What is Blood Flow Restriction Training and How Does it Work?

Erson Religioso Apr 24, 2019
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The use of BFR has increased in popularity over the past decade, particularly for its promising application in the clinical rehabilitation populations. And rightfully so! The body of literature supporting the use of BFR as an effective and safe tool is strong and growing.

What is BFR and How Does it Work?

BFR was first introduced in Japan in 1966 and became popularized as “Kaatsu training.” It is now backed by decades of research. It was not until the early 2000s when tubes and wraps were replaced with “air cuffs.” BFR utilizes pneumatic cuffs to allow arterial blood flow to a region while restricting venous return
BFR is not occlusion training. Occlusion training involves completely stopping blood flow into an extremity for significant periods of time which can damage tissue or nerves and increases the risk for medical conditions like DVTs and in extreme cases, rhabdomyolysis.
The most common question when explaining BFR to those unfamiliar with the technique is: why would we want to do this?
When venous return is limited, there is an accumulation of metabolic byproducts such as lactate. Lactate is needed as a buffering agent for the high concentration of hydrogen ions released during the hydrolysis of ATP, especially at higher absolute or perceived intensities of exercise.
The accumulation of metabolic byproducts leads to an increased acidic environment within the muscle. This disturbance of homeostasis begins a cascade of events that leads to an optimal anabolic environment.
In addition, BFR with exercise makes it more difficult to recruit Type I muscle fibers and the threshold for recruiting Type II fibers (our main strength and power muscle fibers) is lowered. This leads to a recruitment pattern opposite of the traditional “size principle of fiber recruitment.”
Typically, the above beneficial anabolic environment and physiological adaptations are only achieved during high intensity and high volume strength training. But associated with this type of training is the risk of muscle breakdown, joint stress, and non-contractile tissues.

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