As are everything in health and fitness, any rookie fitness training is bound to get some stares.
Blood flow restriction training (BFR) has been around for some good few decades, believe it or not. But many people still don’t know much about it.
It’s been thought and believed to be a revolutionary method in building muscle and is quickly becoming popular in the fitness world especially in body-building.
What is Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR)?
BFR is a training approach where venous blood is completely restricted from flowing out of a working muscle while partly limiting arterial blood to flow in. Wraps, bands, and cuffs are used to wrap around the target limb.
BFR was believed to have been discovered in Japan by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato in the 1960s. It was called kaatsu training which means “adding pressure”.
BFR is originally utilized for endurance training. Its effects on strength were only discovered after.
Today, BFR training, also called occlusion training, is most popular in strength training and is being practiced around the world.
How Does it Work?
So what BFR does is it controls the venous blood (blood in the veins going to the heart) and arterial blood (blood coming from the heart) flows by entirely preventing the former from exiting a particular working muscle and allowing some parts of the latter to enter this same muscle.
To achieve this, a cuff or band is usually used and wrapped strategically around a muscle to apply pressure and restrict blood flow. Cuffs are available as a pressure cuff or Kaatsu device, the more advanced ones.
Restriction bands are also available and knee wraps can also be used.
Compressing the muscle will lead to insufficient amounts of oxygen within the muscle. This causes metabolic stress. This and the restriction of venous blood make the muscle swell.
Before we proceed, let’s first discuss some muscle terms. The swelling of the muscle has a term.
Muscle hypertrophy is the expansion of the muscle which increases its diameter and protein strands inside. An increase in muscle mass means an increase in strength.
So, does it mean that putting cuffs and bands on your muscles automatically makes them bigger?
No. You have to incorporate an exercise with it. You can do it with different exercises with different intensities from high to low. But according to experts, low-intensity exercises are best because they lead to increased water within muscle cells.
In addition, they can accelerate the activation of fast-twitch muscles or Type II muscles, the muscles you need for strong exertion and forceful movements like resistance exercises with heavy weights or even your own weight, jumping, sprinting, and the like.
All these amazing things about blood flow restriction training, but is it safe?
A lot of things have to be considered where safety is concerned. Nevertheless, researchers and experts both agree that BFR is safe when done in controlled measures with the supervision of a BFR trained professional. It’s even used in clinics as a form of therapy e.g. people with paralyzed muscles or muscle atrophy (wasting).
However, more studies still have to be conducted and parameters to be established.
Moreover, if a person has a medical condition, especially one that can affect exercise, it’s always best to visit a physician before performing BFR training.
Pros and Cons of BFR
If I were to summarize all these, BFR or occlusion training is efficient and safe, if you seek the right guidance and do your research. I did it with bands, particularly the BFR Occlusion Training Bands PRO.
Why these? Because I don’t want to jump into the digital bands and cuffs. I wanted to start low and saw that this fits the bill of what I’m after for.
I like that it’s particularly easy to use and that it’s durable and strong – certainly what I’m going for myself.
Anyway, I thought I was going to regret buying these. When they came, I was like, here we go. So I took the guys to the gym later that day.
I first put them on my arms. I did 4 sets of 10 kg dumbbells for each of my arms, in 10 reps with 10 second rest intervals.
I know. That’s light, maybe too light for some. But I told you, I’m starting low.
But guess what? My arms felt like they’re close to exploding! And that says a lot about these bands.
Training with weights alone was effective. But I have to lift heavy ones and live in the gym to get results. And I did, no questions there.
I have to live with some pains and aches though. I can always feel the pressure on my knees. But it was fine.
But training with these bands was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t have to live in the gym anymore. In fact, I trained at home because I do have some weights there, and it was great!
Just a few sets and I feel like I’ve been working out for 2 hours with heavy weights.
I’d say these bands do work. I can’t say much about BFR cuffs and devices though. Maybe I’ll try them in the future. But in the meantime, I’ll continue using these blood flow restriction bands.
Also, I’d like to note that I am healthy. That much I know.
If you are a beginner, I recommend seeking guidance from a trained BFR professional. And if you are suffering from a medical condition, please do consult your doctor.