European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 5, pp 1203–1212 | Cite as

Sprint exercise snacks: a novel approach to increase aerobic fitness

  • Jonathan P. LittleEmail author
  • Jodi Langley
  • Michael Lee
  • Etienne Myette-Côté
  • Garett Jackson
  • Cody Durrer
  • Martin J. Gibala
  • Mary E. Jung
Original Article



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.


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



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


Oxygen uptake


Peak oxygen uptake





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.

Author contribution statement

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.


  1. Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B, Walker S (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects modelus using lme4. J Stat Softw 67(1):1–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Borg GA (1982) Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Med Sci Sports Exerc 14(5):377–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyd JC, Simpson CA, Jung ME, Gurd BJ (2013) Reducing the intensity and volume of interval training diminishes cardiovascular adaptation but not mitochondrial biogenesis in overweight/obese men. PLoS One 8(7):e68091CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bray SR, Millen JA, Eidsness J, Leuzinger C (2005) The effects of leadership style and exercise program choreography on enjoyment and intentions to exercise. Psychol Sport Exerc 6(4):415–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgomaster KA, Hughes SC, Heigenhauser GJ, Bradwell SN, Gibala MJ (2005) Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. J Appl Physiol 98(6):1985–1990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burgomaster KA, Heigenhauser GJ, Gibala MJ (2006) Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance. J Appl Physiol 100(6):2041–2047CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cochran AJ, Percival ME, Tricarico S, Little JP, Cermak N, Gillen JB, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2014) Intermittent and continuous high-intensity exercise training induce similar acute but different chronic muscle adaptations. Exp Physiol 99(5):782–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Francois ME, Baldi JC, Manning PJ, Lucas SJ, Hawley JA, Williams MJ, Cotter JD (2014) ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia 57(7):1437–1445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gibala MJ, Little JP, Van Essen M, Wilkin GP, Burgomaster KA, Safdar A, Raha S, Tarnopolsky MA (2006) Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. J Physiol 575(3):901–911CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gibala MJ, Little JP, MacDonald MJ, Hawley JA (2012) Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease. J Physiol 590(5):1077–1084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gillen JB, Percival ME, Skelly LE, Martin BJ, Tan RB, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2014) Three minutes of all-out intermittent exercise per week increases skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and improves cardiometabolic health. PloS One 9(11):e111489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016) Twelve weeks of sprint interval training improves indices of cardiometabolic health similar to traditional endurance training despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment. PloS one 11(4):e0154075CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Godin G, Shephard R (1985) A simple method to assess exercise behavior in the community. Can J Appl Sport Sci 10(3):141–146Google Scholar
  14. Ho B, Lim I, Tian R, Tan F, Aziz A (2018) Effects of a novel exercise training protocol of Wingate-based sprint bouts dispersed over a day on selected cardiometabolic health markers in sedentary females: a pilot study. BMJ Open Sport Exer Med 4(1):1–8Google Scholar
  15. Jakicic J, Wing R, Butler B, Robertson R (1995) Prescribing exercise in multiple short bouts versus one continuous bout: effects on adherence, cardiorespiratory fitness, and weight loss in overweight women. Int J Obesity Relat Metabol Disord 19(12):893–901Google Scholar
  16. Jenkins EM, Nairn LN, Skelly LE, Little JP, Gibala MJ (2019) Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Appl Physiol Nutr Metabol. Google Scholar
  17. Metcalfe RS, Babraj JA, Fawkner SG, Vollaard NB (2012) Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol 112(7):2767–2775CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Metcalfe RS, Tardif N, Thompson D, Vollaard NB (2016) Changes in aerobic capacity and glycaemic control in response to reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training (REHIT) are not different between sedentary men and women. Appl Physiol Nutr Metabol 41(11):1117–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Milanović Z, Sporiš G, Weston M (2015) 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(10):1469–1481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Myers J, Prakash M, Froelicher V, Do D, Partington S, Atwood JE (2002) Exercise capacity and mortality among men referred for exercise testing. N Engl J Med 346(11):793–801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. O’Malley T, Myette-Cote E, Durrer C, Little JP (2017) Nutritional ketone salts increase fat oxidation but impair high-intensity exercise performance in healthy adult males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 42:1031–1035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM et al (2018) The physical activity guidelines for Americans. J Am Med Assoc 320(19):2020–2028CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Poole DC, Jones AM (2017) Measurement of the maximum oxygen uptake \(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{2}\): VO2peak is no longer acceptable. J Appl Physiol 122(4):997–1002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. R Development Core Team (2018) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical ComputingGoogle Scholar
  25. Sallis JF, Haskell WL, Wood PD, Fortmann SP, Rogers T, Blair SN, PAFFENBARGER RS Jr (1985) Physical activity assessment methodology in the Five-City Project. Am J Epidemiol 121(1):91–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sloth M, Sloth D, Overgaard K, Dalgas U (2013) Effects of sprint interval training on VO2max and aerobic exercise performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports 23(6):e341–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Songsorn P, Lambeth-Mansell A, Mair JL, Haggett M, Fitzpatrick BL, Ruffino J, Holliday A, Metcalfe R, Vollaard N (2016) Exercise training comprising of single 20-s cycle sprints does not provide a sufficient stimulus for improving maximal aerobic capacity in sedentary individuals. Eur J Appl Physiol 116(8):1511–1517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Stanley DM, Williams SE, Cumming J (2009) Preliminary validation of a single-item measure of exercise enjoyment: the Exercise Enjoyment Scale. J Sport Exer Psychol 31:S138–S139Google Scholar
  29. Stork MJ, Gibala MJ, Martin KG (2018) Psychological and behavioral responses to interval and continuous exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 50(10):2110–2121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vollaard NB, Metcalfe R, Williams S (2017) Effect of number of sprints in a SIT session on change in VO2max: a meta analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc 49(6):1147–1156CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health and Exercise SciencesUniversity of British ColumbiaKelownaCanada
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

Personalised recommendations