Sprint exercise snacks: a novel approach to increase aerobic fitness



Sprint interval training (SIT), involving brief intermittent bursts of vigorous exercise within a single training session, is a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). It is unclear whether performing sprints spread throughout the day with much longer (≥ 1 h) recovery periods can similarly improve CRF, potentially allowing individuals to perform “sprint snacks” throughout the day to gain health benefits.


Healthy, young, inactive adults (~ 22 years, peak oxygen uptake [VO2peak] ~ 35 ml kg− 1 min− 1) were randomly assigned to one of two groups and performed 18 training sessions over 6 wks. Sprint snacks (SS) involved 3 × 20-s ‘all out’ cycling bouts separated by 1–4-h rest (n = 12, 7 females). Traditional SIT involved 3 × 20-s bouts interspersed with 3-min rest within a 10-min training session (n = 16, 7 females). The primary outcome was CRF determined by a VO2peak test conducted before and after training. Secondary outcomes included a 150 kJ cycling time trial and exercise enjoyment.


Absolute VO2peak increased by ~ 6% after SIT and ~ 4% for SS (main effect of time P = 0.002) with no difference between groups (group × time interaction, P = 0.52). 150 kJ time trial performance improved by ~ 13% in SIT and ~ 9% in SS (main effect of time, P < 0.001) with no difference between groups (group × time interaction, P = 0.36).


CRF was similarly increased by a protocol involving sprint snacks spread throughout the day and a traditional SIT protocol in which bouts were separated by short recovery periods within a single training session.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Canadian Institutes of Health Research


Cardiorespiratory fitness


Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology


Exercise enjoyment scale


Heart rate


Metabolic equivalent


Natural Science and Engineering Research Council


Physical activity recall


Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire-Plus


Ratings of perceived exertion


Sprint interval training


Sprint snacks

VO2 :

Oxygen uptake


Peak oxygen uptake




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J.P.L. is supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) New Investigator Award (MSH-141980) and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) Scholar Award (16890). M.E.J. is supported by a MSFHR Scholar Award (5917). ML was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award. The authors would like to thank all the participants who volunteered their time and effort for this study and the following individuals who assisted in data collection: Lee Gye, Kyle Loney and Charles Zhou.

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JPL and MJG conceived the study design with assistance from MEJ, JL and EMC. JL, ML, GJ, EMC, and CD collected data, performed statistical analyses, and prepared figures. JPL, JL and ML wrote the first draft of the manuscript with input from all authors. All authors edited and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to Jonathan P. Little.

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Little, J.P., Langley, J., Lee, M. et al. Sprint exercise snacks: a novel approach to increase aerobic fitness. Eur J Appl Physiol 119, 1203–1212 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04110-z

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  • HIIT
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Physical activity
  • Maximal oxygen uptake
  • Exercise performance