Short-term sprint interval rocks

How effective can a set of short-term sprint intervals compared to regular endurance training at a comfortable pace be? It is well known that interval training can be time saving, but in July 2006 there was published an interesting study in The Journal of Physiology. The scientists compared the outcome of low volume sprint training 3 times a week (4-6  x (30sec. all-out efforts / 4 min. recovery)) with high volume endurance training 3 times a week (90-120min at 65% VO2 peak).

Before they started the training programs the riders performed a 2km and 30km time trial. After the 14-days training program, they did the same tests over again. Muscle samples were taken to show molecular and cellular adaptations.

There were similar increments in muscle oxidative capacity, muscle buffering capacity and glycogen content in both groups. All these increments were significant which shows us, that the initial adaptations seem to be the same, whether you go for short intervals or long rides. The interesting part is that the sprint-group spent much less time on their training but got the same improvements in performance. Actually they only spent 7-8 minutes a week on their intervals (and 60 minutes recovery time).  The endurance group rode their bikes for more than 5 hours a week!

This report is very interesting and I look forward to read more results from these scientists. In the future I will prefer a setup with trained cyclists instead of just ‘active men’ and let them stick to the training program for a longer period of time. Nevertheless this study shows something about how deep impact intervals can make on performance.

I´ll go for some high intensity sprints on my Principia this afternoon…

Gibala MJ, Little JP, van Essen M, Wilkin GP, Burgomaster KA, Safdar A, Raha
S, Tarnopolsky MA.  Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: Similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. J Physiol. 2006 Jul 6;

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10 comments… add one
  • Hey,
    Good article you got there. But normally, what is the distance you use to train for sprints? And how many sprints do you train per day, and what is the interval for every sprint if you train daily. Anyway, is it reccomended to train, for eg. Day 1- Short term sprint training, Day 2- Recover, Day 3- Short term sprint training, Day 4- revoer etc.. Would that affect your performance the following training session?

  • Hey Ellery,

    That depends on what your goals for your training are. A normal training session could be 4-8 sprints of 7-12 seconds with long recoveries between each sprint. It is a common mistake not to be fully recovered before the next sprint when you train for maximal power output. If you have specifique goals aka anaerobic endurance for 1km time trial on the track, then you will need a combination of short sprints for power and longer sprints to develop anaerobic endurance.

    If you train short sprints only, you can do it every day if you do not overdo it.

    In the study mentioned in the article they use long 30 seconds allout sprints. After only a few of these sprints you will definitely need an easy day before your next interval day.

  • Hey Jesper,

    Thanks for your input, how long long is a long sprint and how short is a short sprint? How many kilometers is it? I’m not training for time trials or on the track, i’m just trying to build up my speed, and probably endurance. 7-12 seconds of recovery? Ain’t that too little? Anyway, thanks for the advice, better start training soon.

  • I wrote 4-8 sprints of 7-12 seconds. That is the duration of each short sprint (not the sprint mentioned in the article). I guess that is somewhere around 125-175m for flying sprints.

    The recovery period between each sprint should be at least 4-5 minutes.

    Long sprints, which are mentioned as ‘short sprint intervals’ in the article, is 30seconds allout. That is equal to 325-450m sprinting I quess.

  • Alright, thanks for your input.

  • Lars Link

    It isnt very interesting because its done on untrained persons. All training improves your performance when you are untrained.

  • The interesting point is that the high intensity group spend less time on the bike than the distance training group (2hrs vs 10hrs). Both groups made signifant increments compared to baseline. There were similar increments in muscle oxidative capacity, muscle buffering capacity and glycogen content in both groups, indicating that some of the initial adaptive mechanisms for these different training programs might be the same.

    As I also write in the post, I will prefer that future studies are done at trained cyclists instead of just ‘active men’. The problem about this is that it will require a larger test group because it is much more difficult to prove a significant difference. A longer testing period would also be of benefit, because these changes observed might be just initial adaptations that will change with time.

  • Diego Link


    I agree with your point you might see more benefits for time trials and criteriums. I am not quite sure that the same will happen in a road race that goes beyond 60 minutes. I would say that the people who train two hours might have a better base to finish up better.


  • John Link

    What’s better for fat-loss? Short intervals(say, 10 second sprints), or longer ones(30 second sprints)?

  • karamat ali Link

    it’s not how far u go but how fast u go…faster=fitter (in the l o n g run)

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