There are many ways to make a muscle grow, and many different ways in which people go about it. One particular way that has entered bodybuilding scene recently and is gaining popularity is blood flow restriction (BFR) training. It sounds crazy at first, and maybe even a little scary, but it has been proven to be effective. Dr. Jeremy Leneke, an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi and a leading researcher in BFR, has helped bring this type of training to light and has been able to demonstrate its effects in multiple studies.
What Is BFR Training?
BFR training is exactly what it sounds like. You are restricting blood flow into the muscle and pooling the blood already in the muscle causing it to swell. This restriction is achieved by wrapping some sort of elastic band, generally your common knee wraps, at either the top of the arms or the top of the legs, depending on what muscle group you are exercising. Doing this makes the muscle work much harder than it would under normal conditions with the same amount of resistance.
Under BFR conditions, lighter loads are used for the exercise. Because the muscle has to work much harder due to the restricted blood flow. This allows you to train with lighter loads, yet still get the same effect as you would using a heavier load. However, this is not to say that you should quit lifting heavy all together! There is absolutely a time and place for that. BFR is simply a good addition to your lifting arsenal. For example, if you are training heavy with a lot of compound lifting implemented into your current training program and find yourself worn out or to sore to complete a lot of auxiliary/isolation exercises, BFR is a very good alternative that can allow you to get a lot of work in while hitting a lot of volume, in just a few sets.
BFR Compared To Heavy Lifting
So how does BFR simulate the work of lifting heavy and inducing muscle hypertrophy? The restriction of blood flow causes a build up of metabolites in the muscle, causing it to swell and causing the muscle fascia to expand. This also augments muscle activation, in turn causing higher levels of recruitment. A rapid proliferation of satellite cells is observed due to the low load at which you are training, which is very important for muscle hypertrophy.
What Are The Benefits Of BFR?
Benefits have been observed, with respect to injury. In a clinical case study, BFR was applied to patients by itself, in the absence of resistance training. In a patient that had just had ACL surgery, researchers applied BFR intermittently. Researchers found that by applying BFR alone, it did not stimulate growth, but it did attenuate any further loses in strength and mobility.
Implementing BFR Training
BFR can be implemented into any workout you choose. Some of the most common muscles it is applied to are the biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and hamstring, using exercises such as preacher curls, rope extentions, leg extention machines and leg curls. It can also be used while doing compound lifts such as squats and leg presses. It is always done at light resistance loads, about 20-30% of your max for 4 sets of higher repetitions. An example of a typical BFR exercise would start with the first set of 30 reps followed by three more sets of 15 reps with 15-30 seconds rest in between sets.
The wraps are left on throughout the entire exercise. It can be hard to judge how tight to go with the wraps sometimes, and can only be determined by trial and error. BFR can and will be painful while completing the exercise, but if you are already in pain before you begin the exercise, you have wrapped up too tight. It is recommended that if you are going to implement BFR, do it at the end of your workout, to finish off the muscle.
You now know everything that you need to know about BFR training to get started and feel the biggest pump you have ever felt. There is a lot more research available on BFR than I have mentioned in this article. It is utilized by many professionals and backed by a large field of research that is only growing larger. Give it a try for yourself to see what all the buzz is about.
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