With all the popularity and hype which blood flow restriction (BFR) training is receiving for its accelerated development of both muscle strength and mass, you’ve probably heard the terms blood flow restriction training, occlusion training or KAATSU training floating around online or in your local gym.
If you’re still unsure exactly what BFR training is or how to perform it, then this post is for you.
For safety reasons, we need to first quickly address a few terminology issues.
You may see the terms blood flow restriction training, occlusion training and KAATSU training being used interchangeably – but that’s not strictly correct.
Occlusion training involves completely stopping the flow of blood into a part of the body. Occlusion training is extremely discouraged as it can result in damaged arteries, nerves, muscles, veins and an increase in risk of blood clots.
Whilst both blood flow restriction training and KAATSU training differ by only modifying blood flow rather than stopping it. KAATSU training uses expensive pneumatic tubes, cuffs and electronic monitors and requires a certified specialist to monitor you during your workout.
Blood flow restriction solutions, such as BfR Pro ARMS or LEGS, on the other hand, are simple to use and can easily be added to your workouts to maximise results. In other words, this is practical BFR training which means you adjust the pressure of the bands or straps yourself.
KAATSU training was originally discovered in the 1960’s in Japan by scientist Yoshiaki Sato. Since then, there have been now hundreds of scientific studies from Japan, Denmark, Norway, England and USA researching the effects of blood flow restriction training.
The research to date has found that BFR training promotes muscle hypertrophy and strength gains more effectively compared to traditional low load weight lifting (10-30% of 1RM). In some research it has even provided better results than heavy load weight lifting (60-85% of 1RM) but the best response has been proven to be by combining low load BFR training with high load strength training.
A simple Google Scholar search about blood flow restriction training will provide you with plenty of academic articles on the topic to browse through.
Blood flow restriction training is a technique using straps around the top of your limbs in order to restrict blood flow to the veins but not your arteries. By doing so, you are allowing blood to enter into the muscle but not letting it leave again. This results in a massive increase in cell swelling (or “pump”) and a "danger" response in the muscle cells triggering it to restructure and become larger.
BfR straps also work to trap lactic acid within the muscle, creating an additional anabolic response which turns on protein synthesis. This metabolic stress is believed to play an important role in the beneficial effect of BFR training. These metabolites are implicated in creating a hypertrophic response including lactate, inorganic phosphate, and hydrogen ions.
Read more about how muscle fibres react during blood flow restriction.
Read more about blood flow restriction training and muscle hypertrophy.
There have been numerous studies conducted into the benefits and efficacy of blood flow restriction training. Of interest to most people are the increased speeds with which muscle growth can be achieved.
A Danish study in 2012 researched whether BFR training could produce more efficient results than traditional resistance training (normally resulting in 15-25% muscle increase after 3 months). The study found that the subjects undergoing training with blood flow restriction achieved 35-40% muscle increase in only 3 weeks.
A similar study conducted with British elite rugby players in 2014 compared regular resistance training with the same training with added blood flow restriction. The study found that BFR training resulted in players’ squat strength, bench press, jump power and sprint time improving by 200% (Cook et al, 2014).
The short answer is: Yes, blood flow restriction training is safe; but there are a two key precautions you should take to avoid the potentially harmful effects which can come from accidently occluding your muscles or over training.
We’ve seen some YouTubers suggest using everything from knee wraps to bicycle inner tubes to restrict blood flow just to save a penny or two. But applying BfR straps correctly for accurate, consistent & even pressure on your muscles is easier said than done with make-shift straps (not to mention the risks you run of totally occluding the muscle!). Be sure to choose a quality-built product like the bands from BfR Pro which allow for easy application of strap to find the right tightness and quick release features, should you want to remove your straps in a hurry.
When performing a BFR workout, you are going to be dropping the weight considerably. Most blood flow restriction workouts utilise a weight of 20-40% of your one-rep max (1RM); or alternatively, around 40% of what you normally lift. You’ll also be focusing on a higher repetition range – around 15-30 reps per set – with short rest periods of around 30 seconds.
Take a look at our blood flow restriction workout suggestions for more ideas on how to incorporate BfR into your training. And don’t forget to share your personal success stories with the BfR family on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using @bfrpro and #bfrpro.
Team BfR Professional
Fancy looking at some seriously big muscles and well-proportioned bodies? Or maybe testing your own strength against that of the pros?
