Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Br J Sports Med. 2019 May;53(10):655-664. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928. Epub 2019 Feb 14.


Objectives: To compare the effects of interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training (MOD) on body adiposity in humans, and to perform subgroup analyses that consider the type and duration of interval training in different groups.

Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources: English-language, Spanish-language and Portuguese-language searches of the electronic databases PubMed and Scopus were conducted from inception to 11 December 2017.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies: Studies that met the following criteria were included: (1) original articles, (2) human trials, (3) minimum exercise training duration of 4 weeks, and (4) directly or indirectly compared interval training with MOD as the primary or secondary aim.

Results: Of the 786 studies found, 41 and 36 were included in the qualitative analysis and meta-analysis, respectively. Within-group analyses showed significant reductions in total body fat percentage (%) (interval training: -1.50 [95% CI -2.14 to -0.86, p<0.00001] and MOD: -1.44 [95% CI -2.00 to -0.89, p<0.00001]) and in total absolute fat mass (kg) (interval training: -1.58 [95% CI -2.74 to -0.43, p=0.007] and MOD: -1.13 [95% CI -2.18 to -0.08, p=0.04]), with no significant differences between interval training and MOD for total body fat percentage reduction (-0.23 [95% CI -1.43 to 0.97], p=0.705). However, there was a significant difference between the groups in total absolute fat mass (kg) reduction (-2.28 [95% CI -4.00 to -0.56], p=0.0094). Subgroup analyses comparing sprint interval training (SIT) with MOD protocols favour SIT for loss of total absolute fat mass (kg) (-3.22 [95% CI -5.71 to -0.73], p=0.01). Supervised training, walking/running/jogging, age (<30 years), study quality and intervention duration (<12 weeks) favourably influence the decreases in total absolute fat mass (kg) observed from interval training programmes; however, no significant effect was found on total body fat percentage (%). No effect of sex or body mass index was observed on total absolute fat mass (kg) or total body fat percentage (%).

Conclusion: Interval training and MOD both reduce body fat percentage (%). Interval training provided 28.5% greater reductions in total absolute fat mass (kg) than MOD.

Trial registration number: CRD42018089427.

Keywords: exercise; fat percentage; meta-analysis; sports and exercise medicine.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Exercise
  • High-Intensity Interval Training*
  • Humans
  • Weight Loss*