What is Blood Flow Restriction?
Blood flow restriction (BFR) is a proven safe and effective system used by trained medical professionals to help patients and clients build muscle mass, strength, function, aerobic endurance and more. BFR is sometimes referred to as blood flow restriction therapy or training, blood flow occlusion, tourniquet training, blood flow modulation or Kaatsu training.
Potential uses for Blood Flow Restriction training
BFR may be used to help individuals:
- Gain muscle
- Gain strength
- Improve aerobic capacity (VO2max) and endurance
- Return to function after surgery
- Rehab/train comfortably with a cartilage or joint injury or arthritis
- Prepare for sport quickly with pre-season conditioning
- Maintain fitness during sport season with less stress on the body
- Train when you would not otherwise be able to due to pain or injury
- Early research also suggests that BFR training may help improve bone density and reduce high blood pressure
How does it work?
Using pneumatic tourniquet-like cuffs placed at either the closest part of the leg or closet part of the arm, an individually-calculated pressure is applied to the cuff that limits the amount of blood flow returning from your limb. It is important to understand that BFR does NOT stop blood flow to the limb. Doppler ultrasound is used to ensure fresh arterial blood and oxygen is still entering the limb. By restricting the venous blood from leaving the limb, muscle tissue is stimulated by an increased concentration of metabolic growth factors. Blood flow restriction therapy causes a release of your own body’s human-growth-hormone (HGH) from the pituitary gland. HGH causes growth of muscle, bone and nearly every cell in the body, and it enhances fat loss.
Quick results, comfortable and easy
BFR training involves much lower intensity of exercise compared to traditional training. With traditional strength training for gaining muscle mass, one would typically need to lift weights at or above 75% of their 1-rep maximum. With BFR, one only needs to lift weights at just 20% of their 1-rep maximum. What does this mean? Let’s say the maximum weight you can lift with a bicep curl is 20 lbs. If training traditionally, you would need to perform multiple sets with 15 lbs or more to build muscle. If training with BFR, you would only need perform sets with just 4 lbs! The low-level resistance requirements make it comfortable for individuals with pain or dysfunction to gain significant muscle and strength.
With traditional strength training, an increase in muscle mass takes 9-12 weeks or more. With BFR training, an increase in muscle mass is seen as soon as just 3 weeks!
Gaining aerobic endurance and power (VO2max) is achieved similarly. By training with BFR, one is able to exercise at a low intensity such as by walking or cycling with low resistance, and will achieve results similar to training at near maximal capacity. This is a method that gives significant advantages to athletes preparing for season.
History of BFR training
BFR training is a relatively new therapy tool. Its early stages began when the United States Military and NASA were researching methods to preserve muscle mass in wounded soldiers to avoid amputation, and to maintain muscle mass and fitness in astronauts affected by low gravity in space. With promising evidence and results, BFR has begun to spread to the worlds of rehabilitation and performance. BFR is known as one of the most exciting developments in physical therapy and professional sports training.
BFR in the media
BFR is now used across the NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, with USA Olympic teams, and is spreading to college teams as well. Watch NBA star Dwight Howard and his medical staff discuss how BFR has been a key tool for his rehab and performance: Watch Here
BFR training with your SportsCare Physical Therapist
Whether you are looking to rehab quickly from knee surgery, build your physique, up your athletic performance, train around nagging arthritis or injury, increase leg strength to prevent falls, or optimize your fitness and wellness, blood flow restriction training training may be right for you.
Call SportsCare Physical Therapy today to schedule an examination with one of our highly skilled physical therapists or to request a free consultation to see if BFR is right for you.