Humble as we are, we’re not talking about the BfR crew here – although we will be playing a part. On 31 March and 1 April, BfR Professional is to be found at Newcomers 2018 in Herning. In case you don’t know, this is the annual fitness fair for all upcoming athletes and bodybuilders in Denmark.
Try out our BfR Pro gear or ask us about training hacks
At BfR, we’ve dedicated every minute of our time to help you discover your potential and reach your personal fitness goals. And 2018 is no exception!
Last year's Newcomers proved a big success for us: At our stand, we had loads of curious people asking about what occlusion training - the latest fitness trend - could do for their workout. The extra bold ones even volunteered for our squats and biceps contests.
So don’t miss out on the chance to talk to us in person, learn about occlusion training (aka. BFR training) or try out our exclusive BfR Pro straps for arms or legs. Just like last year, you’ll get the chance to win some of our BFR products. Male or female, fit or fighting to be so – you can benefit from occlusion training. Simple concept, intelligent training, as we put it.
Bring a friend or two and go seek us out at Newcomers in Herning.
Go grab 2018 by the throat!
Team BfR Professional
Fancy having bigger or firmer arms in 2018? And looking for a bit of variation in your training routine? Well, read safely on then.
Training with a thick bar is one of the most effective ways to build muscular strength in your arms and upper body. BfR Professional now offers the latest alternative to expensive specialty bars: the original, blue Fat Gripz. This user-friendly exercise tool can be latched on to almost any barbell or dumbbell.
And by combining these non-slip rubber grips with our BfR Pro ARMS straps in our new Ultimate Arm Pack, we’ve made sure that you’re getting yourself a match made in heaven. Be prepared for the burn, though!
How does it work?
In short, Fat Gripz work by increasing the diameter of the bar. This enables you to up your arm building to extreme heights as using thicker handles leads to more muscle activation in your hands, arms and upper body. No wonder that professional athletes and Special Forces soldiers are all recommending this product.
The many merits of occlusion training/BFR training (as well as our top seller BfR Pro ARMS) have already been described in detail on our website and blog, so go check it out if you want to discover how easily and efficiently you can optimise your workout without having to compromise when it comes to output.
What if I’m new to BFR training?
Fear not! We understand that proper understanding of a complementary training method is pivotal to actually gaining from it. In order to release the full potential of your body, you need knowledge. Our Ultimate Arm Pack comes with a free BfR e-book where we’ve tried to cram in as many inspirational BFR exercises for arms as possible. It also includes general information about BFR training.
And remember: occlusion training is for everyone. Male, female, young, not so young, fit or going through rehabilitation… And with a brand new year at our hands, there’s no reason not to kickstart your workout routine.
BFR-training is easy to learn and builds on your body’s natural reaction pattern. Simple concept, intelligent training, as we say.
Anyway, what are you still doing here?! Go check out our Ultimate Arm Pack!
And don’t forget to leave a review or share your personal BfR success story with the rest of the BfR family.
Go grab 2018 by the throat!
Team BfR Professional
Curious for a look backstage at BfR Professional? Well, here’s your chance…
Almost one year ago, our New Year’s resolution was to make BfR Professional happen – for real. As founders of BfR, we (Lars and Martin) had already spent over one year meticulously planning and testing prototypes for our occlusion straps. Now a Kickstarter campaign starting in December 2016 would demonstrate to us whether there was any interest out there. After all, not that many people knew about blood flow restriction training then.
Off to a flying start
Fortunately, you guys were curious about this totally new way of working out – and about us. Our Kickstarter left us 125% funded, and in January and February 2017 we sent out our first products: the BfR Pro ARMS straps and the BfR Pro Elastic Training Tube. By then, our website and newsletter were also up and running. Things were quickly picking up speed, and in April we got our first interns in order to increase our efforts within sales and market research.
Bumpy road ahead?
Creating and launching new products can get rather addictive, and over the summer we decided to up our game and start developing the prototype for a digital product. Second generation BfR equipment, enabling you to take your training to the next level. We’d just received a grant from The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship, so we knew we had the money as well as the vision.
However, no pain, no gain; things got a bit uphill for a while... Imagine dozens of meetings with potential business partners, redesigning packaging, insane amounts of coffee and equally insane hours. And ordering a thousand new product manuals, only to find out that you’ve managed to turn the text upside down, doesn’t exactly help! But the point of mistakes is that you learn from them. That’s always been our philosophy.
