This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Whether you’re the type of person who hates to exercise and wants results, or you’re an elite athlete looking to take it to the next level: today we dive into one of the best ways to bio-hack your muscles using resistance bands. Find out how you can get in the best shape of your life before the holidays!
What is Blood Flow Restriction Training?
Blood flow restriction training is precisely what it sounds like: training under restricted blood flow. This restriction is achieved by looping bands around our arms and legs and decreasing (but not completely stopping) venous blood flow. The vein’s blood flow is restricted, but the arterial flow is not, so it is completely safe to use. It also restricts oxygen flow, which promotes endurance and overall athleticism too.1
Conceptually blood flow restriction training is quite simple, and yet the benefits are profound. By restricting the blood flow to the arms and legs, you can exert a much higher effort using much lighter weights. The forced adaptation that can occur is much larger without risking injuring the joints.
Blood flow restriction training has been used for about 50 years and was first in Japan by 18-year-old Yoshiaki Sato. Sato noticed the numbness in his legs caused by a prolonged Buddhist ceremony that required him to sit cross-legged for an extended period. It produced a muscle ache that he recognized during weight training, which came from the occlusion of blood circulation.
Over the next years, Sato experimented with using various straps, bicycle tubes, and ropes to induce blood flow restriction while training with weights. The method was named ‘Kaatsu’ (Ka meaning ‘additional’ and atsu meaning ‘pressure’).
Simple and Easy Movements with Deep-Rooted Benefits
There is a longheld ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ narrative in the fitness world that pushes people to absolute exhaustion at every workout, with the notion that if you don’t leave it all on the gym floor, you won’t see results. This “go big or go home” mentality preaches ‘work harder.’ On the other hand, blood flow restriction training is all about ‘working smarter.’
It is incredible to experience blood flow-restricted training for the first time, especially for those who train regularly and lift heavy weights. By restricting the blood flow, a man used to curling 40 kgs can drop his curl down to about 15 kgs, experience the same muscle breakdown, and pump in half the time.
Due to the blood flow restriction and oxygen restriction, the general rule is that someone can experience the same results with 30- 50% of the weight and half the time under blood flow restriction. In using lighter weights, the joints experience less strain, and the incidence of injury is dropped dramatically.
Blood Flow Restriction for Hormone Optimization
When we restrict blood flow, it forces the body into rapid adaptation on many physical levels. Many people can understand muscle adaptation (which we will explore next), but one of the most exciting adaptations may be the hormonal one.
The oxygen restriction signals the pituitary gland to release growth hormones like IGF-1, which creates a rapid forced hormonal optimization.1
Blood Flow Restriction for Performance Optimization
Blood flow restriction training is particularly useful for athletes who want to optimize their performance while minimizing instances of injury and excessive soreness, which can harm training and performance results.
Although the method is relatively new and not completely understood, blood resistance flow training has been used worldwide to train elite athletes for decades. The proof is in the results.
Adding in as little as one day per week of BFR produces large quantities of human growth hormone, increases the performance of fast-twitch muscles (especially in the legs), and activates various muscle growth pathways.1-3
BFR has been linked to increased strength, muscle mass, muscular endurance, and improved athletic performance.4-7 This offers a profound training option for an athlete who is short on time, is nursing an injury or wants to take advantage of the forced adaptation of varied training.
Blood Flow Restriction Training for Injury and Rehabilitation
Despite its ability to enhance strength, endurance, muscle mass, and performance in non-injured athletes, the application of blood flow restriction training for injured athletes is perhaps even more fascinating.
One of the main issues with recovery is muscle wasting during rest when anyone has to ease off a muscle group following injury or surgery. Like the impact of astronauts or those experiencing cancer cachexia or sarcopenia, the body essentially uses muscle as fuel, leaving the individual with potentially severe muscular imbalances and/ or weaknesses.8
Blood flow restriction training has been shown to preserve and even build muscle even in these muscle-wasting conditions and situations following injury or surgery.1.9 Indeed, BFR has enabled those with compromised joints and connective tissue to prevent muscle wasting and increase muscle mass, range of motion, strength, and endurance without aggravating the injury site.
