Author: Dane Gifford
Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training has been used in the military for years. It has now begun its ascent into mainstream use. It is being used by pro athletes and collegiate programs to decrease time off the field as well as improve performance and strength. BFR training is basically a body hack. We all know that when you exercise with heavy loads, or with high intensity, there is a build up of metabolites in the muscle (feel the burn) and the muscles get “pumped up” during and immediately following exercise. BFR uses a tourniquet to safely mimic the same response using light loads, which will trigger the bodies response and “trick” it to release the same good hormones and reactions that cause the same muscle burn and pump. This effect will give you the same increase in muscle size, strength, and recovery. It’s a very simple and elegant solution that will be a powerful tool in the rehab and sports performance world for years to come.
You can significantly increase your muscle strength & size using PFBR by lifting loads at or near 30% of your 1 Repetition Max (RM) for a given exercise! Making these gains typically requires lifting loads at or above 70% of your 1RM. This is made possible because of a significant increase in the muscle building process. It’s complicated but simple. Because there is little to no muscle breakdown with BFR it is all a net positive in terms of muscle growth. Some other factors that play a role in increasing muscle strength and size are significant increases in gene expression like mTOR1c (protein synthesis), increases in hormones like Growth Hormone (GH) and Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) all of which signal the body to grow muscle and recover faster. Additionally there is a down regulation, or blocking, of the Myostatin gene. This is important because, the less Myostatin the more muscle growth you will have.
Increase your VO2Max and cardiorespiratory endurance. This is important for all you heavy lifters as well as you endurance athletes. How? You ask. – Increased Lactate Production Yo!Sure, lactate has gotten a bad rap and you have probably heard a bunch of people talk about soreness and how the buildup of lactic acid causes said soreness (not true). Or maybe you have heard that the burning sensation in your legs during a workout is lactate accumulation (more true). Lactate accumulation is not a bad thing. Increased lactate production increases cognitive ability, increases motor recruitment, and increases the number and efficacy of your body’s mitochondria (Remember these guys? The powerhouse of the cell!). Increased mitochondria means increased oxygen consumption and increased energy production. This all happens in relatively short bouts of BFR training and means that Muscular Endurance is Improved in Less Timethan with traditional endurance or interval training.
During exercise we use our smaller, type I, slow twitch, muscle fibers first as they are made for more aerobic, endurance type activities. We use our larger, type II, fast twitch muscle fibers, which are anaerobic, during high intensity exercise, when lifting heavy loads and when we are deprived of oxygen. BFR Training creates an environment that lacks oxygen which leads to an increase in lactate production and forces your smaller, type I, slow twitch muscle fibers to fatigue more quickly. In turn, your larger, type II, fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited which provides a larger increase in all of the factors that lead to muscle growth, increased strength and more power. This isn’t normally possible at submaximal or low loads, but BFR makes it possible.
It is difficult to get weight training in when you are focused on the long grueling workouts of an endurance athlete. Who has time to spend 3 hours in the gym each week on top of all the endurance or sport training? Endurance athletes can easily improve strength in just 60 min a week. There may even be a carry over improvement in your VO2Max (refer back to #2).
For the same reasons that you can increase muscle size and strength at low loads (refer back to #1) you are able diminish muscle wasting (atrophy) and strength loss following an injury. Recover Faster After Surgery. Because you are able to limit muscle atrophy and strength loss immediately following surgery, you are also able to significantly improve muscle strength and size while training with low loads during rehab. This allows you to recover faster and get back to doing what you love.
BFR is reported to stimulate up to a 300% increase in GH production, which is vital to the growth and strength of both your tendons, and your muscles. Strong and healthy, tendons and muscles may reduce the recurrence of the aforementioned tendinopathies. Get Rid of the Pain. Pain during exercise is often one of the reasons that tendinopathy rehab is so difficult and takes so much time. Research has shown that use of BFR may reduce pain experienced during exercise which may help pave the way to a faster more resilient recovery.
Athletes of all types, shapes and sizes can benefit from BFR. The ability to increase training volume, in-season, without increasing the demand for recovery allows the athlete to maintain higher levels of strength and muscle size, throughout the season, without jeopardizing game-time performance. In fact the ability to maintain higher levels of strength and size may actually help increase in-season performance. If it is good enough for elite athletes and the military special forces, it is good enough for you!
This isn’t an advertisement for using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) or any other Hormone Replacement Therapies (HRT), however if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your testosterone replacement you want to use BFR. As mentioned in #6, research has shown GH increases nearly 300% with BFR. This is important because increased growth hormone leads to increased IGF-1 and when combined with increased testosterone stimulates muscle growth. It’s simple, if you are willing to use external supplements to maximize your hormones, you might as well use BFR to maximize your influence on the internal factors that regulate your hormones.