Supramaximal Interval Training vs. High Intensity Interval Training

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’re well aware that High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a hot topic in the fitness training and sports conditioning fields. And, unlike most fitness trends that come and go like clothing styles, interval training isn’t going anywhere because it’s based on a solid foundation of research showing its benefits on body fat reduction, and improving fitness and conditioning.

That said, although you may be familiar with the phrase high intensity interval training (HIIT), you may not be familiar with Supramaximal Interval Training (SMIT), which many fitness trainers, coaches and exercise enthusiasts are actually doing and mistakenly calling HIIT.

High Intensity Interval Training vs. Supramaximal Interval Training

Put simply, HIIT is a training modality that involves performing high intensity exercise intervals (at or arounds one’s VO2-max) that are either interspersed with low-to-moderate intensity exercise recovery phases. On the other hand, SMIT involves performing maximal intensity (i.e., all-out) bursts of work (above one’s VO2-max) interspersed with full rest periods (i.e., no activity or very low intensity activity).

In this video I also provide a very simplified delinination between supramaximal interval training and high intensity interval training:

It’s important to note that with both HIIT and SMIT, the more intense the work interval, the longer the recovery period between it should be. That said, since SMIT involves supra-maximal (i.e all out) intensity, the recovery period is often required to be a full rest (i.e. no activity), whereas with HIIT, you’re working hard, but you’re not going all out, so you can often use an “active rest” by incorporating low intensity exercise during the recovery phase between work intervals.

SMIT may be a More Effective Training Method than HIIT (for active individuals) at Improving Fitness and Performance.

A 2013 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science looked at the endurance and sprint benefits of high-intensity (HIIT) and supramaximal interval training (SMIT). The researchers in this study found, “improvements in 3000m time trial performance were greater following SMIT than continuous running, and improvements in 40 m sprint and Repeated Sprint Ability (RSA) performance were greater following SMIT than HIT and continuous running.” (1)

Additionally, the researchers in this study observed a gender effect for the 3000 m time trial only, where females changed more following the training intervention than males.

In other words, the study found that SMIT provided the greatest benefits, over HITT,  for physically active individuals for concurrent improvements in endurance (especially in women), sprint and repeated sprint performance.

Vo2-Max and Supramaximal Training?

In the 2013 study mentioned above, the participants were split into three groups:

– The HIIT group did 4-6 bouts per session of 4 min (work) at 100% of their VO2 max, and 4 min passive recovery (standing or sitting still).

– Participants in the SMIT group performed 7-12 bouts per session of 30sec of work at 130% of their VO2 max with 150 seconds of passive recovery.

– The third (control) group did 30 min continuous running at 75% VO2 max. Each groups trained three times per week for six weeks.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the concept of Vo2 max, you may be curious as to how you can work at 130% of your Vo2 max, as its counter intuitive that one can go above 100%. The answer, to clarify this confusion, comes from a basic understanding of what your Vo2 max is.

VO2max is measured in ml/kg/min; milliliters per kilogram a minute. In the book Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition, VO2 max is defined as “the highest rate of oxygen consumption attainable during maximal or exhaustive exercise.”

In other words, as exercise intensity increases so does oxygen consumption. That said, a point is reached where exercise intensity can continue to increase without an associated rise in oxygen consumption. What we’re really talking about here is going from an aerobic state to an anaerobic state.

Using Both SMIT and HIIT

Like another method of training, no matter how good, you can’t always do SMIT, as your body will not only become more adapted to the type of stimulus making your training efforts less effective, but you’re also more likely to lose interest when you’re doing the same type of conditioning. That’s where HIIT comes in – it give us another different training option that has been shown in the research to also provide improved work capacity (i.e., conditioning), improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning. (2,3,4)

It’s for this reason that the Performance U approach to interval training integrates both SMIT and HIIT workout protocols. In addition, some steady state cardio (i.e. aerobic training) is also utilized because you can’t hit it hard everyday.

Shuttle Sprints: Our Favorite Supramaximal Interval Training Protocol

Put simply, shuttle sprints are one of our absolute favorite ways to incorporate Supramaximal interval training into workouts because you don need any special equipment, or even need to be inside a gym to do them. You just need to will to go through some super intense work, which – no secret here – is just plain tough! But, with the right mindset you’ll realize it’s not tougher than YOU are!

How to do it shuttle sprints:

– Place two cones or water bottles roughly 25 yards apart.

– Sprint as fast as possible back and forth between the cones. Be sure to drive with your arms while sprinting.
 Up and back between the cones = 1 round trip.

– You can sprint 150yds, 200yds, 250yds or 300yds. (6 round trips = 300yds, 5 round trips = 250yds, 4 round trips = 200yds, 3 round trips = 150yds)

– Touch the cones each time. When changing direction at each cone, be aware of your lower-body alignment and control.

– To help prevent hamstring pull, which often occur from quick starts; jog up to the first cone to begin each sprint round, instead of starting from a dead-stop position.

6-Week Shuttle Sprint Program

Training smart means using smart progression to gradually increases the intensity of each of your workouts to ensure that your continually improve (i.e., progress) with much less risk of injury or over-training.

Here’s a six-week shuttle sprint workout progression used in the Performance U training system to safely & effectively benefit from this sprint interval training modality:

Week 1 – 300yd x1, 250 x1, 200 x2, 150 x2

Week 2 – 300 x1, 250 x2, 200 x2, 150 x1

Week 3 – 300 x2, 250 x1, 200 x2, 150 x1

Week 4 – 300 x2, 250 x1, 200 x3, 150 x1

Week 5 – 300yd x2, 250 x2, 200 x2, 150 x2

Week 6 – 300 x2, 250 x3, 200 x2, 150 x2

Rest 3-6 minutes between sprint sets depending on the distance sprinted and on your fitness level (i.e., recovery ability). Don’t start your next sprint set until you can complete a full sentence without huffing and puffing (i.e., pass the Talk Test).

The Performance U 300-Yard Shuttle Challenge

Check out this article from STACK, which features 13 Fitness Challenges That Will Destroy You, including the 300-Yard Shuttle Speed Test from yours truly.



1. Endurance and sprint benefits of high-intensity and supra-maximal interval training. Cicioni-Kolsky D, Lorenzen C, Williams MD, Kemp JG. Eur J Sport Sci. 2013 May;13(3):304-11.

2. Perry, Christopher G.R.; Heigenhauser, et al. (December 2008). “High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle”. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 33 (6): 1112–1123.

3. Laursen, P.B.; Jenkins D.G. (2002). “The Scientific Basis for High-Intensity Interval Training: Optimising Training Programmes and Maximising Performance in Highly Trained Endurance Athletes”. Sports Medicine 32 (1): 53–73.

4. Talanian, Jason L.; Stuart D. R. Galloway, et al. (2007). “Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women”. Journal of Applied Physiology 102 (4): 1439–1447.

Blog Banner

Learn How To Program Like A Pro

Using My Must-Have Programming Charts

Learn how I how I quickly and easily create programs that get results and keep clients coming back for more by downloading my 2 must-have programming charts and watching the included video lesson.

With these two charts, you’ll be able to combine the most important functional movements with isolation exercises for the perfect balance of strength, hypertrophy and performance.

In this video lesson you’ll discover:

And much more!

If your goal is to write better programs for your clients and save time while doing so, then you’ll want to sign up for this free lesson!