Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance


Corresponding author M. J. Gibala: Department of Kinesiology IWC AB122, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada. Email:


Brief, intense exercise training may induce metabolic and performance adaptations comparable to traditional endurance training. However, no study has directly compared these diverse training strategies in a standardized manner. We therefore examined changes in exercise capacity and molecular and cellular adaptations in skeletal muscle after low volume sprint-interval training (SIT) and high volume endurance training (ET). Sixteen active men (21 ± 1 years, inline image) were assigned to a SIT or ET group (n= 8 each) and performed six training sessions over 14 days. Each session consisted of either four to six repeats of 30 s ‘all out’ cycling at ∼250%inline image with 4 min recovery (SIT) or 90–120 min continuous cycling at ∼65%inline image (ET). Training time commitment over 2 weeks was ∼2.5 h for SIT and ∼10.5 h for ET, and total training volume was ∼90% lower for SIT versus ET (∼630 versus∼6500 kJ). Training decreased the time required to complete 50 and 750 kJ cycling time trials, with no difference between groups (main effects, P≤ 0.05). Biopsy samples obtained before and after training revealed similar increases in muscle oxidative capacity, as reflected by the maximal activity of cytochrome c oxidase (COX) and COX subunits II and IV protein content (main effects, P≤ 0.05), but COX II and IV mRNAs were unchanged. Training-induced increases in muscle buffering capacity and glycogen content were also similar between groups (main effects, P≤ 0.05). Given the large difference in training volume, these data demonstrate that SIT is a time-efficient strategy to induce rapid adaptations in skeletal muscle and exercise performance that are comparable to ET in young active men.