High-intensity interval training and cardiorespiratory fitness in adults: An umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses

Poon, E. T., Li, H., Gibala, M. J., Wong, S. H. & Ho, R. S.

Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 34, (2024).

Background: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is characterized by repeated bouts of relatively intense exercise interspersed with recovery periods. Previous studies have evaluated this exercise strategy with various population subgroups, regimens, and comparator groups, limiting the generalizability of findings. We performed a novel umbrella review to generate an up- to-date synthesis of the available evidence regarding the effect of HIIT on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF)in adults as compared to non-exercise control and traditional continuous forms of exercise such as moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT).


Methods: An umbrella review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Overviews of Reviews guideline. Seven databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Database, CINAHL, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science) were searched until February 2024. Systematic reviews with meta-analyses comparing HIIT and active/non-active control conditions were included. Literature search, data extraction, and methodological quality assessment (AMSTAR-2) were conducted independently by two reviewers.


Results: Twenty-four systematic reviews with meta-analyses, representing 429 primary studies and 12 967 unique participants, met the inclusion criteria. Most of the systematic reviews received moderate-to-critically low AMSTAR-2 scores. The data showed that HIIT, including the particularly intense variant “sprint interval training” (SIT), significantly increases CRF in adults compared to non-exercise control (standardized mean difference [SMD]: 0.28 to 4.31; weighted mean difference [WMD]: 3.25 to 5.5 mL/kg/min) and MICT (SMD: 0.18 to 0.99; WMD: 0.52 to3.76 mL/kg/min). This effect was consistently observed across specific groups of individuals (e.g., apparently healthy adults, individuals with overweight/obesity, older adults, and high-level athletes) and HIIT modalities (e.g., low-volume HIIT, whole-body HIIT, home-based HIIT, aquatic HIIT, and short SIT).


Conclusion: Existing evidence from systematic reviews consistently supports the effect of HIIT on enhancing CRF in adults when compared to non-exercise control and MICT. Our findings offer a comprehensive basis that may potentially contribute to informing physical activity guidelines aimed at improving CRF in the general population.