Blood Flow Restriction: In a Word, Revolutionary
If you are interested in bringing up lagging body parts, making muscle and strength gains constantly, and having the raging feeling that you crushed your workout, then this article is going to be perfect for you.
It's extremely rare that a training technique comes along that is new or revolutionary. Most of the things being touted as new training knowledge have been done for years.
But, the training technique I'm going to tell you about is certainly revolutionary.
There's a problem with standard training that you WILL run into.
The problem can be boiled down to: You can only do so much.
We know from the available science that we need to keep making our workouts harder if we're going to keep building muscle and strength.
Over time, we've got to add more volume (amount of work done) consistently.
Adding volume is simple enough right? Just do more. More weight, sets, reps, etc…
But, if you've been lifting for any amount of time, you know that "just do more" is way easier said than done.
We've all gotten stuck. You know, when it seems like you can't build more muscle or get stronger no matter what you do.
Plus, you have to worry about beating your body beyond the point of recovery. Constantly "doing more" can leave you injured, worn out, and miserable
So, how do you add volume consistently while still recovering?
With KAATSU/Blood Flow Restriction/Occlusion Training
Oh what? You thought KAATSU was a gimmick. Nah buddy.
First, let's define Blood Flow Restriction (BFR):
“KAATSU training consists of performing low-intensity resistance training while a relatively light and flexible cuff is placed on the proximal part of one’s lower or upper limbs, which provides appropriate superficial pressure.”
^^That’s just a fancy way of saying you’re going to use a cuff to restrict the blood flow to one of your limbs while performing an exercise.
So, what the hell can cutting off your blood flow do for muscle growth?
Muscle growth is caused by one of two types of stressors: Mechanical Tension, and Metabolic Stress.
BFR causes a ton of metabolic stress, full muscle fiber recruitment, and very little muscle damage.
That means you can train a muscle more often while still recovering.
Also, you should know BFR doesn’t cause as much muscle growth as typical heavy training. But, because of the lack of muscle damage that occurs from BFR, it acts as a GREAT add-on to your heavy training.
"What exercises should I use?"
BFR can be used with any kind of exercise, but single joint exercises (isolation exercises) are best.
Why? Well, when you’re doing high reps, it hurts/burns like hell. BFR is about the single muscle that you’re trying to occlude.
The last thing you want is for other muscles to fatigue before the muscle that you’ve occluded.
So, stick to single joint exercises.
Plus, you should only do BFR for the muscles of your limbs, and not your trunk (chest, back, abs). According to one study, “currently, there is not sufficient evidence to state whether muscles of the trunk can benefit as much from BFR training as muscles of the limbs.”
Here are a few examples of exercises that you could do:
How to apply the cuff
First off, you can use just about whatever you want as a cuff.
I have a client who uses bandages. I personally use these rogue voodoo bands on my arms, and some cheap knee wraps for my legs. You could even use a tourniquet.
But, know this, the thicker the limb, the thicker the wrap needs to be. That's why I use knee wraps for my quads and thin bands on my arms.
"Where do I place the cuff?"
It's going to depend on the muscle you're training of course. Here's a short list:
- Biceps and Triceps = Just below the shoulder.
- Forearms = Just below the elbow.
- Quads and Hamstrings = As far up the leg as possible.
- Calves = Just below the knee.
Some folks have trouble getting a band or bandage around their arms since they have to use the opposing arm to do it.
Here's how I've learned to wrap one arm pretty quickly,
"How tight should they be?"
According to the science, the cuff needs to be tight enough to cut off the return of blood through the veins, but not tight enough to cut off the supply of blood from the artery.
There’s no single amount of pressure that will work for BFR. It will vary from person to person.
I like to use a test to assess if I have the right amount of tightness before I start the set.
I wrap off the limb, wait about 10 seconds, and check to see if my veins are starting to pop out. If they are, then it's tight enough. If not, then I re-wrap.
If you start to feel tingling in your limb, then the wrap is too tight and you need to rewrap.
Like always, you should be getting stronger.
Strength and muscle growth are not the same thing, but they are adaptations that usually happen at the same time. So, if you're getting stronger, you can safely assume that you're also building muscle.
As I've said before, use strength as a test for the effectiveness of your bodybuilding routine.
BFR is no different.
You should consistently add more weight, reps, or sets, to your KAATSU training.
It's pretty difficult to get stronger at an exercise that you do high reps on. Lucky for you, I've tested the ever living hell out of how to get stronger at KAATSU training.
After you conquer one benchmark (complete the reps and sets exactly), then you move on to the next one. After reaching the final bench mark, add the smallest amount of weight possible, and start over from the beginning.
- Be able to complete the standard BFR rep-set scheme (30, 15, 15) with consistent form (no cheating).
- On the final set of 15 reps, do eccentric focused reps. Meaning that you will lower the weight for 2-4 seconds on each rep of the final set. This will hurt like hell.
- On both of the 15 rep sets, you will do eccentric focused reps.
Once again, add the smallest amount of weight possible. When doing high rep sets, the smallest amount of added weight can make a huge difference.
The Big Word Science Section (for nerds like me)
Here is what the people who are way smarter than me have to say about Blood Flow Restriction.
A growing body of evidence supports the use of moderate blood flow restriction (BFR) combined with low-load resistance exercise to enhance hypertrophic and strength responses in skeletal muscle.
The blood flow restriction (BFR) stimulus should be individualized for each participant. In particular, consideration should be given to the restrictive pressure applied and cuff width used.
For healthy individuals, training adaptations are likely maximized by combining low-load BFR resistance exercise with traditional high-load resistance exercise.
While early research utilized restrictive pressures in excess of 200 mmHg, it is now accepted that BFR pressure should be high enough to occlude venous return from the muscles, yet low enough to maintain arterial inflow into the muscle. Logic therefore, dictates that BFR should not be universally applied at an absolute pressure, but should vary relative to each individual. The pressure applied should be dependent on both the cuff width and the size of the limb to which BFR is being applied. This theory is also relevant when considering BFR of the lower and upper limbs; if equivalent restrictive pressures (and cuff widths) are used for both the arms and the legs, it is likely that either arterial inflow in the arms will be limited or that insufficient venous occlusion for venous pooling will occur in the legs.
Also, here is a graph showing the summary of recommendations made by the research community…
"How do I use it in my training?"
You can recover far more quickly from BFR than standard heavy training.
Because of the superior recovery, you can do whatever the hell you want with BFR. Since it won't damage your recovery, you can do BFR the day before heavy training and be perfectly fine. Hell, I do it myself.
But, immediately after you do KAATSU, your muscles will feel like they're about to explode.
I've yet to find a training technique that was tougher/more painful than BFR training. So save the Occlusion for last in your workout.
In fact, one of my clients loves doing BFR at the end of his workouts. He says it makes him feel like he really worked his ass off at the end of a training session.
With that being said,
I really want you to try BFR training because I know you'll enjoy it (if you like hard work), and it works.