The Search For Optimal Reps

Scientists found that after performing two maximal sprints, each additional sprint in a training session reduced the overall improvement in fitness by around 5% on average.

Time crunches play an important part in the patterns we adopt for our training. So, it may make sense to do fewer repetitions during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts if it can get better fitness benefits than those who complete more. That’s what we’d like to know.

A team of Scottish researchers did an analysis of existing studies, looking for proof on the best number of reps/sets to do. Specifically, they looked at the benefits of regularly performing repetitions of a special type of high-intensity cycle sprint known as ‘supramaximal’. They found doing fewer repetitions of these sprint intervals on a bike may lead to greater improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness.They found that doing fewer reps but hitting the supramaximal effort (95 to 100% VO2 Max) can lead to better results, particularly in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness.

How many reps of supramaximal effort are recommended? According to the research, just two. Those who did two reps showed the same results as those who did more than two. The results were the same, cardiorespiratory fitness didn’t suffer, and, best of all, those who did just two reps completed their workout more quickly.

Dr. Niels Vollaard, Lecturer in Health and Exercise Science in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Sterling, said: “For the first time, we have evidence to suggest an indicator of fitness levels is improved more by doing fewer repetitions of the high-intensity exercise. We are currently performing studies to investigate the physiological mechanisms that may explain this unexpected finding.”

“To encourage more people to become active and help increase the health of the population, we need to investigate the optimal duration and number of sprint intervals people could undertake on a bike while getting the same benefits as longer sessions.”

Granted this study doesn’t give you a ticket to 2-rep lifting sessions or workouts. The findings of this research are only applicable to ‘supramaximal’ exercise, which requires specialized exercise bikes that enable very high exercise intensities. Whether HIIT workouts at lower intensities also benefit from a low number of sprint repetitions is not yet known.

Yet, the more we learn about HIIT, the more likely it is that we will eventually come up with better exercise methodologies that drive more people to get healthy simply because we can make workouts more efficient. Not having time shouldn’t be an excuse for adopting a fitness routine but, there is, no doubt, a time deficit that we all have to face in our daily lives as we rush to work, spend time with your families, and just get through the daily grind.


!. Niels BJ Vollaard, Richard S Metcalfe, Sean Williams. “Effect of Number of Sprints in a SIT Session on Change in VO2max.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2017

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