What is blood flow restriction (BFR)?
The heavier the load you lift, the more muscle you are likely to gain! Or so was the common perception of muscle building before a Japanese doctor Dr. Yoshiaki Sato challenged the practice of lifting immense loads and introduced a new procedure for building muscle in a shorter amount of time. The doctor developed a new exercise device, meant to be worn on the arm. The procedure includes, as it is obvious from the name of the technique, restriction of blood flow. Although this process, commonly known as blood flow restriction (BFR) or KAATSU it is also sometimes referred to as blood occlusion or vascular occlusion. However, the word restriction is more suitable as the device worn only restricts or limits the flow of blood rather than cut it off. This increases the burn factor and exerts great pressure, and high tension is felt on the muscle even while lifting lower weights for a lesser amount of time. Here is your complete blood flow restriction training equipment and guide.
How does it work?
The blood flow restriction training involves the use of a band. This device is tied or worn around the front part of an arm or leg tightly enough to limit the flow of blood. This causes a build-up of lactic acid and other metabolites, and as a consequence, great muscle growth is promoted. Blood flow restriction is usually performed during warm-up sets for a high-level intensity workout such as High Interval Intensity Training or resistant training. In general, it is done after a few light warming up exercises to build up the tension on muscles as you move up to lifting weights.
Blood flow restriction training guide
Due to the idea of playing around with the natural flow of blood, many people have been concerned whether the whole process is safe or not. It is true though that it takes proper guidance regarding the time, tightness and even the size of the pressure cuffs or KAATSU bands that are being used but mainly, it is considered a safe practice after being a topic understudies by thousands of people. It is because the process of restricting the flow goes on for a couple of minutes and not hours but still makes a difference. Moreover, it only impacts the flow of the blood in veins, meaning only venous blood movement is restricted or slowed down. Meanwhile, the arteries are not affected and can continue their function, as usual, keeping the arterial flow of blood regular which avoids serious disruptions in the overall vascular flow. However, it is not always the savior for everyone. There might be a time in your fitness journey where you need it most while sometimes you will need to keep it on a halt or as a second option and stick to your regular routine training.
Equipment required for Blood Flow Restriction training
The most important piece of instrument, around which the whole concept of blood flow restriction revolves around is the pressure cuffs or bands. There are quite a few options to choose from when selecting a wrap for your limb. There are both expensive and cheap ones on the market. If you want a more professional band or wrap, they come in different pressures. These are the ones usually utilized by labs. The other equipment will consist of your regular gym instruments and especially weights. Following are some options for a wrap:
- Pressure cuffs
- Knee caps
- Dedicated blood flow restriction bands
These bands come in varying widths that will have varying effects. The thing to remember while selecting a blood flow restriction band is that you would want the moderate result out of it. This is why the band should be moderate in width neither too narrow nor too wide. It also depends on the targeted limb. The cuffs tied on legs would be wider than those that will go on arms, as legs are thicker than arms. The average size suggested for an arm cuff should be around 1 to 2 inch in width while the leg cuff can be approximately 2 to 5 inches wide. The cuffs specifically designed for blood flow restriction usually come in sets with the appropriate width and lengths for arms and legs.
With that sorted out, let’s look into the actual steps involved in the common blood flow restriction training.
Step 1: Tie around the cuff
Tying the cuff may seem to be a simple step, but you should be careful with the amount of pressure you are tying it with. There are no specific measurements given for the pressure, but for the sake of the guideline let’s consider a seven out of ten, ten being the highest you can go. Another way to know that you are tying it right is feeling for any pain or unpleasant feeling. Also, if you apply the cuff on clothing, it may reduce the effect.
Step 2: Perform 30 percent of your IRM
This means that you are to get started on your exercises and perform about 20 to 30 percent of your exercise out of the total with the cuffs on. You can do any type of exercise, but generally, limb targeted exercises are considered best. However, more technical targeted exercises such as squats should be avoided as they require work in a lot of muscles and could end up hurting you.
What exercises to do while Blood Flow Restriction training
Exercises that do not require huge blood flow and involvement of muscles are considered best such as this list:
- Leg/ Bicep Curls
- Leg extension
- Leg press
Tips for BFR Training
It is usually recommended that the first should contain about 30 reps; this will boost the tension in the beginning and help to build up metabolites. It is also important to note that you take rest in intervals. Moreover, keep in mind that for beginners ‘take it easy’ should be the slogan.