Background: The efficacy of high-intensity interval training for a broad spectrum of cardio-metabolic health outcomes is not in question. Rather, the effectiveness of this form of exercise is at stake. In this paper we debate the issues concerning the likely success or failure of high-intensity interval training interventions for population-level health promotion.
Discussion: Biddle maintains that high-intensity interval training cannot be a viable public health strategy as it will not be adopted or maintained by many people. This conclusion is based on an analysis of perceptions of competence, the psychologically aversive nature of high-intensity exercise, the affective component of attitudes, the less conscious elements of motivated behaviour that reflect our likes and dislikes, and analysis using the RE-AIM framework. Batterham argues that this appraisal is based on a constrained and outmoded definition of high-intensity interval training and that truly practical and scalable protocols have been - and continue to be - developed. He contends that the purported displeasure associated with this type of exercise has been overstated. Biddle suggests that the way forward is to help the least active become more active rather than the already active to do more. Batterham claims that traditional physical activity promotion has been a spectacular failure. He proposes that, within an evolutionary health promotion framework, high-intensity interval training could be a successful population strategy for producing rapid physiological adaptations benefiting public health, independent of changes in total physical activity energy expenditure.
Summary: Biddle recommends that we focus our attention elsewhere if we want population-level gains in physical activity impacting public health. His conclusion is based on his belief that high-intensity interval training interventions will have limited reach, effectiveness, and adoption, and poor implementation and maintenance. In contrast, Batterham maintains that there is genuine potential for scalable, enjoyable high-intensity interval exercise interventions to contribute substantially to addressing areas of public health priority, including prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.