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This descriptive study aimed to explore the physiological factors that determine tolerance to exertion during high-intensity interval effort. Forty-seven young women (15–28 years old) were enrolled: 23 athletes from Taiwan national or national reserve teams and 24 moderately active females. Each participant underwent a maximal incremental INC (modified Bruce protocol) cardiopulmonary exercise test on the first day and high-intensity interval testing (HIIT) on the second day, both performed on a treadmill. The HIIT protocol involved alternation between 1-min effort at 120% of the maximal speed, at the same slope reached at the end of the INC, and 1-min rest until volitional exhaustion. Gas exchange, heart rate (HR), and muscle oxygenation at the right vastus lateralis, measured by near-infrared spectroscopy, were continuously recorded. The number of repetitions completed (Rlim) by each participant was considered the HIIT tolerance index. The results showed a large difference in the Rlim (range, 2.6–12.0 repetitions) among the participants. Stepwise linear regression revealed that the variance in the Rlim within the cohort was related to the recovery rates of oxygen consumption (), HR at the second minute after INC, and muscle tissue saturation index at exhaustion (R = 0.644). In addition, age was linearly correlated with Rlim (adjusted R = −0.518, p < 0.0001). In conclusion, the recovery rates for and HR after the incremental test, and muscle saturation index at exhaustion, were the major physiological factors related to HIIT performance. These findings provide insights into the role of the recovery phase after maximal INC exercise testing. Future research investigating a combination of INC and HIIT testing to determine training-induced performance improvement is warranted.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.