of HIIT research that has been published over the last four decades?  There is now evidence that HIIT is as effective as traditional, longer duration, steady-state type exercise.

With the number one reported reason for not exercising typically being – “lack of time” – maybe <150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise guidelines should soon be cut in half?; possibly getting more individuals to start/continue with an exercise routine using, at times, HIIT.

 Suggested Reading on the Topic

High-Intensity Interval Training, American College of Sports Medicine

Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance (2006). Gibala, M., et. al.

High-Intensity Interval Training: New Insights, (2007). Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Gibala, M.

Why Your Workout Should be High-Intensity, (2015). New York Times, Brody, J.

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