Blood flow restriction (BFR) training
What is BFR?
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a training and rehabilitation strategy involving the use of a cuff or bands placed around a limb during exercise, to maintain arterial inflow to the muscle while preventing venous return (venous occlusion).
BFR shows amazing potential in the sports medicine world by allowing a patient to improve hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength without stressing or overloading their joints. BFR has been shown to require a substantially shorter period of physical activity to achieve the same muscle growth results (3-6 weeks vs 8-12 weeks). As a patient, this will allow you to rehabilitate more aggressively and decrease muscle atrophy, even when you have load/weight bearing restrictions secondary to your healing process or surgical protocols.
Immobile or mobility-restricted populations:
Post-operative rehabilitation patients
Decrease joint/tissue loads
Isolated exercises for “weak link” region
How does it work?
By reducing blood flow, one can create positive effects that will allow for a hypertrophy and strength response to the muscles that you would traditionally need a heavy load to achieve.
Studies show that working out at 80% of your one repetition maximum lift allows for hypertrophy, with BFR, working out at just 20% of this 1 rep max allows for the same hypertrophy response.
BFR allows for the use of Type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibers faster and more effectively
Increase in muscle protein synthesis
Increase in lactate to help with motor recruitment
Increase in growth hormone (by 1.7x) and other anabolic (positive) muscle growth factors
Growth hormone plays a role in collagen synthesis which could help with bone healing and plays a role in joint and tendon health
Increased cell swelling, increased satellite cell pool to allow for muscle memory
Decreased myostatin which leads to an increased ability for muscle hypertrophy and a decreased chance for fibrosis after injury
BFR creates an analgesic affect to reduce pain
Small chance of residual swelling in limb
Studies show NO greater risk of blood clot
Loenneke JP, Abe T, Wilson JM, Ugrinowitsch C, & Bemben MG (2012) Blood flow restriction: how does it work? Frontiers in Physiology, 3, 392.
Loenneke JP, Wilson GJ, & Wilson JM (2010) A mechanistic approach to blood flow occlusion. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31(1), 1-4.
Nakajima T. Key considerations when conducting KAATSU training. Int J KAATSU Train Res. 2011;7(1):1-6
Nakajima T. Use and safety of KAATSU training; results of a national survey. Int J KAATSU Train Res. 2006;2(1):5-13