Enhancing cardiovascular fitness can lead to substantial health benefits. High-intensity interval training (HIT) is an efficient way to develop cardiovascular fitness, yet comparisons between this type of training and traditional endurance training are equivocal.
Our objective was to meta-analyse the effects of endurance training and HIT on the maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) of healthy, young to middle-aged adults.
Six electronic databases were searched (MEDLINE, PubMed, SPORTDiscus, Web of Science, CINAHL and Google Scholar) for original research articles. A search was conducted and search terms included ‘high intensity’, ‘HIT’, ‘sprint interval training’, ‘endurance training’, ‘peak oxygen uptake’, and ‘VO2max’. Inclusion criteria were controlled trials, healthy adults aged 18–45 years, training duration ≥2 weeks, VO2max assessed pre- and post-training. Twenty-eight studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. This resulted in 723 participants with a mean ± standard deviation (SD) age and initial fitness of 25.1 ± 5 years and 40.8 ± 7.9 mL·kg−1·min−1, respectively. We made probabilistic magnitude-based inferences for meta-analysed effects based on standardised thresholds for small, moderate and large changes (0.2, 0.6 and 1.2, respectively) derived from between-subject SDs for baseline VO2max.
The meta-analysed effect of endurance training on VO2max was a possibly large beneficial effect (4.9 mL·kg−1·min−1; 95 % confidence limits ±1.4 mL·kg−1·min−1), when compared with no-exercise controls. A possibly moderate additional increase was observed for typically younger subjects (2.4 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±2.1 mL·kg−1·min−1) and interventions of longer duration (2.2 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±3.0 mL·kg−1·min−1), and a small additional improvement for subjects with lower baseline fitness (1.4 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±2.0 mL·kg−1·min−1). When compared with no-exercise controls, there was likely a large beneficial effect of HIT (5.5 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.2 mL·kg−1·min−1), with a likely moderate greater additional increase for subjects with lower baseline fitness (3.2 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.9 mL·kg−1·min−1) and interventions of longer duration (3.0 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.9 mL·kg−1·min−1), and a small lesser effect for typically longer HIT repetitions (−1.8 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±2.7 mL·kg−1·min−1). The modifying effects of age (0.8 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±2.1 mL·kg−1·min−1) and work/rest ratio (0.5 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.6 mL·kg−1·min−1) were unclear. When compared with endurance training, there was a possibly small beneficial effect for HIT (1.2 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±0.9 mL·kg−1·min−1) with small additional improvements for typically longer HIT repetitions (2.2 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±2.1 mL·kg−1·min−1), older subjects (1.8 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.7 mL·kg−1·min−1), interventions of longer duration (1.7 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.7 mL·kg−1·min−1), greater work/rest ratio (1.6 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.5 mL·kg−1·min−1) and lower baseline fitness (0.8 mL·kg−1·min−1; ±1.3 mL·kg−1·min−1).
Endurance training and HIT both elicit large improvements in the VO2max of healthy, young to middle-aged adults, with the gains in VO2max being greater following HIT when compared with endurance training.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Lee D, Sui X, Artero EG, et al. Long-term effects of changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and body mass index on all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men: the aerobics center longitudinal study. Circulation. 2011;124(23):2483–90.
Lee D, Artero EG, Sui X, et al. Review: mortality trends in the general population: the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness. J Psychopharmacol (Oxf). 2010;24(4):27–35.
Myers J, Prakash M, Froelicher V, et al. Exercise capacity and mortality among men referred for exercise testing. N Engl J Med. 2002;346(11):793–801.
Zuhl M, Kravitz L. Hiit vs. continuous endurance training: battle of the aerobic titans. IDEA Fit J. 2012;9(2):35–40.
Helgerud J, Hoydal K, Wang E, et al. Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(4):665.
Hottenrott K, Ludyga S, Schulze S. Effects of high intensity training and continuous endurance training on aerobic capacity and body composition in recreationally active runners. J Sports Sci Med. 2012;11:483–8.
Oja P, Titze S, Bauman A, et al. Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(4):496–509.
