Variability in exercise physiology: Can capturing intra-individual variation help better understand true inter-individual responses?

Oliver Chrzanowski-Smith, Eva Piatrikova, James Betts, Sean Williams, Javier Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Exploring individual responses to exercise training is a growing area of interest. Understanding reasons behind true observed inter-individual responses may help personalise exercise training to maximise the benefits received. While numerous factors have been explored, an often underappreciated consideration in the sport and exercise science field is the influence intra-individual variation, both in a single measurement and in response to an intervention, may have on training outcomes. Several study designs and statistical approaches are available to incorporate intra-individual variation into interventions and accordingly provide information on whether ‘true’ inter-individual responses are present or if they are an artefact of intra-individual variation. However, such approaches are sparingly applied. Moreover, intra¬-individual variation may also be important when true inter-individual response differences are present. In this perspective piece, the concept of intra-individual variation is described before briefly summarising study designs and statistical practices to account for intra-individual variation. We then outline two examples of physiological practices (stratified randomisation and prescribing exercise programmes upon training parameters) to demonstrate why sport and exercise scientists should acknowledge intra-individual variation prior to the implementation of an intervention, which potentially offers an additional explanation behind observed true inter-individual responses to training. Repeated testing pre-implementation of exercise training would conceptually provide more confident estimates of training parameters, which if utilised in a study design will help attenuate biases that may dictate inter-individual differences. Moreover, the incorporation of intra-individual differences will facilitate insights into alternative factors that may predict and/or explain true observed individual responses to an exercise training programme.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-460
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
Issue number4
Early online date20 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • intra-individual variation
  • inter-individual responses
  • variability
  • exercise
  • training


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