Increase Muscle Mass & Strength: Blood Flow Restriction Training
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR) is a great way to improve a patient’s strength and function even if they are unable to tolerate heavy loads. Using this technique, you can exercise with significantly lighter weight while still creating a hypertrophy (growth) and strength response. Traditionally, to get a hypertrophy and strength response in your muscles you would need to lift a heavy load. You may benefit from BFR if you are looking to improve muscle hypertrophy and strength in a pain-free way, are an athlete looking to reduce training forces in overused muscles, or a physical therapy patient following an injury or surgery to develop areas that may have atrophied.
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BFR uses a combination of vascular occlusion with low-level exercise in order to induce a strength and hypertrophy response. BFR allows arterial blood flow to a muscle while limiting venous outflow. Current theories behind the proposed mechanisms of BFR include increased fiber type recruitment, metabolic accumulation, activation of muscle protein synthesis, and cellular swelling, although it is likely that many of the aforementioned mechanisms work together.
The research has shown BFR to reduce the oxidative environment within a muscle, thus creating an anabolic (tissue building) environment with an accumulation of anaerobic (absence of oxygen) byproducts signaling an endocrine response (secretion of hormones) that then allows for muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. Because of the anaerobic environment, type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers are not utilized as easily and type II (fast twitch) fibers will be recruited first. Basically, athletes and patients will see the benefits of 1 rep max-type strength training without the same mechanical stresses, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and pain because they are training at 20-30% max capacity.