Whyte LJ, Gill JM, Cathcart AJ. Effect of 2 weeks of sprint interval training on health-related outcomes in sedentary overweight/obese men. Metabolism. 2010;59(10):1421–8.
Laursen PB, Jenkins DG. The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimising training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes. Sports Med. 2002;32(1):53–73.
Daussin FN, Zoll J, Dufour SP, et al. Effect of interval versus continuous training on cardiorespiratory and mitochondrial functions: relationship to aerobic performance improvements in sedentary subjects. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2008;295(1):R264–72.
Trapp E, Chisholm D, Freund J, et al. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes. 2008;32(4):684–91.
Tremblay A, Simoneau J-A, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994;43(7):814–8.
Wisløff U, Ellingsen Ø, Kemi OJ. High-intensity interval training to maximize cardiac benefits of exercise training? Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2009;37(3):139–46.
Weston KS, Wisløff U, Coombes JS. High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48(16):1227–34.
Hwang C-L, Wu Y-T, Chou C-H. Effect of aerobic interval training on exercise capacity and metabolic risk factors in people with cardiometabolic disorders: a meta-analysis. J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2011;31(6):378–85.
Guiraud T, Nigam A, Gremeaux V, et al. High-intensity interval training in cardiac rehabilitation. Sports Med. 2012;42(7):587–605.
Kessler HS, Sisson SB, Short KR. The potential for high-intensity interval training to reduce cardiometabolic disease risk. Sports Med. 2012;42(6):489–509.
Bacon AP, Carter RE, Ogle EA, et al. VO2max trainability and high intensity interval training in humans: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;8(9):e73182.
Gist NH, Fedewa MV, Dishman RK, et al. Sprint interval training effects on aerobic capacity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014;44(2):269–79.
Sloth M, Sloth D, Overgaard K, et al. Effects of sprint interval training on VO2max and aerobic exercise performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23(6):e341–52.
Weston M, Taylor KL, Batterham AM, et al. Effects of low-volume high-intensity interval training (hit) on fitness in adults: a meta-analysis of controlled and non-controlled trials. Sports Med. 2014;44(7):1005–17.
Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, et al. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the prisma statement. PLoS Med. 2009;6(7):e1000097.
Liberati A, Altman DG, Tetzlaff J, et al. The prisma statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Med. 2009;6(7):e1000100.
Hopkins WG, Marshall SW, Batterham AM, et al. Progressive statistics for studies in sports medicine and exercise science. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(1):3–13.
Smith TB, Hopkins WG. Variability and predictability of finals times of elite rowers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(11):2155–60.
Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, et al. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. J Srength Cond Res. 2012;26(1):138.
Nybo L, Sundstrup E, Jakobsen MD, et al. High-intensity training versus traditional exercise interventions for promoting health. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(10):1951–8.
Osei-Tutu KB, Campagna PD. The effects of short- vs. long-bout exercise on mood, VO2max, and percent body fat. Prev Med. 2005;40(1):92–8.
Gormley SE, Swain DP, High R, et al. Effect of intensity of aerobic training on VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40(7):1336–43.
Ciolac EG, Bocchi EA, Bortolotto LA, et al. Effects of high-intensity aerobic interval training vs. moderate exercise on hemodynamic, metabolic and neuro-humoral abnormalities of young normotensive women at high familial risk for hypertension. Hypertens Res. 2010;33(8):836–43.
Bayati M, Farzad B, Gharakhanlou R, et al. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces performance and metabolic adaptations that resemble’all-out’sprint interval training. J Sports Sci Med. 2011;10:571–6.
Metcalfe RS, Babraj JA, Fawkner SG, et al. Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;112(7):2767–75.
Ziemann E, Grzywacz T, Luszczyk M, et al. Aerobic and anaerobic changes with high-intensity interval training in active college-aged men. J Srength Cond Res. 2011;25(4):1104.
Abderrahman AB, Zouhal H, Chamari K, et al. Effects of recovery mode (active vs. passive) on performance during a short high-intensity interval training program: a longitudinal study. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012;113(6):1373–83.
Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Phillips SM, et al. Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. J Physiol. 2008;586(1):151–60.
Chtara M, Chamari K, Chaouachi M, et al. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(8):555–60.
Lo MS, Lin LL, Yao W-J, et al. Training and detraining effects of the resistance vs. endurance program on body composition, body size, and physical performance in young men. J Srength Cond Res. 2011;25(8):2246–54.
McKay BR, Paterson DH, Kowalchuk JM. Effect of short-term high-intensity interval training vs. continuous training on O2 uptake kinetics, muscle deoxygenation, and exercise performance. J Appl Physiol. 2009;107(1):128–38.
Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28(10):1327.
Cocks M, Shaw CS, Shepherd SO, et al. Sprint interval and endurance training are equally effective in increasing muscle microvascular density and enos content in sedentary males. J Physiol (Lond). 2013;591(Pt 3):641–56.
Dunham C, Harms CA. Effects of high-intensity interval training on pulmonary function. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012;112(8):3061–8.
Edge J, Bishop D, Goodman C. The effects of training intensity on muscle buffer capacity in females. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006;96(1):97–105.
Esfarjani F, Laursen PB. Manipulating high-intensity interval training: effects on VO2max, the lactate threshold and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained males. J Sci Med Sport. 2007;10(1):27.
Macpherson R, Hazell TJ, Olver TD, et al. Run sprint interval training improves aerobic performance but not maximal cardiac output. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(1):115–22.
Shepherd SO, Cocks M, Tipton KD, et al. Sprint interval and traditional endurance training increase net intramuscular triglyceride breakdown and expression of perilipin 2 and 5. J Physiol. 2013;591(3):657–75.
Warburton D, Haykowsky MJ, Quinney HA, et al. Blood volume expansion and cardiorespiratory function: effects of training modality. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(6):991–1000.
Berger NJ, Tolfrey K, Williams AG, et al. Influence of continuous and interval training on oxygen uptake on-kinetics. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(3):504–12.
Matsuo T, Saotome K, Seino S, et al. Effects of a low-volume aerobic-type interval exercise on VO2max and cardiac mass. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(1):42–50.
O’Donovan G, Owen A, Bird SR, et al. Changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and coronary heart disease risk factors following 24 wk of moderate- or high-intensity exercise of equal energy cost. J Appl Physiol. 2005;98(5):1619–25.
Sandvei M, Jeppesen PB, Støen L, et al. Sprint interval running increases insulin sensitivity in young healthy subjects. Arch Physiol Biochem. 2012;118(3):139–47.
Geliebter A, Maher MM, Gerace L, et al. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;66(3):557–63.
Haskell WL, Lee I, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the american college of sports medicine and the american heart association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(8):1423.
Adamson SB, Lorimer R, Cobley JN, et al. Extremely short-duration high-intensity training substantially improves the physical function and self-reported health status of elderly adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2014;62(7):1380–1.
Knowles A-M, Herbert P, Easton C, et al. Impact of low-volume, high-intensity interval training on maximal aerobic capacity, health-related quality of life and motivation to exercise in ageing men. Age. 2015;37(2):1–12.
Wisløff U, Støylen A, Loennechen JP, et al. Superior cardiovascular effect of aerobic interval training versus moderate continuous training in heart failure patients a randomized study. Circulation. 2007;115(24):3086–94.
Currie KD, Bailey KJ, Jung ME, et al. Effects of resistance training combined with moderate-intensity endurance or low-volume high-intensity interval exercise on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with coronary artery disease. J Sci Med Sport. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2014.09.013.
Jones AM, Carter H. The effect of endurance training on parameters of aerobic fitness. Sports Med. 2000;29(6):373–86.
Gibala MJ, Little JP, MacDonald MJ, et al. Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease. J Physiol. 2012;590(5):1077–84.
No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.
About this article
Cite this article
Milanović, Z., Sporiš, G. & Weston, M. Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. Sports Med 45, 1469–1481 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0365-0
- Endurance Training
- Aerobic Fitness
- Cardiovascular Fitness
- Sprint Interval Training
- Baseline Fitness