The Effect of Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training on Body Composition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Evidence for the efficacy of low-volume high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for the modulation of body composition is unclear.
We examined the effect of low-volume HIIT versus a non-exercising control and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness in normal weight, overweight and obese adults. We evaluated the impact of low-volume HIIT (HIIT interventions where the total amount of exercise performed during training was ≤ 500 metabolic equivalent minutes per week [MET-min/week]) compared to a non-exercising control and MICT.
A database search was conducted in PubMed (MEDLINE), EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science, SPORTDiscus and Scopus from the earliest record to June 2019 for studies (randomised controlled trials and non-randomised controlled trials) with exercise training interventions with a minimum 4-week duration. Meta-analyses were conducted for between-group (low-volume HIIT vs. non-exercising control and low-volume HIIT vs. MICT) comparisons for change in total body fat mass (kg), body fat percentage (%), lean body mass (kg) and cardiorespiratory fitness.
From 11,485 relevant records, 47 studies were included. No difference was found between low-volume HIIT and a non-exercising control on total body fat mass (kg) (effect size [ES]: − 0.129, 95% confidence interval [CI] − 0.468 to 0.210; p = 0.455), body fat (%) (ES: − 0.063, 95% CI − 0.383 to 0.257; p = 0.700) and lean body mass (kg) (ES: 0.050, 95% CI − 0.250 to 0.351; p = 0.744), or between low-volume HIIT and MICT on total body fat mass (kg) (ES: − 0.021, 95% CI − 0.272 to 0.231; p = 0.872), body fat (%) (ES: 0.005, 95% CI − 0.294 to 0.304; p = 0.974) and lean body mass (kg) (ES: 0.030, 95% CI − 0.167 to 0.266; p = 0.768). However, low-volume HIIT significantly improved cardiorespiratory fitness compared with a non-exercising control (p < 0.001) and MICT (p = 0.017).
These data suggest that low-volume HIIT is inefficient for the modulation of total body fat mass or total body fat percentage in comparison with a non-exercise control and MICT. A novel finding of our meta-analysis was that there appears to be no significant effect of low-volume HIIT on lean body mass when compared with a non-exercising control, and while most studies tended to favour improvement in lean body mass with low-volume HIIT versus MICT, this was not significant. However, despite its lower training volume, low-volume HIIT induces greater improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness than a non-exercising control and MICT in normal weight, overweight and obese adults. Low-volume HIIT, therefore, appears to be a time-efficient treatment for increasing fitness, but not for the improvement of body composition.
Miss Rachelle N. Sultana is the guarantor of this work and, as such, had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Miss Sultana would like to thank her co-authors for their continuous work and contribution to the development of this manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.
Conflict of interest
Rachelle N. Sultana, Angelo Sabag, Shelley E. Keating and Nathan A. Johnson declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.
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