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Breast cancer survivors lift the intensity

Keeping fit: a participant in EXPINKT gym's high-intensity functional training programme, Pam Sutherland

A novel exercise programme for breast cancer survivors is proving so popular that it may become permanent.

At EXPINKT gym at the University of Otago in Dunedin, 20 women are participating in high-intensity functional training for 20 weeks as part of a Master of Science degree project.

We want to see if we can increase their physical function, strength and fitness using group-based, shorter duration, high-intensity training,” says Exercise Sciences Associate Professor Lynnette Jones.


“They’re really enjoying it and are keen for us to continue offering these classes. It’s great!”

The women are all breast cancer survivors and have finished active treatment.

One of those doing the high-intensity programme, Pam Sutherland, started going to this gym in March 2010. She’d always played lots of sport and the cancer treatment and accompanying ‘head space’ resulted in her feeling caught in a downward spiral. Her oncologist referred her to EXPINKT.

“They’re so skilled and they’re all so caring,” she says of the gym staff. She also appreciates being with women who share a common experience of breast cancer.

Pam is enjoying the new high-intensity exercise programme, which has lots of weight, resistance and cardiovascular training.

“It’s nice to feel useful and be a part of somebody’s study and education,” she says, referring to the master’s student conducting the project, Sam Baxter.

Building on previous study 

Lynnette says that two years ago, a study of high-intensity interval training at EXPINKT showed improvements in heart and lung fitness and a decrease in waist circumference.

This latest project began in June and involves women who are already exercising, but imposes a higher intensity load on them to see how their strength and fitness improve.

Typically, such studies are of those who don’t usually exercise but this one is different.

“As far as we know it’s quite novel because we are using already recreationally-active women,” she says.

The 20 women were already each doing a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a week.

A control group of five females continue their usual exercise routines.

Twice a week, those doing the high-intensity programme have a 30-minute workout plus warm-up and cool-down. There is a mixture of strengthening and aerobic training.

It’s your best bang for your buck, incorporating both major types of exercise that we know have benefits.”


The training is group-based so between three and six women go to stations distributed through the gym, doing different exercises for a period then moving to the next station. The exercises change every five weeks.

Lynnette says baseline testing was carried out at the start of the programme and will be repeated at the end. It looks at a variety of measures, including cardiorespiratory, muscular strength, body composition and functional fitness.

Pam Sutherland works out at EXPINKT gym at the University of Otago in Dunedin

The study lasts five months because they want to see whether the participants are capable of doing high-intensity exercise for this long and to better assess their progress.

EXPINKT is considering how the programme could continue once the project is complete, she says.

The master’s student who is training the women and collecting, analysing and writing up the data, Sam, says participants are enjoying the benefits of regular, high-intensity exercise.

He tells them if they feel this good when the programme is almost halfway through, that they should think of how they’ll feel at the end of the 20 weeks!

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For more information:

The name EXPINKT is used to represent ‘exercise training beyond breast cancer’.

Find out more about this unique gym click here

Read our previous story here.


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