One of the latest training techniques was borrowed from the world of rehabilitation. It’s called blood flow restriction training—BFR, also known as occlusion training. It’s used to increase the size and strength of a muscle with a less intense workout. When used for rehabilitation, it’s a true game changer. It helps reduce the loss of strength and muscle atrophy that can occur after and injury from lack of use. It also can boost strength and build muscle tissue with only a 30 percent load. Using it for rehab shows that it improves muscle activation, increases growth hormone response, improves muscle protein synthesis in older people—which helps reduce diminishing muscle tissue and most of all, it boosts muscle endurance in just one third of the time it would otherwise take.
How does it work?
The goal in BFR is to slow down the blood flow back to the heart. Those extra lingering moments mimic the action that occurs when you’re doing high reps of resistance training. It lingers longer in the muscle area, because it’s coming in faster than it’s leaving. That causes the pump you get. That extra work requires rest and as you do, the blood flowing back to the heart catches up and returns the once engorged muscles back to normal. To get the same action, a restriction is placed that allows blood to flow in but restricts it from moving out of the muscle area.
The changes within the muscle that mimic prolonged resistance training can occur with less resistance.
When you exercise, metabolic byproducts start to accumulate and they build up far faster than the body removes them. These stimulate anabolic signals that trigger the increase of muscle strength and size. In other words, it subjects the muscles to metabolic stress. That’s just one of the ways it boosts muscle building power. You don’t have to lift as heavy of a load or struggle with as much resistance to get the same effect, which makes it perfect for those in rehabilitation.
The problem with this type of training is lack of knowledge.
While BFR doesn’t raise heart rate or blood pressure as high as traditional resistance training that gets the same results. There are some dangers, particularly in untrained hands. The tourniquet or band used to create pressure can be the wrong width, create too much pressure or be put on the wrong area. As with any type of exercise, you risk injury when you don’t know what you’re doing.
- Most people who use this technique for fitness are body builders that want to see bigger muscles faster. For those who are recovering from an injury, its best to use trained therapists.
- While blood flow resistance training mimics the effects you get with high-intensity resistance training of metabolic overload, it’s not a replacement for HIIT for a traditional workout routine that works with all types of fitness, strength, balance, flexibility and endurance.
- While BFR with low loads doesn’t show improved results over heavy load resistance training, it does show more protein synthesis after exercise than conventional resistance training of the same low load.
- BFR has produced higher growth hormone elevations and more molecular signaling responses than matched weight traditional training.