In order to comprehend how BFR, or blood flow restriction, functions, it is important to perform a quick debriefing on how your circulatory system, also called vascular or cardiovascular system, works. Your arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart to your body. Your veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the body back to the heart.
The objective of blood flow restriction training would be to restrict venous return while still allowing arterial flow by strategically wrapping the lightest portion of your own limbs. Blood can keep pooling to a muscle by restricting the veins rather than the arteries and it remains trapped there. It is like filling a water balloon to max capacity (with no popping up, of course).
By gathering all of the blood to the working muscles without letting it leave, a couple key things happen: One, you receive a crazy pump and your muscles become supersized. The concept is that this contributes to cellular swelling that shocks the muscles into growth. Second, it’s gonna burn tremendously. Your muscles become deprived of oxygen and can not eliminate accumulating waste materials and this creates a great deal of acidosis or strain. Metabolic stress is just one of the three major mechanisms of muscle development and shouldn’t be dismissed.
The Science of BFR
Dr. Brad Schoenfeld is a regular contributor on hypertrophy (the scientific term for muscle growth). In his book Science and maturation of Muscle Hypertrophy, ” he states: “The prevailing body of literature shows that BFR training stimulates anabolic signaling and muscle protein synthesis and markedly increases muscle development despite using loads frequently considered too low to encourage substantial hypertrophy.” Brad goes on further, saying that “it has been speculated that metabolic stress would be the driving force behind BFR-induced muscle hypertrophy.”
Another interesting matter that occurs with blood flow restriction training is since your oxygen-dependent slow-twitch fibers fatigue way quicker than normal, you have to quickly begin tapping into the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which have the biggest potential for growth.
Interestingly enough, your fast-twitch fibers typically don’t get hit unless you’re using heavy loads or pretty hefty loads performed explosively. But BFR lets you really go fast-twitch with loads less than 50 percent of your own one-rep max. Actually, one study from the Journal of Applied Physiology revealed increased muscle cross-sectional area with BFR training using loads as light as 20 percent of one-rep maximum.
What this means for you is that with BFR training you can utilize lighter loads to construct muscle while sparing your muscles from heavy loading and without fatiguing your central nervous system. Additionally, it is important to note that research has proven the gains are not just for legs and the arms but also for muscle groups over the wraps.
How to Wrap For BFR Training
There are some high-end pressure cuffs which may be used to wrap your limbs for BFR, however any wraps will get the job done. Some people utilize knee/elbow or ace bandages wraps. Others use hospital tourniquets that are run-of-the-mill.
For your upper body, wrap it only beneath the shoulder at the top of upper arm so that the wrapping is nestling into your armpit.
For the lower body, wrap only below the gluteal fold from the back and just below the hip flexor in the front.
For both the upper and lower body, you want to wrap at about a 7 out of 10 on the tightness scale (10 being as tight as you can).
You shouldn’t feel any numbness or tingling sensations. That usually means you wrapped it tight, if you do. Wrapping it too tight will limit flow and prevent blood from pooling in the gut, so it defeats the purpose. When in doubt, wrap at first, particularly around the back side of the spectrum.
How can you know whether you wrapped it right? In the event you get your life’s muscular pump. Recall, if it feels sketchy just take off the wraps and re-wrap a tiny bit looser. There is a bit of a learning curve and thus don’t place too much stress to nail it on the first try.
How BFR Training Builds Muscle
The secret to effective BFR training is using light loads (40 to 50 percent of your one-rep maxor less), high repetitions (10 to 15 repetitions or longer), and short rest periods (30 minutes or less). In addition, it is important to note that BFR does not replace your regular training–it just enhances it. Here are my three favorite ways to execute BFR training:
After performing your main work out, hit a BFR finisher. If you completed an upper-body workout, hit an upper-body BFR finisher. If you finished a lower-body workout, hit on a BFR finisher. Hit on one for the upper and lower body if you do total-body sessions.
Extra Training Volume and Frequency
BFR is a excellent way to increase training volume (how much work you do) and coaching frequency (how often you train) without impairing your recovery. As an example, to bump up your training volume, if you did 3 routine sets of an exercise with heavier loads, try adding in an additional couple sets of BFR training to the same movement pattern or muscle group using a lighter load for higher reps and shorter rest periods between sets.
Active Recovery and Deloading
Since BFR training requires having lighter loads, it is considerably easier to recover from deeper training. This makes it a process to employ but still want to train. It’s also great to use if you integrate regular deloads–or intervals of decreased loading or training volume–into your training schedule.
It is worth mentioning that BFR is being used with remarkable success in rehabilitation settings, especially with wounded athletes. Being able to operate and develop muscles after an injury or operation with loads is a joint-sparing feature unique to BFR training. As always, consult your physician or physical therapist to find out if BFR training is right for you in such circumstances.
The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic and spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss options on the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
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