Occlusion training with powerband FLOSS
Instant results, and even more impressive gains with Blood Flow Restriction Training (occlusion training), a fast way to make your muscles grow. If you've been searching for a novel way to ramp up muscle growth, here's a strategy that you might not have considered. As always, consult your physician or physical therapist to see if BFR training is right for you.
This type of extreme-looking exercise might appear strange or even dangerous at first glance, but we are looking into endless applications for busy men and women looking to build muscle while using lighter loads and sparing their joints. Fortunately you don't need costly implements to perform BFR – good old powerbands FLOSS do the trick very nicely.
Blood Flow Restriction isn't really a new technique. It's been used for years in Japan and research on the topic dates back to the 90's. Occlusion Training entails occluding circulation of the working muscle. This is accomplished by wrapping a restrictive implement around your limb(s) while carrying out dynamic exercise. The objective is to occlude venous flow without significantly affecting arterial circulation. In this way, blood goes into the muscle but can't escape.
In order to understand how Blood Flow Restriction Training works, let’s do a quick debriefing on how your circulatory, or vascular system works. Your arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart to your body. Your veins are blood vessels that carry mostly deoxygenated blood from the body back to the heart.
The goal of blood flow restriction training is to restrict venous return while still allowing arterial flow by strategically wrapping the topmost portion of your limbs. By restricting the veins and not the arteries, blood can keep pooling into a working muscle and it stays trapped there. It’s like filling a water balloon to max capacity.
By bringing in all of that blood to the working muscles without letting it leave, a couple key things happen. One, you get a crazy pump. Seriously, your muscles become supersized. The theory is that this leads to cellular swelling which shocks the muscles into new growth.
Two, it’s gonna burn like hell. Your muscles quickly become deprived of oxygen and can’t get rid of accumulating waste materials and this creates a lot of metabolic stress or acidosis. Metabolic stress is one of the three major mechanisms of muscle growth and should not be overlooked.
Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, one of the leading authorities on hypertrophy (muscle growth) in his book Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy, says: “The prevailing body of literature shows that BFR training stimulates anabolic signaling and muscle protein synthesis and markedly increases muscle growth despite using loads often considered too low to promote significant hypertrophy.”
Research on the hypertrophic effects of Blood Flow Restriction Training is compelling. Studies show that simply occluding blood flow to bedridden patients can prevent atrophy and weakness, without performing any training at all!
Moreover, walking with blood flow restricted to the legs – not exactly your classic muscle-building activity – has been found to significantly increase muscle strength and size. But the real hypertrophic benefits of BFR occur when it's applied in concert with resistance exercise.
Numerous studies show substantial increases in muscle growth when low-load lifting (~20-30% 1RM) is combined with flow restriction. Gains are often on par with traditional heavy-load training during early-stage training, sometimes even greater.
Another really cool thing that happens with BFR is since your oxygen-dependent slow-twitch fibers fatigue way faster than normal, you have to quickly start tapping into your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which have the biggest potential for growth.
What’s crazy about this is your fast-twitch fibers typically don’t get hit unless you’re using heavy loads or moderately heavy loads performed explosively. But BFR allows you to go fast-twitch with loads less than 50 percent of your one-rep max.
Integrating BFR into your training can really ramp up your muscular gains. With continued implementation into a well-designed resistance training program, it may well be the strategy that takes your muscular development to new heights.
Here is what you need to know...
- Blood flow restriction training involves wrapping a restrictive implement around the limbs while lifting. Studies show increases in muscle growth when low-load lifting is combined with flow restriction.
- You don't need costly implements to perform BFR - FLOSS bands will do.
- The best approach is to use this as a "finishing" technique. Perform a moderate to heavy-load hypertrophy protocol and then finish up with several sets of BFR training using single-joint movements.
How to Wrap your power bands FLOSS For BFR Training
The wraps must be long enough to circle your limb several times. Placement of the wraps is crucial. You must position them as high as possible on the limbs being trained.
For the upper body, wrap it just below the shoulder at the top of upper arm so that the wrap is nestling into your armpit.
For the lower body, wrap just below the gluteal fold from the back and just below the hip flexor from the front.
If the wraps are positioned too low, you won't achieve optimal venous occlusion and the beneficial effects of the strategy will be compromised.
The goal should be to secure the wraps so that they're snug on the limb but not to the point where there's excessive discomfort at rest. On a scale from 1-10, pressure should be about a 7 or so. It generally takes some practice to accurately quantify the pain-pressure connection, but after a few sessions you should have a clear sense of just how tightly to wrap.
You shouldn’t feel any numbness or tingling sensations. If you do, that means you wrapped it too tight. It's important to remember that the purpose of BFR is to impede venous return, not arterial flow into the muscle. Wrap too tightly and all local circulation becomes occluded. This increases the perceived exertion of the exercise with a corresponding reduction in total training volume.
And if there's one thing that's clear in the literature, higher exercise volumes are positively associated with increases in hypertrophy.
It's also important to keep the limbs continually restricted for the duration of the exercise. Research shows that untying the wraps between sets significantly reduces metabolic stress, thereby inhibiting the growth stimulus. Remove the wraps only after you've finished the final BFR set.
Remember, if it doesn't feel right just take the powerbands FLOSS off and re-wrap a little bit looser. There’s a bit of a learning curve in the beginning so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to nail it on the first try.
At least some of your sets should be taken to the point of muscular failure. Understand, however, that going to failure in BFR requires a different mindset than during traditional resistance exercise.
How to Use BFR Training to Build Muscle
The key to effective BFR training is using light loads (40 to 50 percent of your one-rep maxor less), high reps (10 to 15 reps or more), and short rest periods (30 seconds or less). It’s also important to note that BFR doesn’t replace your regular training—it just enhances it.
Although BFR can be employed with pretty much any exercise, it seems to work best with single-joint movements. Biceps curls, triceps pressdowns, leg extensions, etc., are all excellent choices here. Perform multi-joint exercises such as squats, rows, and pressing movements in the traditional fashion.
Here are three ways to implement BFR training:
1. BFR Finishers
After performing your main workout, hit a BFR finisher. If you performed an upper-body workout, hit an upper-body BFR finisher. If you’ve just completed a lower-body workout, hit a lower-body BFR finisher. If you do total-body sessions, hit one for both the upper and lower body.
2. Extra Training Volume and Frequency
BFR is a great way to increase training volume and training frequency without impairing your recovery. For example, to bump up your training volume, if you did 3 regular sets of an exercise with heavier loads, try adding in an extra couple sets of BFR training for the same movement pattern or muscle group with a lighter load for higher reps and shorter rest periods between sets.
3. Active Recovery and Deloading
Because BFR training requires using lighter loads, it’s significantly easier to recover from than heavier training. This makes it a great method to employ on days you’re feeling worn down but still want to train.
It’s also great to use if you incorporate frequent deloads—or periods of decreased loading or training volume—into your training schedule.
With BFR your limbs get heavier with each successive rep. After a point, you'll feel as though they simply can't move. This is where mental fortitude comes into play. Because the loads are so light, you can will yourself to push through the sensation and pump out a few additional reps. Dig deep and squeeze out every last rep possible. Ultimately this is how you maximize metabolite accumulation and its associated anabolic response. Get your bands and give it a try!
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