Blood Flow Restriction Training
This article was reviewed by David W, DPT.
Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) is a relatively new advent to the strength training and rehab world, and has been (rightfully) receiving quite a bit of attention, and research. Whether you’re a competitive athlete, looking to add weight to your squat, or totally de-conditioned and rehabilitating from an injury; BFR may be a great tool to add to your strength training arsenal.
Studies have shown that blood flow restriction generally results in a build up of waste products from cellular respiration (called metabolites), such as lactic acid. When regular blood flow is restored, these metabolites are present in higher quantity, which is thought to signal for a greater than normal increase in growth hormone (GH). GH plays less of a role in hypertrophy, but is very much involved in laying down new collagen, and improved tendon health.
BFR also has an effect on expression of certain genes related to muscle development, including MSTN which has been shown to reduce overall muscle mass. BFR has been shown to downplay the expression of this gene, which leads to an overall all increase in hypertrophy and strength gains. Additionally, this is all achieved with minimal muscle damage, which is normally present in traditional strength training routines. Avoiding this muscle damage is usually associated with less soreness, and you avoid the inflammatory cascade that comes along with it.
Sounds pretty good so far, right? Well, according to the research, it seems to get better. Traditional weight training requires you to lift roughly 65% of your 1 rep maximum (meaning the heaviest possible weight you can lift with good form for 1 repetition), in order to achieve hypertrophy. If you do this for 8-12 reps, 3 sets, several times per week for 12 weeks, we typically see some real results. However, with BFR, we only need 20-30% of your 1 RM, and it only takes about 2 weeks for your body to make its adaptations and begin to show hypertrophy.
So, to recap: BFR
1. May improve tendon health.
2. Leads to hypertrophy sooner and with less muscle damage.
3. reduces the need for heavier resistance, and reduces tensile stress.