UWTSD Physiologist establishes that less frequent, higher intensity exercise is successful in improving fitness in ageing men


Research by Dr Peter Herbert, a physiologist from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, has proved that shorter, harder training sessions followed by longer recovery periods can have positive results on an older person’s fitness levels.



The traditional guideline for older people – and the recommendation of both the NHS and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) - is that over 50s partake in 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity training per week yet Peter Herbert’s research has found that there is an alternative way of training that can offer significant benefits for older people.

A highly experienced physiologist and a former Strength and Conditioning coach with the Scarlets and the Wales national rugby team, Dr Peter Herbert has a wealth of knowledge and experience of working with sportspeople of all ages from a wide range of disciplines.

Peter is also an extremely successful cyclist, recently winning a bronze medal at the World Masters Track Cycling Championship in the 500m sprint at 70 years of age.

Having trained intensively throughout his career, by the time Peter reached his mid-50s he realised that his fitness levels weren’t increasing, even though he was training harder than ever.  Peter also realised that it was taking longer for him to recover after each session so decided to change the way he trained, doing fewer sessions of higher intensity.

Noticing an improvement in his fitness levels, strength and performance, Peter decided to look scientifically at the changes he’d made to his own training regime by undertaking a study that would help us understand whether older males could tolerate high intensity training. 

“In a unique study that started in 2012, we looked at two groups of male participants with very different fitness levels, all aged between 56 and 74,” says Peter.

“The first group was sedentary and hadn’t exercised for thirty years so we firstly asked them partake in moderate training for six weeks, following the NHS’s guideline of 150 minutes per week.  This improved their overall fitness and prepared them to take part in the study.

“The second group comprised of athletes who had trained throughout their lives and who were still training intensively and competing in a range of sports.  These Masters athletes continued to train in their usual way for the first six weeks of the study,” continues Dr Herbert.

Having monitored and measured the participants, Peter then set about working with both groups on a programme of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) over a period of six weeks.

Participants would train once every 5 days doing 6 x 30s sprints on the bike interspersed by 3 minute recovery periods.

Each session lasted 18 minutes, comprising of 3 minutes of high intensity work and 15 minutes of recovery.  Over a period of 6 weeks, this meant that each participant was exercising for 27 minutes.

Between each session, the men could take part in some low intensity exercise such as walking but were stopped from exercising at higher levels.

“The results at the end of the research period were overwhelming,” says Peter. “The HIIT training caused significant increases in the oxygen capacity (VO2max) of the Masters athletes – all of whom were previously exercising at high intensity at least 3 times a week.

“There were also increases in leg power, a positive effect not only for the masters athletes but also for the more sedentary as this improved strength and power could be beneficial in later life helping with everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, getting up, lifting and carrying.

“Participants also experienced fat loss, increase in muscle size, improved performance as well as greater general health benefits.  Testosterone levels of the participants increased resulting in yet another health benefit by reducing the need for hormone supplements,” adds Peter.

The staggering results of this research has attracted significant attention across the globe and has thus far had numerous peer reviewed publications and presentations on aspects of muscle power, recovery, quality of life and motivation to exercise, peak power; body composition and testosterone levels.

If anyone is interested in taking part in high intensity training, it’s vital that you talk to your GP before starting.

For further information on the School of Sport, Health and Outdoor Education at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, please visit www.uwtsd.ac.uk/sport-health-outdoor/


Note to Editor

  1. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David was established in 2010 through the merger of the University of Wales Lampeter and Trinity University College, Carmarthen. On 1 August 2013 the Swansea Metropolitan University merged with the University.
  2. The University’s Royal Charter 1828 is the oldest in Wales, and it is third behind Oxford and Cambridge in Wales and England. HRH Prince of Wales is the Patron of the University.
  3. On 1 August, 2013 Coleg Sir Gâr merged with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Group, however they will keep their own brand. Coleg Ceredigion merged with the Group on 1 January 2014

Further Information

  1. For further information, please contact Sian-Elin Davies by emailing sian-elin.davies@uwtsd.ac.uk / 01267 676908 / 07449 998476