BFR can be used by itself during periods of bed rest, for added resistance during simple walking activity, with light-load resistance training or rehab exercise, or during normal to high-load training.10
The Benefit of at-Home Training
Access to blood flow restriction training bands can revolutionize your relationship with exercise. First, it halves the time you need to work out. Whether you’re someone who hates to exercise or is simply busy: training smarter enables you to spend more time doing other things. There are no more excuses for getting in the best shape of your life when you only need 20-30 minutes daily.
By reducing the required load, training at home has also never become more manageable. One of the major blocks to at-home training for many people is access to enough equipment to get in a good workout. With the use of bands, your required weight halves (at best), meaning that with very little and relatively light equipment, you can get in a crazy hard workout.
The bands can also be used for simple bodyweight exercises, meaning you can train harder than ever without equipment! You don’t have to say goodbye to your gym membership if you don’t want to, but having your own blood flow restriction bands means there is no reason not to get movement in on the daily without ever having to leave home.
Blood flow restriction training is a method developed in Japan that uses bands to constrict the legs and arms so that you can reap the same benefits of exercise with half the weight and half the time. By restricting blood flow and oxygen, the body is forced to adapt faster, yielding profound results without the added risk of injury and joint damage from lifting heavy. Blood flow restriction training promotes hormone optimization and is great for optimizing performance, whether you’re an elite athlete or simply someone who doesn’t like to spend lots of time and effort working out.
- Patterson, Stephen D et al. “Blood Flow Restriction Exercise: Considerations of Methodology, Application, and Safety.” Frontiers in physiology vol. 10 533. 15 May. 2019, doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00533
- Nielsen, Jakob Lindberg et al. “Proliferation of myogenic stem cells in human skeletal muscle in response to low-load resistance training with blood flow restriction.” The Journal of physiology vol. 590,17 (2012): 4351-61. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2012.237008
- Nakajima, Toshiaki, et al. “Repetitive Restriction of Muscle Blood Flow Enhances MTOR Signaling Pathways in a Rat Model.” Heart and Vessels, vol. 31, no. 10, 2016, pp. 1685–1695., doi:10.1007/s00380-016-0801-6.
- Yasuda, Tomohiro, et al. “Effects of Blood Flow Restricted Low-Intensity Concentric or Eccentric Training on Muscle Size and Strength.” PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 12, 2012, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.00528
- Takarada, Yudai, et al. “Effects of Resistance Exercise Combined with Vascular Occlusion on Muscle Function in Athletes.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 86, no. 4, 2002, pp. 308–314., doi:10.1007/s00421-001-0561-5.
- Neto, Gabriel R et al. “Effects of high-intensity blood flow restriction exercise on muscle fatigue.” Journal of human kinetics vol. 41 163-72. 8 Jul. 2014, doi:10.2478/hukin-2014-0044
- Manimmanakorn, Apiwan, et al. “Effects of Low-Load Resistance Training Combined with Blood Flow Restriction or Hypoxia on Muscle Function and Performance in Netball Athletes.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 16, no. 4, 2013, pp. 337–342., doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2012.08.009
- Hackney, Kyle J, et al. “Blood Flow-Restricted Exercise in Space.” Extreme Physiology & Medicine, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1186/2046-7648-1-12.
- Takarada, Y et al. “Applications of vascular occlusion diminish disuse atrophy of knee extensor muscles.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 32,12 (2000): 2035-9. doi:10.1097/00005768-200012000-00011
- Loenneke, J P et al. “Blood flow restriction: an evidence based progressive model (Review).” Acta physiologica Hungarica vol. 99,3 (2012): 235-50. doi:10.1556/APhysiol.99.2012.3.1
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based on the opinions of The Cell Health team. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information from the research and experience of the Cell Health team. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided. Still, we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.