Near-Infrared Spectroscopy: More Accurate Than Heart Rate for Monitoring Intensity in Running in Hilly Terrain

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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To investigate the cardiorespiratory and metabolic response of trail running and evaluate whether heart rate (HR) adequately reflects the exercise intensity or if the tissue-saturation index (TSI) could provide a more accurate measure during running in hilly terrain.


Seventeen competitive runners (4 women, V̇O2max, 55 ± 6 mL · kg–1 · min–1; 13 men, V̇O2max, 68 ± 6 mL · kg–1 · min–1) performed a time trial on an off-road trail course. The course was made up of 2 laps covering a total distance of 7 km and included 6 steep uphill and downhill sections with an elevation gain of 486 m. All runners were equipped with a portable breath-by-breath gas analyzer, HR belt, global positioning system receiver, and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) device to measure the TSI.


During the trail run, the exercise intensity in the uphill and downhill sections was 94% ± 2% and 91% ± 3% of maximal heart rate, respectively, and 84% ± 8% and 68% ± 7% of V̇O2max, respectively. The oxygen uptake (V̇O2) increased in the uphill sections and decreased in the downhill sections (P < .01). Although HR was unaffected by the altering slope conditions, the TSI was inversely correlated to the changes in V̇O2 (r = –.70, P < .05).


HR was unaffected by the continuously changing exercise intensity; however, TSI reflected the alternations in V̇O2. Recently used exclusively for scientific purposes, this NIRS-based variable may offer a more accurate alternative than HR to monitor running intensity in the future, especially for training and competition in hilly terrain.

Born is with the Inst for Sport Sciences, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany. Stöggl is with the Dept of Sport Science and Kinesiology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria. Swarén and Björklund are with Dept of Health Sciences, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden.

Address correspondence to Dennis-Peter Born at