Maybe the majority of us have ever seen big guys in the gym pumping iron with cuffs or tourniquets on their biceps.
If such things are still weird for you so let's try to sort out what is Blood Flow Restriction used for.
To begin with, we all know the key to building massive muscles is to apply a training stimulus. This stimulus is weightlifting, using mechanical strength, removing momentum and creating the purest form of stimulus with the exact execution of movement.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2009 studied and found that 70% of your 1RM (one rep max) and above would cause muscle hypertrophy and anything below that percentage would be insufficient to create muscle growth.
From this point, there are some problems for the ones who have weak joints and other troubles that restrict their weight lifting limit.
What should those athletes do to grow muscles?
Luckily, there is a way in which you can get bigger and stronger muscles with less weight.
Here comes a training method that flies directly in the face of that evidence. Blood Flow Restriction Training or BFR for short. With as little as 20% of your 1RM and a cuff pressure of 150 mmHg or 130% of your systolic blood pressure BFR resistance training has been proven to result in significantly greater gains in muscle size and strength.
The studies show that strength improvements are seen in the first week and size gain in up to six weeks.
How does it work?
The only secret lies in such a phenomenon like the searing burn from lactic acid accumulation in any given muscle. The local and systemic increase in lactic acid causes endorphin release and acts as a feedback signal to the brain, to release Growth Hormone from the Pituitary gland and also enough testosterone to signal muscle hypertrophy (males under 50-60 years.)
Science also tells us that acute swelling (cell expansion or the pump) stimulates anabolic responses in hepatocytes which make up 70- 85% of the liver’s mass. These cells are involved in protein synthesis and protein storage amongst many other metabolic functions.
That's why using this method you should use a cuff. When we talk about leg day the cuffs are positioned high up the thigh around the groin area for leg training and on upper arm for arms training.
According to the studies, the cuff allows for arterial flow into the working muscles but restricts venous return, in effect trapping lactic acid and other metabolites in the local area. This has been shown to increase the local levels of lactic acid hugely, mechano-growth factors and increase insulin-like growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) in the muscle.
In this way we have some benefits of blood flow restriction:
- lactic acid increases the release of GH and testosterone
- increase in lactic acid rises recruitment of all muscle fibre types as the increase in lactic acid causes a decrease in blood oxygen.
Moreover, when lactic acid forms locally in a muscle being trained, two processes take place:
- muscle satellite cell proliferation (means more numbers of muscle cells)
- muscle satellite cell activation (means more growth and repair)
Apart from muscle gains, BFR method has other advantages:
- training with the BFR cuff on allows for pain-free training in clients who have mild to severe knee issues
- clients had severe DOMS in the muscles and reduced knee pain, less than before the workout
To sum up, Blood Flow Restriction training really worth it. What this means for you is that with this method you'll work out without overly fatiguing your central nervous system using lighter loads to build muscle while sparing your joints from heavy loading.