Scientific Guide to Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training

Aditya Mahajan
Aditya Mahajan

 | 1 minute to read
Exercise Science

We know this for ages now that to grow the muscles, we need a good blood flow to and from the working muscles. In fact, there are several supplements as well which promise to increase your muscle mass by increasing the blood flow to and fro your muscles. What if we say that you can actually get bigger by RESTRICTING the blood return from your muscles? Blood flow restriction is one of the trendiest training methods presently. This method basically involves occluding the blood flow return from the working muscle through a cuff/wrap/band (e.g. BFR bands, tourniquet, elastic knee wraps etc). The biggest advantage of BFR training is that it allows you to gain strength, muscle, and endurance even at very light loads (20-30% of ORM). So technically this method allows you to get more by doing (very) less though the mechanism through which it does that is still unknown. This is the reason why BFR is a preferred method of training for injured athletes, older population etc who can’t train with heavier weights. That being said, BFR training is equally beneficial for everyone but the success of BFR depends on several factors. We will try to cover all one-by-one: • Who can use BFR? -As said above, BFR is for everyone. Whether you are recovering from an injury or you’re just willing to get bigger, BFR is a way to go. Though the potential of BFR for muscle growth is well established, BFR may not actually be beneficial in improving the maximal strength. Thus, BFR shouldn’t be used for the athletes involved in strength sports (eg. Powerlifting etc) • How to incorporate BFR in your training regimen? -The jury is still out on whether BFR is a substitute for the heavy weight training or not. While some suggest using BFR as a ‘finisher’ method, several studies show the benefit only when BFR is used during the entire workout. Considering that the effect of BFR on strength is minimal, it is suggested to use BFR in conjunction with the heavy weight training. Thus, periodising the workouts with periods of BFR training makes sense. You can incorporate BFR in all the types of periodization techniques (e.g. Linear periodization, Reverse linear periodization, DUP, Menstrual cycle periodization etc). • Which exercises are suitable for BFR? -BFR training is mostly used with isolation exercises to train biceps, triceps etc. Many people also use it with their lower body compound exercises like squats, calve exercises etc. BFR training is not possible for shoulder, back and chest exercises since you really can’t wrap the bands and occlude the blood flow in these areas. Though one study showed that chest can also be trained by wearing the band around your tricep while doing the chest exercises. • What to use? - Though there are special BFR bands available nowadays, they are really expensive. You can use any inexpensive band, which is long enough to circle your limps several times. Thus, easily available tourniquets and knee bands work fine as well. • Where to wrap? - Placement of the wraps is the most important consideration. Try to position them as high as possible on the limbs being trained. Check the image for the reference. • How tight should you wrap? - Remember, while doing BFR your aim is to occlude the blood return from the muscles and not the flow towards the muscles. If you wrap it too tight, it will restrict the blood flow towards the muscles as well. Thus, on a scale of 1 to 10, tightness should be around 7 or so (considering 10 is for maximum tightness).

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