Blood Flow Restriction training, aka BFR, has actually been around for awhile now but its finally starting to make its way into professional and collegiate sports as well as physical therapy. Johnny Owens has been the driving force behind BFR in the U.S. after successfully using this technology with veterans recovering from devastating combat injuries. Since that time he’s been training numerous professional sports teams in the use of blood flow restriction training including the Detroit Lions and Detroit Red Wings.
What the heck is it?
BFR training utilizes a tourniquet-like device which is placed proximally on a limb to limit arterial inflow to the limb while blocking venous outflow.
I should add a word of warning sooner rather than later. There are commercial devices out there used by trained professionals for this type of training. Do not make your own tourniquet and try this at home!
I’m going to go a bit scientific on you here but just for a moment:
- Training loads used are only 20-35% of 1 rep max, and often times are just body weight. The same effects with weight lifting alone must be at least 70 – 85%. Translation: same results with less load = happier joints.
- Higher release of growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, and other substances known to speed tissue repair and create a positive environment for muscle hypertrophy.
- Increased recruitment of Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers even with sub maximal loads
- Increased muscle protein synthesis through the inhibition of catabolic substances.
- Cell swelling : shift in fluid balance into the muscle cell creating a protective response to adapt and grow
Check out the chart below from Dr. Mario Novo at the LiftersClinic.com
Pretty cool stuff isn’t it? Even with all the science thrown in.
How do you use it?
We work it into our rehab and training sessions closer to the end of the workout. The build up of lactic acid will reproduce the ‘muscle burn’ sensation pretty quick causing a good amount of muscle fatigue with only body weight activities. Body weight squats are usually a great place to start. They are performed for 30 reps:15 reps:15reps:15 reps with 30 seconds between each set. These will be the toughest body weight squats you’ve ever done!
The number of exercises performed and time training with blood flow restriction is gradually increased. So far we’ve seen a rapid increase in tolerance to exercise among our athletes allowing them to do more and more work with BFR. The results have been excellent too with quicker gains in muscle hypertrophy and strength. If you notice the last column in the chart above – time to adaptation. Within 2 weeks we are beginning to see positive changes compared to the traditional higher intensity training.
It might sound like I’m down playing the effects of higher intensity training regimens but I’m not at all. There are tremendous benefits to lifting heavy and creating a great base level of strength. BFR just offers a great way to increase training volume and intensity while decreasing load. Over time the heavy weights will wear down your body – ask any collegiate or NFL football player – but this allows for a certain amount of unloading to happen and still reap all the benefits.
I know you want to try it!
Blood flow restriction training is safe when used with the right person at the right time and monitored appropriately. It is also a pretty intense workout so definitely not for the faint of heart.
We are currently using BFR with athletes and patients post-knee injury, hamstring injuries, shoulder injuries, ankle sprains, and more. Athletes that come in strictly to train have been having great success with it as well. If you’ve struggled to make progress as a patient or hit a plateau in your training this would definitely be worth asking about. We have a number of unique techniques to promote tissue healing and strength/power gains, and this is just one reason we have been setting ourselves apart from the competition!
If you’re really into the science behind blood flow restriction training and would like to learn more, you can check out the two podcasts with Eoin Cremen (creator of the OcclusionCuff) on SportsRehabExpert.com
Questions? Joe@eliteptt.com or give me a call at 231 421-5805