Physical activity plays a key role in increasing health and wellbeing across the human lifespan. This theme may include activity around physiology and nutrition, physical activity and workplace interventions, biomechanics and injury, applied sports psychology and public health and engineering.

Available PhD projects

2. Less pain, more gain: unveiling the neuromechanical barriers to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise in obesity

UQ academic leads

Dr Taylor Dick, School of Biomedical Sciences, Neuromuscular Biomechanics Lab
Professor Jeff Coombes, School of Health and Nutrition Sciences
Dr Shelley Keating, School of Health and Nutrition Sciences

Exeter academic lead

Dr Dominic Farris, Sport and Health Sciences

Project description

A PhD candidate is sought to strengthen a research collaboration between researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of Exeter exploring the utility, and potential neuromechanical barriers, of high-intensity interval training for improving the health of obese individuals.

Obesity represents a major challenge for health worldwide with physical inactivity contributing to the escalation of obesity and associated cardiovascular disease (CVD). One common barrier to engaging in regular physical activity is lack of time. High intensity interval training (HIIT) involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods and has been shown to be a potent and time-efficient way to achieve cardio-metabolic health benefits.

Adults with obesity exhibit high levels of musculoskeletal dysfunction, which may pose a mechanical barrier to the adoption and adherence of regular structured exercise. While highly effective for cardiovascular health, HIIT may place potentially injurious loads on the musculoskeletal system given the high impact nature of high intensity training. This issue is exacerbated in obese individuals whose body mass is disproportionate to their muscular strength. Therefore it is important to consider the suitability of HIIT for obese populations from a mechanical loading perspective as well as from a health benefit perspective.

To date, no study has determined the short- or long-term mechanical impacts of HIIT in obese populations.
Thus, this program of research involving three studies will explore the utility, and potential neuromechanical barriers, of HIIT for improving the health of obese individuals. These findings will inform targeted exercise programs to enhance adoption and adherence to exercise in populations with obesity.

Study 1 will determine the resulting impact forces and neuromuscular strategies associated with HIIT in obese populations during one acute session of exercise and Study 2 will determine the mechanical, neuromuscular, and cardiovascular changes that accompany 12 weeks of HIIT training as compared to 12 weeks of moderate-intensity continuous training in obese adults.
These two studies will highlight the neuromechanical barriers to HIIT in overweight individuals, and inform a novel exercise intervention in Study 3.

Study 3 will then test the efficacy of a targeted exercise intervention, which integrates ‘pre-hab’ exercises to build strength and mobility prior to HIIT to promote reductions in body adiposity and achieve cardiovascular improvements in a safe and effective manner.

In each study, measurements of body composition, CVD risk factors, joint mechanics, neuromuscular coordination strategies, muscle-tendon tissue mechanical properties, and pain will be assessed at various time points.


Submit UQ expression of interest form by 26 May 2018