Blood Flow Restriction Bands
Blood flow resistance (BFR) training uses a pneumatic tourniquet cuff or band, placed around the proximal or upper portion of a body limb (arm or leg), and inflated to apply an external pressure to partially restrict arterial blood inflow to the working muscles during exercise, while also restricting venous blood outflow. This training technique, which uses low-to-moderate intensity exercise, has consistently shown to produce increases in muscle size (hypertrophy) and strength that are comparable to those seen after conventional high-load intense strength training regimens. These anatomical adaptations are also reached in shorter periods of training than traditional methods.
BFR training is being applied to resistance training, aerobic exercise, sport activities such as throwing, and even passively without exercise, with significant beneficial results produced across all training protocols.
In short, compression of the vasculature proximal to the targeted skeletal muscle or muscle group produces a reduction in oxygen supply to the working muscle tissue creating an ischemic metabolic stress (lack of appropriate oxygen and an accumulation of metabolites during exercise) to the tissues, similar to what is seen when high-intensity exercise is performed or when a state of muscle fatigue is reached in sets and reps resistance training. This metabolic stress signals a number of mechanisms to produce muscle growth through autocrine and/or paracrine (hormonal) as well as mechanical forces including fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment.
Broad Opportunities for Use
There are various conditions in which BFR training could be very beneficial. These include:
- 1. Physical Therapy: Consider the post-operative individual whose muscles have atrophied and weakened due to long-term immobilization. Consider the athlete who can return to play sooner because they were able to achieve great gains during the early rehab phase where the lifting of heavier resistance is contraindicated. Or, consider the individual who has not used, or minimally used, his/her muscles for a prolonged period due to chronic pain such as osteoarthritis. These types of patients cannot train at the high intensity levels but may very well benefit from such training to restore mass and strength.
- 2. Performance Training: An increasing number of trainers are using blood flow restriction training bands with their clients who are wanting greater muscular strength and hypertrophy, but are hesitant to use heavy resistance for fear of injury or simply lack the confidence in engaging in the heavy training requirements. Consider the everyday person who wants to firm up a targeted body part as part of their overall wellness efforts, and they can achieve it with less intensity in their training or time to achieve results.
- 3. Geriatrics: The human body is intended to be worked in order to maintain normal physiological functioning and good health. Many of the older generation have succumbed to an excessive loss of muscle mass, far beyond the typical loss expected due to normal aging, simply due to an unhealthy decline or cessation in activity as they aged. If this state of deconditioning is reached, it is extremely difficult to get these individuals to train at the intensity needed to regain lost muscle mass. Being able to train at much lower intensities with BFR bands and achieve the desired result of higher intensity activity is a very important prospect for older folks to gain back muscle mass and the independence greater strength and mobility would provide.
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