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High-intensity workout effective for breast cancer survivors

University of Otago Master of Science student, Sam Baxter, exercising at the EXPINKT™ gym in Dunedin. Photo: Guy Frederick

A high-intensity exercise programme has proven effective for women who’ve survived breast cancer and finished active treatment.

“The high-intensity functional training programme that we did is as effective, if not more effective, than the regular gym work that they were doing,” University of Otago Master of Science student, Sam Baxter, says.

From June to the end of December last year, 20 Dunedin women participated in the programme for his master’s research. They’re all regulars at the University’s unique EXPINKT gym for breast cancer survivors.

The women were already doing a minimum of 60 minutes’ physical activity a week, however switched to 30 minutes twice a week. They trained in groups, with a higher intensity load to see how their strength and fitness improved.

A control group of five continued their usual exercise routines.

Sam submitted his master’s thesis at the end of April and shared the results with the Daily Encourager.

Programme participants experienced some increases in lower body strength and increased functional fitness. The tests for this involved real-life scenarios such as lifting weights off the ground and putting them on a table.

While the body composition of the control group didn’t change too much, the high-intensity exercisers saw a change.

They gained some muscle and lost some fat. There was an average decrease in body fat and an average increase in muscle mass,” Sam says.


Upper body strength and cardiorespiratory fitness didn’t alter much for women on the programme, probably because they were already active. Their starting points were higher than those for an unfit person.

Safe and effective

Sam says his thesis increases the catalogue of safe and effective exercise breast cancer survivors can do.

For the past few years, he’s been investigating the benefits of high-intensity exercise together with his “incredible” supervisor, Lynnette Jones, an Associate Professor at the University School of Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Sciences.

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

While some doctors might be wary of women doing such exercise after their cancer and treatment, Sam says they don’t need to be.

We’ve seen in the gym that they’re not delicate little flowers, that if they want to work out with high-intensity stuff in the gym, that they can do that.”


Participants found the programme physically effective and also enjoyable.

“They loved it,” he says.

One reason was time effectiveness, with a circuit taking 30 minutes instead of an hour’s regular training. The desire to “get in, get out, get gone” was important for some.

Another reason was the change of pace. Some had been doing the same type of exercise for a few years and younger women in particular appreciated doing circuits like they’d done before their cancer diagnosis.

Sam says once his thesis is marked, he may submit it to a scientific journal. Sadly for this specialist gym community, he has shifted to Blenheim to start a healthcare job.

However, Lynnette says EXPINKT continues to offer the high-intensity fitness training classes because participants enjoyed them and others want to give them a go.

“From my perspective, it was interesting to see how much the women enjoyed the challenge,” she says.

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

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For further information:


Our previous story about this study


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