How blood flow restriction training can help you level up in muscle and strength gains
When it comes to building muscle, otherwise known as hypertrophy, there are three primary mechanisms responsible for helping achieve a strong physique. These are mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.
Mechanical tension is likely what comes to mind for most people when they think of resistance or weight training, i.e. performing an isotonic exercise, such as a bicep curl, where a muscular force is required to complete the movement. The heavier the load, the more force the muscle must produce to move it.
Metabolic stress is a potent stimulator for accelerating muscle growth.
The second mechanism, metabolic stress, is a very potent stimulator for muscle growth. The term ‘the pump’ is also used to describe the sensation your muscles experience during metabolic stress, this may feel like a swelling or burning sensation in the muscle from the lactic accumulate
Metabolic stress is the primary mechanism behind Blood Flow Restriction, a scientifically validated training method that accelerates muscle and strength gain by tricking your muscles into working harder.
Applying blood flow restriction into your strength routine is a guaranteed way to level up your muscle and strength gains, all by magnifying the physiological benefits caused by metabolic stress.
What is Blood Flow Restriction (BFR)?
BFR involves placing a tourniquet to the top portion of your limb to restrict blood flow. This reduces oxygen delivery to the working muscle, leading to a build-up of metabolic accumulate in the muscle. Research suggests that this build up is what accelerates the activation of type II muscle fibres - these are the ones that do the most to promote an increase in muscle size and strength.
The decrease in available oxygen also causes the working muscle to fatigue faster, meaning you can still achieve a high level of muscle activation – using light loads. One 2012 study followed 29 physically active male college students over the course of eight weeks. Half of the group completed high intensity exercise (80% 1RM) without BFR, whilst the second group performed low intensity exercise (20% 1RM) with BFR. The results showed that the BFR group experienced a greater increase in strength (~4%) and the same increase in muscle size as the students who use high-intensity without BFR.
In summary, training with light loads and BFR has been shown to result in the same, if not slightly better, gains in muscle and strength.
What does that mean for me?
If you’re someone who is looking to overcome strength plateaus or who is too time-poor to fit in a long strength workout, adding blood flow restriction could be a great solution to help you still achieve your goals.
BFR cuffs or occlusion bands, such as The BFR Cuffs from SAGA Fitness compliment almost any exercise that also helps build strength or hypertrophy. From body weight to weighted exercises, below are simple ways to include BFR into your work out:
1 Add BFR to your supersets
Perform your main compound lift as you normally would. After this, superset the target muscle group with BFR, performing the recommended protocol of 30-15-15-15(resting for 60 seconds between each set). For example, a quick workout to do on chest day might look like:
- Main Strength: Bench Press 3 x 8 @ 75%
- Push Ups with BFR 30-15-15-15 @ 40% occlusion
- Tricep Pull Down 3 x 8 @ 65%
If you’re unable to perform all repetitions of 30-15-15-15, it is recommended to proceed until the point of failure.
2 Replace your main strength lift with BFR:
Whilst there is nothing more effective than lifting heavy, BFR is a great substitute when moving under heavy loads is not achievable. With the addition of blood flow restriction bands using light intensity, you’re able to still achieve the same strength stimulus of lifting >60% of your 1RM without putting strain on your body.
3 Using BFR at home or while travelling:
Another benefit to using blood flow restriction is that cuffs like SAGA’s BFR cuffs only weigh about 300grams per cuff – perfect for travelling or having at home, as they don’t require too much space. Doing a quick body weight workout with BFR will also help you to maintain or increase muscle even when the gym is not available.
Where can I find a good BFR solution?
The BFR Cuffs by SAGA Fitness are one of the leading BFR solutions on today’s market. Unlike most BFR devices they are completely wireless, and use smart sensors within the cuff to accurately calibrate your personalized occlusion zone, ensuring that you work out at the optimal pressure for you. No other cuffs on the market offer built-in calibration sensors, or a mobile app that helps you to control the intensity of the occlusion.
Starting from just £169, you can learn more about The BFR Cuffs here.
Last of all, is BFR safe?
Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not, it’s just science. Since 2011 over 5,500 studies have been published, validating BFR’s ability to increase muscle strength and size, and more.
While BFR may not be for everyone (there is a certain amount of discomfort due to the metabolic stress on the muscles) - if applied correctly, it’s as safe as traditional weight training. So, if you’re looking to maximise your strength or muscle adaptations, consider BFR as one strong solution to help you achieve your goals.
Strength training with blood flow restriction diminishes myostatin gene expression (2012) Laurentino et al. National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21900845/