by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Have you ever worked out feeling like you are going to pass out? Have you ever been so sore that the pain seemed as if it were counterproductive? Have you tried manipulating your body’s own physiology for performance and fat loss benefits? To help with these issues, this article will discuss blood flow restriction (BFR) training and the use of blood flow restriction cuffs.
Athletes from all disciplines use blood flow restriction to improve their results from intense training sessions. This type of training has been applied for over 20 years in traditional medicine and seemed to have been started in Japan. It’s also been used for over 40 years in experimental anesthesiology research to study the signals that control whole body autoregulation.
When it comes to fitness, you are either a boundary pusher or a comfort lover. If you think that being sore is good and being really sore is better, then let’s keep talking. If you like being comfortable at all times, you will probably want to stop reading now.
To those of you still with us, let’s talk. If you’ve done everything you can think of to build quality lean muscle mass, this is where blood flow restriction cuffs come in. Blood flow restriction cuffs allow you to push your body harder without the risk of tearing a muscle or tendon… well, sort of (injuries can happen at any time, but with blood flow restriction training, the risk tends to be lower).
What are Blood Flow Restriction Cuffs?
Blood flow restriction training is a workout technique that involves using a blood flow restriction cuff to reduce blood flow to or from the working muscles during exercise. Blood flow restriction allows you to perform low-intensity resistance exercises while still getting the same benefits as a high-intensity workout. That sounds amazing, right?!
How Does Blood Flow Restriction Training Work?
Blood flow restriction training works by using a tourniquet, or cuff, around the upper arm or upper leg, depending on which body part you are exercising. The cuffs are tightened, typically to between 50% and 80% of what is considered standard maximum arterial occlusion pressure (where you lose your pulse to any point below where you place the blood flow restriction cuffs).
The pressure from the cuff restricts blood from flowing out of the working muscle but not from flowing in because the cuff isn’t tight enough to completely block off blood circulation.
This technique even has a number of benefits for athletes recovering from injury or surgery. When blood flow restriction is applied during low-intensity training, it causes small muscle tears that trigger the natural repair and rebuilding process (muscle hypertrophy). This process tends to happen regardless of the amount of stress applied to the muscle tissues.
You may even find that you can build muscle and increase strength with blood flow restriction training at much lower intensities than your typical training sessions.
With blood flow restriction training and the use of blood flow restriction cuffs, you can drop your weights down considerably and still get the same effect that you would utilizing a much heavier weight that’s closer to your 1RM.
The Benefits of Using Blood Flow Restriction Cuffs for Exercise
Let’s look at some of the benefits of using blood flow restriction cuffs for working out:
1. Reduce the risk of injury
When you restrict blood flow by wearing a cuff around your arm or leg while lifting weights, it reduces the amount of stress placed on your muscles and tendons from heavy lifting sessions. This means that there’s a lower risk for injury during these workouts because less pressure is being exerted on them as well as less strain being put on joints such as knees or elbows.
2. Greater gains in less time
Blood flow restriction training is a technique that can help you achieve more significant gains in less time. It’s ideal for people wanting to build muscle or strengthen their muscles but are unable to lift heavy weights due to injury, age, or other reasons. The concept behind blood flow restriction training is simple — place a cuff around your upper arm or leg and then perform exercises as usual. This will cut off blood flow from leaving the working muscles so that they can’t get rid of their waste products as easily, resulting in fatigue sooner than normal. This allows you to perform more reps with lighter weights than you would normally do without using any cuffs at all!
3. Reduce post-surgery atrophy (muscle-wasting)
In the weeks following surgery, muscles begin to waste away from inactivity. This is especially true if the patient is bedridden or sedentary. That’s why physical therapy is so important during recovery as it helps to preserve lean muscle mass and strength. Blood flow restriction training can simulate resistance training with 70-80% less weight than normal, making it possible for patients who are not able to lift heavy weights to maintain their muscle mass and strength following surgery or an injury.
4. Increase muscle size and strength
By restricting blood flow during exercise, muscles can grow in size much faster than when using traditional exercise methods. Simply utilizing blood flow restriction cuffs can allow for significant gains in size and strength without spending hours in the gym. Studies show that blood flow restriction training can produce similar results as heavy lifting can, only without the accompanying joint pain.
5. Endurance training (cardiovascular health)
The benefits of using blood flow restriction cuffs during endurance training have been studied extensively. The research indicates that blood flow restriction can reduce oxygen consumption by 30% to 50% during a workout, which improves cardiovascular function and reduces heart rate by around 25%. This means less effort is required to reach your target heart rate, and it can allow you the ability to recover faster.