While considerable evidence suggests that interval exercise confers numerous physiological adaptations linked to improved health, its psychological consequences and behavioural implications are less clear and the subject of intense debate. The purpose of this scoping review was to catalogue studies investigating the psychological responses to interval exercise in order to identify what psychological outcomes have been assessed, the research methods used, and the results. A secondary objective was to identify research issues and gaps. Forty-two published articles met the review inclusion/exclusion criteria. These studies involved 1258 participants drawn from various active/inactive and healthy/unhealthy populations, and 55 interval exercise protocols (69% high-intensity interval training [HIIT], 27% sprint interval training [SIT], and 4% body-weight interval training [BWIT]). Affect and enjoyment were the most frequently studied psychological outcomes. Post-exercise assessments indicate that overall, enjoyment of, and preferences for interval exercise are equal or greater than for continuous exercise, and participants can hold relatively positive social cognitions regarding interval exercise. Although several methodological issues (e.g., inconsistent use of terminology, measures and protocols) and gaps (e.g., data on adherence and real-world protocols) require attention, from a psychological perspective, the emerging data support the viability of interval exercise as an alternative to continuous exercise.
Keywords: Interval exercise; exercise psychology; interval training; public health; scoping review.