The field of sports science is a constantly evolving one, with new discoveries made everyday in our quest to understand the inner workings of the ultimate machine — the human body. For the longest time, it was thought that the only way to get bigger and stronger was by lifting heavier and heavier weights.
While it is true that you can get incredibly big and strong lifting progressively heavier weights, every natural athlete has a ceiling they hit. At some point, you’ll simply reach a plateau and any further gains will be minimal at best.
Does this mean that you’re forever stuck at a certain size and strength level?
Not even close, as modern research has unveiled a new method of weight training that allows you to get bigger and stronger using lighter weights than you’re used to.
It’s called BFR training, and if you’re not familiar with it, stick around to learn a thing or two!
What is BFR / Occlusion Training?
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training, also known as occlusion training, is a newer training methodology using cuffs or wraps placed around a limb during weight training. These wraps allow for arterial inflow of blood into the working muscle with inhibiting venous return. BFR training forces blood to stay inside your muscles longer than normal, which influences muscle physiology in several ways.
During weight training, metabolic waste products accumulate in your working muscles. Blood is responsible for clearing these metabolic byproducts from your working muscles and supplying them with oxygen and nutrients to allow them to continue functioning at a high level. BFR training slows the rate at which these waste products are cleared from your muscles, allowing them to stay around longer, thereby eliciting a more greater anabolic effect in your body. In other words, by restricting blood flow, you’re amplifying the effects of metabolic stress in your muscle cells, which results in better growth after training.
Research has shown that BFR training increases mTOR and lowers myostatin levels in the body which creates an environment that is ideal for muscle growth.[2,3] In case you weren’t aware, myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth and differentiation. By rendering myostatin inert, you’re removing another impediment on the pathway for making gains in size and strength.
Resistance training also forces cells to swell and expand with nutrients and fluid, which also happens to be another signal for muscle growth in your body. Occlusion training increases this “cellular swelling” and lengthens the amount of time your cells stay swollen, which tells the body the muscles need to grow bigger to adapt to the increased metabolic stress.
BFR Training How-To
BFR training can be done with weight lifting, walking, jogging, or really any other training modality. Simply take a some form of pressure cuff, wrap or ace bandage that can be used to wrapped around your limbs. SteelFit® offers our own Blood Flow Restriction Training Sleeves that also retain heat while stimulating growth and aiding in recovery. Tighten the bandage (or SteelFit® BFR Training Sleeves) so that it’s at a 7 out of 10 tightness (10 being as tight as possible). Make sure to wrap the bandage/cuff/ BFR Training Sleeves around the top of the muscle. If the wraps are placed too low, venous occlusion isn’t optimal and you won’t get the full intended training effect from blood flow restriction.
Don’t wrap the bandage so tight as to induce tingling or numbness — the bandage is too tight then. Wrapping the bandage too tight cuts off blood flow to the muscles, which defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish with BFR training. When starting out, it’s better to err on the side of a bit too loose than too tight until you get the hang of things.
BFR Training Benefits
- Train with Lighter Loads (20-30% of 1RM)
- Increased Muscle Size and Strength
- Good for Rehabbing Athletes
- MASSIVE Pumps
- Great for Muscle Gain
- Gentil P, Oliveira E, Bottaro M. Time under tension and blood lactate response during four different resistance training methods. J Physiol Anthropol. 2006;25(5):339-344.
- Fry CS, Glynn EL, Drummond MJ, et al. Blood flow restriction exercise stimulates mTORC1 signaling and muscle protein synthesis in older men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010;108(5):1199-1209. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01266.2009.
- Laurentino GC, Ugrinowitsch C, Roschel H, et al. Strength training with blood flow restriction diminishes myostatin gene expression. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(3):406-412. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318233b4bc.