Blood Flow Restriction Training
Blood Flow Restriction Training
Blood flow restriction training, also known as occlusion training, is one of the latest (and potentially greatest) resistance training methods. You’ll find many experts have tried it with excellent results.
So let’s dive in and find out what the heck this new training is…
What is Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training?
Blood flow restriction training involves occluding or restricting blood flow to muscles that are being trained. While this may sound counter-intuitive—after all, blood is vital for muscular function!—you need to know that you’re only cutting off venous blood flow OUT of the muscle without preventing arterial blood from ENTERING.
The way it works is that you use wrappings or bands around your limbs (arms and legs) tightly enough that blood cannot escape. Once you’ve wrapped the limb, you engage in dynamic resistance training exercises. The occlusion of arterial blood flow causes two effects:
- A crazy “pump”. Blood is meant to circulate through the body, but cutting off the escape of blood causes it to pool in your muscles. This leads to the drastic increase in muscle size known as “the pump”. It’s believed that the pump causes such significant cellular swelling that your muscles are shocked into anabolism (growth). It’s due to this belief that many weightlifters focus on workouts that encourage a better pump.
- The muscles are placed under metabolic stress. Blood not only brings oxygen and energy to the muscles, but it also carries away wastes (like lactic acid). But with the band preventing blood carrying away those wastes, your muscles are placed under metabolic stress. This increase in stress on the muscle signals to the body that serious growth is required to adapt to the strain. Thus, the metabolic stress leads to muscle anabolism.
The interesting thing about this unique training protocol is that it encourages the activation of all muscle fibers. BFR training uses lighter loads, but the occlusion of blood flow means the oxygen-dependent slow-twitch muscle fibers are quickly fatigued. This forces your fast-twitch muscle fibers to activate. This is important because fast-twitch fibers have the greatest growth potential. By increasing their activation, you encourage more significant muscle growth.
Add to this the hypertrophic effects of metabolic stress, and you’ll find that BFR can lead to visible results with far lighter loads and lower volumes than regular resistance training. In one study, BFR led to visible growth in muscle size using just 20% 1-Rep Max weight.
This makes it a highly effective options for anyone, not just experienced weightlifters. The fact that lighter loads can be used means beginner bodybuilders or those with weak or injured joints can increase muscle hypertrophy without adding excessive amounts of weight or overworking their central nervous systems.
And the effects aren’t only limited to the muscles BELOW the band (the biceps, forearms, calves, and quads). The muscles adjacent to the bands will also benefit from the training methodology, leading to better anabolism overall.
Is BFR Dangerous?
This may sound like a crazy and potentially risky training method. After all, you’re cutting off blood flow to a part of your body. How could that possibly be good for your health?
You need to understand the difference between short-term and long-term blood flow restriction. Brain cells (among the most sensitive in the body) die off after just a few minutes without oxygen. Muscle tissue cells, on the other hand, can last for hours without blood. It has a much higher tolerance to ischemia than other cell types.
But you’re not cutting off the blood for hours, and you’re not cutting it off completely, either. All you’re doing is restricting blood flow. You’re not stopping the oxygen-rich blood from entering the muscle—you’re preventing the lactic acid-laden blood from leaving.
And, most important of all, you’re only doing it for a short period of time. You tie the bands, perform the exercises—according to one trainer, “4 sets with reps of 30, 15, 15, and 15, with only 30 seconds rest between sets”—and remove the bands. There is a reduced venous flow of blood during this time, but your oxygen-rich arterial blood is still entering the muscle. By the end of the 20 to 40-minute workout, when you remove the bands, your muscles have suffered no long-term negative side effects from the reduced/restricted blood flow.
How to Wrap for BFR Training
There are two places you wrap the bands for blood flow restriction training: your arms and your legs. You can use a number of things:
- Rubber hospital tourniquets
- Voodoo floss bands
- Ace bandages
- Knee-style wraps
- High-end pressure cuffs
How to Wrap Your Arms:
Wrap the band around your bicep, just beneath your shoulder. Get it as close to the top of your upper arm as possible, and make sure the wrap is nestled in your armpits. Don’t pull it too tight—no more than a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the tightest).
How to Wrap Your Legs:
Wrap the band around your upper legs, just beneath the gluteal fold (on the back) and the hip flexor (on the front). For maximum results, the wrap should be nestled close to your groin. Pull the leg wrap a bit tighter—anywhere from a 7 to 10 on a scale of 1-10.
How can you know if it’s too tight? You will feel tingling or numbness in your arms or legs. These sensations also indicate that you’re cutting off arterial blood flow (bringing you oxygen), depriving your body of oxygen. That’s not the point! The goal is to stop blood from exiting the muscle, but you need to keep blood entering. If you feel these sensations, loosen the wrap slightly until the tingling or numbness goes away.