High but not moderate-intensity endurance training increases pain tolerance: a randomised trial

Thomas O'Leary, Johnny Collett, Ken Howells, Martyn Morris

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28 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose To examine the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) compared to volume-matched moderate-intensity continuous training (CONT) on muscle pain tolerance and high-intensity exercise tolerance. Methods Twenty healthy adults were randomly assigned (1:1) to either 6 weeks of HIIT [6–8 × 5 min at halfway between lactate threshold and maximal oxygen uptake (50%Δ)] or volume-matched CONT (~60–80 min at 90% lactate threshold) on a cycle ergometer. A tourniquet test to examine muscle pain tolerance and two time to exhaustion (TTE) trials at 50%Δ to examine exercise tolerance were completed pre- and post-training; the post-training TTE trials were completed at the pre-training 50%Δ (same absolute-intensity) and the post-training 50%Δ (same relative-intensity). Results HIIT and CONT resulted in similar improvements in markers of aerobic fitness (all P ≥ 0.081). HIIT increased TTE at the same absolute- and relative-intensity as pre-training (148 and 43%, respectively) to a greater extent than CONT (38 and −4%, respectively) (both P ≤ 0.019). HIIT increased pain tolerance (41%, P < 0.001), whereas CONT had no effect (−3%, P = 0.720). Changes in pain tolerance demonstrated positive relationships with changes in TTE at the same absolute- (r = 0.44, P = 0.027) and relative-intensity (r = 0.51, P = 0.011) as pre-training. Conclusion The repeated exposure to a high-intensity training stimulus increases muscle pain tolerance, which is independent of the improvements in aerobic fitness induced by endurance training, and may contribute to the increase in high-intensity exercise tolerance following HIIT.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2201-2210
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number11
Early online date6 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Central nervous system
  • Exercise tolerance
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Muscle pain


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