Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training is a highly effective hypertrophy training method that dates back to the 1970’s. Originally developed as a rehab technique, its applications have since broadened into the fitness community.

The following will be a brief summary of the history, effects, applications and efficacy of BFR training.

Brief History

In 1966 Yoshiaki Sato attended a traditional buddhist ceremony that required him to remain seated in a traditional cross-legged position for an extended period of time. The pressure from his legs upon his feet caused painful blood pooling in his calves. This experience sparked the idea that lead to moder BFR training. Over the next 7 years he experimented on himself with different types of straps and at varying pressures. With years of detailed trial and error, Sato gradually developed effective protocols to safely modify blood flow in his limbs. By 1973 Sato developed the details of KAATSU as it is currently practiced.

Applications

Today BFR training is used not only for training, but also rehab. During certain injuries we may find ourselves unable to train certain muscle groups. BFR training may be implemented to maintain muscle mass. The blood pooling within the muscle will encourage muscle cell swelling and consequently decrease atrophy. This can be done by doing isometric contractions of the targeted muscle while restricted.

But the most effective method of implementing BFR training is under low load, high repetition resistance training. Recent studies have shown many beneficial physical and physiological effects associated with BFR. The most noteworthy include muscle swelling, decreased atrogenes, decreased expression of myostatin, a proliferation of satellite cells and metabolic accumulation.

Safety

Before commencing any BFR training, it is highly recommended that you first consult with a knowledgeable professional. When proceeding, keep in mind three key factors: Tightness, Positioning and Duration. The bands should be no tighter than a 6 (on a scale of 1-10). You don’t want to feel any immediate numbness or sharp tingling. The bands can be placed either upstream, or downstream from the targeted muscle group since pooling will occur on either side. The BFR straps should be removed after a particular exercise is completed. Although it isn’t necessary to remove them between sets, they should be removed immediately after.   

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