As a society, we are always looking for the next, innovative approach to fitness and health. Our track record shows that us humans will pretty much try anything to look and feel better.
Sometimes fitness crazes are a passing trend that don’t seem to quite hold. Other times, they prove to have lasting power (like CrossFit or SoulCycle.)
One of the newer fitness trends on the market currently is something called Blood Flow Restriction and the health claims make it certainly appealing. While the theory is by no means new, only recently are we starting to see it recognized in certain circles as a safe and effective way to build muscle - faster and with better recovery time.
So, what is BFR training?
Also known as occlusion training, BFR training is a technique that involves the use of cuffs or wraps tied around your limbs during exercise. The goal is to safely restrict venous blood flow from a working muscle while allowing arterial blood flow TO the muscle. This is usually done with low-intensity resistance training.
What does this do, exactly? Since the ability of blood to escape is dramatically reduced, metabolic stress and cellular swelling are greatly increased in the belly of the concentrated muscle. As a result, increased growth hormone, muscle hypertrophy, and muscle strength can occur.
One of the reasons that BFR training has gained so much traction as of recently is because of its effectiveness in rehab and physical therapy. By utilizing BFR training, muscle growth can occur through lower weight bearing. This means that a damaged or atrophied muscle can recover much quicker which is great for those post-surgery or post-accident.
However, occlusion training can also help perfectly healthy individuals during a workout. It is said to cause less tearing in the muscle fibers which means less lactic acid and a much quicker recovery time.
According to the owners of Smart Cuffs (the leading company that makes the restrictive workout gear):
“Before now, it would take weeks, if not months, for post-surgical patients to begin rehab at 70-80% of their 1 rep max. However, BFR enables the patient to get those same results, but at 30-40% of their 1 rep max. Due to this, the patient can begin rehab much sooner, regain their strength to prevent atrophy, and ultimately get them back to functioning in a fraction of the traditional time.”
For healthy individuals? Because you are not loading close to your maximum capacity when doing these sorts of exercise, you can theoretically accomplish similar benefits to heavy resistance training without the strain that lifting maximum levels requires. This means less strain on the joints and additionally, less time to achieve similar results.
So, is BFR training for you? That is up to the individual. While many people find its benefits alluring, others find it awkward and uncomfortable. Thus, use of this technique is certainly a personal preference.