JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimising training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes

Paul B Laursen, David G Jenkins
Sports Medicine 2002, 32 (1): 53-73
11772161
While the physiological adaptations that occur following endurance training in previously sedentary and recreationally active individuals are relatively well understood, the adaptations to training in already highly trained endurance athletes remain unclear. While significant improvements in endurance performance and corresponding physiological markers are evident following submaximal endurance training in sedentary and recreationally active groups, an additional increase in submaximal training (i.e. volume) in highly trained individuals does not appear to further enhance either endurance performance or associated physiological variables [e.g. peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak), oxidative enzyme activity]. It seems that, for athletes who are already trained, improvements in endurance performance can be achieved only through high-intensity interval training (HIT). The limited research which has examined changes in muscle enzyme activity in highly trained athletes, following HIT, has revealed no change in oxidative or glycolytic enzyme activity, despite significant improvements in endurance performance (p < 0.05). Instead, an increase in skeletal muscle buffering capacity may be one mechanism responsible for an improvement in endurance performance. Changes in plasma volume, stroke volume, as well as muscle cation pumps, myoglobin, capillary density and fibre type characteristics have yet to be investigated in response to HIT with the highly trained athlete. Information relating to HIT programme optimisation in endurance athletes is also very sparse. Preliminary work using the velocity at which VO2max is achieved (V(max)) as the interval intensity, and fractions (50 to 75%) of the time to exhaustion at V(max) (T(max)) as the interval duration has been successful in eliciting improvements in performance in long-distance runners. However, V(max) and T(max) have not been used with cyclists. Instead, HIT programme optimisation research in cyclists has revealed that repeated supramaximal sprinting may be equally effective as more traditional HIT programmes for eliciting improvements in endurance performance. Further examination of the biochemical and physiological adaptations which accompany different HIT programmes, as well as investigation into the optimal HIT programme for eliciting performance enhancements in highly trained athletes is required.

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