Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a kind of training that requires a specialized tourniquet system placed around a limb during exercise to decrease blood flow. This is to safely restrict the flow of venous blood while the arterial blood still supplies to the limbs, which helps increase metabolic stress and cellular swelling. The tourniquet can be wrapped around any of your limbs; it could be around the arms directly under the shoulder or around the legs just below the hip.
The use of blood flow restriction training combined with different forms of exercise (resisted, aerobic, passively), has been recommended in a 2019 PubMed study. However, the volume and intensity should also be considered, as well as the amount of cuff pressure, restriction time, size, and cuff material.
The blood flow restriction training might be the next fitness trend with lots of promising benefits, some of which are explained below.
1. It Increases Strength and Muscle Size
The BFR training has been shown over the years to increase strength and muscle size, due to the synthesis of protein that occurs during this form of training. It has also been shown, in a study, to induce favorable changes in muscle mass and strength with a considerably low training load. The protein synthesis from this training is combined with reduced muscle damage in order to build lean muscle. The damage from this is minimal, which makes it an effective form of training over traditional strength training.
2. It Makes Healthy People Stronger
BFR training can be done by anyone regardless of their fitness level, which means even if you are healthy with no form of injuries, the training will still be beneficial to you. It helps increase muscle size, strength, and endurance in healthy people. If you are looking to build muscles and stay strengthened always, the BFR training is for you.
3. It Makes Injured People Stronger
If you are injured, the BFR training can also come in handy to make you stronger. In the fitness world, many people worry about how to improve strength and muscle size while recovering from an injury. The recommended intensity for muscle growth to occur is strength training at 60-80% of your 1 repetition maximum (1RM). This is almost impossible if you are nursing an injury and your only hack for that is to do the blood flow restriction training, which requires as low as 20-30% of your 1RM. A study was done in 2018 on the impact of BFR therapy on a patient after knee surgery and it was established that BFR is safe to incorporate after knee surgery, with no reported increased risk of DVT.
4. It Helps You Gain More While Doing Less
You can get so much more from BFR training compared to the traditional strength training exercises. This is because it requires only 20-30% of your 1RM to produce results and you can also use much lighter weights and still get more. People who can’t lift heavy weights or workout for too long can opt for this kind of training for maximum results.
5. It Works with most Exercise
There are no specific forms of exercise attached to the BFR training, which means you can easily incorporate it into any form of exercise. Follow your usual exercise routine, reduce the weight or intensity, use the BFR band or specialized tourniquet, and get to work.
6. It Has Anti-Aging Effects
Regular exercise has long been known as an effective way to reduce the risk of certain illnesses, including the ones that come with old age. However, in the case of BFR training, there is more. This form of training helps stimulate the production of Growth Hormone, which helps grow lean muscle. While the tourniquet is tied to your limb, it affects your blood circulation and the growth hormone is released in the bloodstream and impacts every area of your body that is being exercised. This also increases collagen production, thereby slowing down the effects of aging on the skin.
7. It Helps with Recovery
BFR training helps with recovery, especially from a tough workout or injury to any part of the body. In a recent PubMed study on the effect on the impact of BFR on muscle fatigue development and recovery, it was established that despite the high level of muscle fatigue during BFR exercise, the effect of BFR on muscle fatigue was diminished after 2 min of reperfusion. This shows that BFR has a strong but short-lasting effect on neuromuscular function and helps with recovery.
8. The Sessions are Short
BFR sessions last up to 7-20 minutes and will still be effective on your muscles. You can get a great workout within a short period and still get quality results with the blood flow restriction training. It requires lighter weights, which helps you do more within a short time frame.
9. It Improves Muscle Endurance
BFR training is now known as an alternative method to improve muscle endurance. There is a limited flow of oxygen to the muscles during this form of training, which makes the slow-twitch Type I muscle fibers less active than normal. To make up for this, the Type II, anaerobic muscle fibers are activated. Usually, this happens with high-intensity training but with restricted blood flow, you can get the same result, which helps you build muscle endurance.
10. It Prevents Muscle Soreness
It’s not uncommon to get muscle soreness from exercising but with low-load BFR training, there will be positive collagen turnover, which helps with healing and recovery. With this, there is a lesser risk of muscle damage or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Blood flow resistance training works for individuals of all ages and abilities. This training can be much more beneficial for you if you know what you are doing and especially if you are supervised by a physical therapist or trainer with a blood flow restriction certification. If you have health concerns, it is advisable that you see a fitness therapist or your physician to be sure you are cleared for this kind of training.