Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Participants needed for Madonna’s high-intensity interval training research

November 04, 2021

We all know there is no magic pill, but can high-intensity interval training play a role in helping individuals recovering from a stroke or breast cancer improve their function and stamina? 

That question is at the heart of two different research studies set to start at Madonna’s Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering this fall.

High-intensity interval training or HIIT is a quick cardio workout, featuring repeated short bursts of activity interspersed with rest periods. Years of evidence have shown that HIIT can help an individual lose weight, build muscle and boost metabolism. However, it is still unclear how beneficial this type of workout could be for people who have experienced serious illnesses, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease or breast cancer.

“We’re focused on integrating the high-intensity interval training approach with Madonna’s ICARE technology to help individuals not only rebuild stamina and but also regain other key abilities such as walking or moving an arm more independently with less pain,” Dr. Judith M. Burnfield, Ph.D., PT, the director of the Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, said. “We see HIIT as a very promising approach, particularly when combined with ICARE’s capacity to guide movement of the legs and arms.”

Madonna’s Institute developed the ICARE by SportsArt, a motorized elliptical trainer, to improve walking and fitness levels in individuals recovering from a serious illness or injury. Now, this leading-edge technology will play a starring role in the Institute’s HIIT research.

Burnfield and her team originally began this project in 2019, but the pandemic changed their plans. Now, they are ready to re-launch the two studies, one focusing on individuals recovering from a neurological illness and the other concentrating on breast cancer survivors.

“We like the high-intensity approach because it’s time efficient,” Burnfield said. “Whether 40 or 80 years old, we appreciate that many of the people who work with us are busy. Our goal is to develop training approaches that efficiently help individuals improve their independence and stamina so they have time to accomplish the other activities they love, whether those are playing with children/grandchildren, returning to work, or volunteering for a cause that really benefits from their talents.”

As part of each study, research participants will be required to complete three supervised training sessions a week for eight weeks on Madonna’s ICARE. These sessions can take place at either Madonnas’ Omaha or Lincoln campuses.

“We'll be measuring changes in performance,” Burnfield said. “We anticipate most people will show improvements, but we also want to understand why some people have better responses than others. What we want is for people to get the treatment that's best for them.”

Burnfield also noted the physical toll the pandemic may have taken on individuals who have experienced serious injuries and illnesses.

“There may be a lot of people with neurologic disorders or who have completed treatment for breast cancer who have been cautious about going out and maybe are a little bit more deconditioned because they haven't been going out to their therapy or other things,” Burnfield said. “We would love to talk with them and see whether or not they might qualify for either of these studies.”

If you are interested in participating or would like more information about Madonna’s HIIT research, contact Burnfield at

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