You think the muscle pumps you get during your slow tri-sets of pressing exercises are insane? Wait till you try blood flow restriction training! Read on to find out all about it.
Blood flow restriction training (BFR) is a truly game-changing performance enhancement technique that also produces superb aesthetic results for occasions like bodybuilding contests and photo shoots. And hey, who doesn’t appreciate a great muscle pump? The method involves wrapping a restrictive implement around the limbs while doing your lifts. Yep, that’s all. And that’s the best thing about blood flow restriction training – you do less but gain more.
If you’ve been searching for a new way to challenge your body and reap extraordinary rewards, look no more. And it’s not only gym lore, too. Science has confirmed the usefulness of BFR for muscle building – studies show that employing blood flow restriction techniques while lifting causes increases in muscle growth. In fact, research on the topic dates back to the 90’s.
BFR has been successfully used for more than a decade in Japan. Today, many practitioners from the field such as strength and conditioning coaches, sport scientists and physical therapists encourage the use of BFR during aerobic and resistance exercise. However, most lifters have only a vague idea of what BFR involves and how to apply it to their training regimes for maximum results. If you’re one of them, this article is meant for you – not only will it shed light on BFR and its benefits, but also provide useful tips for successful implementation of BFR into any program.
BFR training is a relatively novel exercise method that involves exercise whilst blood flow is limited to the muscle via application of an inflatable cuff or tourniquet, proximal to the muscle being trained. In other words, it entails occluding circulation of the working muscle. The important part here is occlude venous flow without significantly affecting arterial circulation, so that the blood goes into the muscle but can’t escape. It’s like filling a water balloon to max capacity.
So what exactly goes on when you restrict circulation in a certain area?
First of all, you get an epic pump as your muscles literally expand into a supersized version of themselves before your eyes. Second, it will burn like hell. This is because due to limited amounts of oxygen, your muscles can’t get rid of accumulated waste materials and this creates a lot of metabolic stress, which by the way is one of the three key scientifically proven mechanisms and precursors of muscle growth.
Implementation Guide to BFR training
Now let’s get to the practical part of BFR. Even though it’s a relatively simple technique, it still has to be performed adequately for best results. So if you’re unsure about how to make this work, just follow the following tips.
#1. What Should You Use to Wrap?
The variety of pneumatic cuffs and belts that researches use in their studies provide the opportunity to standardize the amount of occlusion applied to the limb, which is crucial for reaping maximum benefits, but they’re pretty pricey, with some costing thousands of dollars. If you’re not willing to give handsome amounts of cash for specialized BFR implements, no worries, a good old elastic knee wrap will do the trick. Just make sure the wraps are long enough to circle your limb several times.
#2. What’s the Best Placement for the Wrap?
This is obviously crucial for good results. For example, if you position your wraps too low, you won’t achieve optimal occlusion and the benefits of BFR will be diminished. Instead, position them as high as possible on the limbs being trained.
#3. How Tight Should You Wrap?
The wrap should be close-fitting and tight but not to the point of excessive discomfort. However, if you wrap too tightly, you will also occlude arterial flow into the muscle and practically “suffocate” it, and as we mentioned earlier, the point of BFR is to occlude venous blood flow without affecting arterial circulation. This ensures a high training volume and thus greater hypertrophy.
#4. What’s the Ideal Cuff Width?
Studies using different cuff widths show that using wide cuffs cuts off arterial circulation at a lower pressure and reduces the extent of hypertrophy, while the use of narrow cuffs produced better results. Still, don’t overdo it. Aim for a width of a couple of inches or so, which is the size of standard knee wraps.
#5. Don’t Rely on BFR Alone
In studies, BFR has been carried out in isolation, i.e. in situations where this technique is the sole training stimulus, and real life is quite different. While rookies, elderly individuals and those rehabbing from injury might get dramatic results after a month of training focused on BFR, the well-adapted bodies of experienced lifters need more stimuli in order to grow. That’s why you shouldn’t see BFR as a magic trick that will do all the work for you with less exercising on your part. For it to be truly effective, you need to integrate it into a well-rounded resistance training program that you know works for you.
#6. Position in Your Routine
Another key part of the puzzle. Most sources agree that BFR works best as a finishing technique, which means you’ll apply it at the end of the session, after performing your heavy hypertrophy-focused lifting in a normal fashion. According to both scientists and seasoned bodybuilders, BFR pairs the best with single-joint movements such as biceps curls, leg extensions and triceps press-downs.
#7. What’s the Optimal Weight for BFR Training?
It’s a general rule that the weights used during BFR should be light. Try to keep the loads at 20-30% of your 1RM for the given exercise.
#8. How Many Sets and Reps?
Given that you’ll use 20-30% of your 1RM, you should be able to get at least 20 reps on the first set. Then, perform a few additional sets with 30-second rest periods between them. The short rest interval enhances metabolic stress even further, while the BFR technique creates pooling of blood in the working muscle. By the final set, you’ll probably only get around 8-10 reps and that’s totally ok. Also, at least some of your sets should be taken to the point of muscular failure. To maximize metabolic stress, you need to squeeze out every last drop of strength from the working muscle.
When you do BFR, the goal is to maximize metabolite accumulation and cause a strong anabolic response in the organism. BFR is a proven technique that can be extremely useful to anyone wanting to take his/her resistance training to a completely new level and achieve rampant gain of muscle mass. But before you try it, make sure you understand it well and then perform it correctly in order to maximize the gains and avoid possible injury. If you do it the right way, the results will be visible sooner than you think. Good luck!
- Muscle size and strength are increased following walk training with restricted venous blood flow from the leg muscle, Kaatsu-walk training. – J Appl Physiol. 2008 Apr
- Prevention of disuse muscular weakness by restriction of blood flow – Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Mar.
- Frequent low-load ischemic resistance exercise to failure enhances muscle oxygen delivery and endurance capacity. – Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Dec
- Practical blood flow restriction training increases acute determinants of hypertrophy without increasing indices of muscle damage. – J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Nov
- Effect of multiple set on intramuscular metabolic stress during low-intensity resistance exercise with blood flow restriction. – Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Nov