For example, we learned that always doing things at the very last minute isn’t a sensible idea. Unless you like high blood pressure, that is. After having to speed build a wooden promo stand minutes before a crowd of eager bodybuilders and athletes would come surging through the doors of the Newcomers 2017 in Herning, we’ve solemnly made each other a promise to at least try to be in good time.
The Newcomers fair turned out to be a huge success, though, and our digital dreams are well on their way, so basically we haven’t looked back. Another philosophy of ours is that success isn’t something you get – it’s something you create.
In the second part of 2017, we brought in graphics and communications interns because we wanted to boost the visual identity of BfR and give our communication an overhaul. After all, everybody wants to look and sound good, right?
At BfR, we’re always eager to improve not just our muscles but also our minds, so in August we attended Inspire Convention 2017 in Denmark where one of the world’s leading BFR researchers, Prof. Jeremy Loenneke, spoke. And in November we flew to Portugal to join Web Summit 2017 in order to show off our digital prototype and do some serious business dating.
On Black Friday we were lavishing discounts on you guys, which you generously rewarded. Now it’s December, and we’re finishing off 2017 with an Advent Calendar on Facebook and Instagram. So swing by our page and profile if you feel like getting your hands on our products, body boosting supplements and a unique Christmas discount.
One big BfR family
All in all, it’s been an amazing year, and although we’ve learned a few lessons, getting enthusiastic feedback from you guys makes it all worthwhile. Lots of exciting things are in the pipeline for 2018, probably including our digital BfR product, an app and more youtubing.
So, the humble wish we want to make for Christmas this year is that you will keep following us and share your personal BfR stories with us and the rest of the BfR family. We’re together on this one.
Thank you for making 2017 an awesome BfR year!
Lars and Martin
Team BfR Professional
On a gloomy November morning, at a truly ungodly time of day, three guys got on a plane in Billund Airport. They were sleepy and had barely had the time to grab some breakfast or do their hair. And then there was that slightly nervous sensation in their stomachs. All in all, not the best basis when going on a date.
Pleased to meet you, Web Summit
Fortunately, a case of the jitters tends to go away once you’re on a roll, and we’re proud to say that that was exactly what happened. You see, those three Danish guys were us: Lars and Martin, the BfR founders, and Peter, our new tech consultant. As announced in our November newsletter, we were headed for Lisbon, Portugal to attend the world’s largest tech summit as part of its ALPHA programme. The goal: to promote ourselves, do some sweet talking and make new acquaintances. (Basically, everything you do on a standard date, right?).
Being a small Danish start-up at an international summit boasting 60,000 participants can be a bit daunting, but people there proved very open and curious. The opening ceremony on Monday with top speakers like Stephen Hawking and Margrethe Vestager dazzled everybody.
Abu Dhabi living
On Tuesday, we were busy at our BfR Professional stand promoting our occlusion training equipment, getting feedback on our digital prototype for the next BfR generation and connecting with potential investors. (This was when we got a memorable offer to move our business to Abu Dhabi!).
Wednesday was just as busy and exciting: Various business people from China, Hungary and Chile requested meetings with us, and we even managed to get roped in for two interviews for Portuguese television. On Thursday, we wrapped up our summit adventure by going to heaps of workshops and talks to gather inspiration.
The end of single life?
Now we’re back in Aarhus, processing our experience. Was it worth the time and money for us to go to Web Summit 2017? Absolutely. We may be a young company, but we’ve come home with international inspiration as well as a number of potential sales leads and partners. And let’s face it: Everybody likes being liked. That’s what dating is all about. So, motivated as ever, we’re going to transform all of this into value for you.
Whether we end up pursuing high living in Abu Dhabi, sipping cocktails in rooftop bars, remains to be seen..! But for now, we're staying put here in Aarhus.
Team BfR Professional
Daily life at a startup business is always hectic, with numerous tasks to be done, and BfR is no different. Often this means that less urgent things like regular blog posts just have to join the queue. However, this ends now!
In the future we plan on upping our blogging a bit. Obviously, you can buy our products and get results from that alone, but we also want to provide you with extra value – knowledge and inspiration. Which is why you will now see blog posts coming out on a slightly more regular basis.
So stay tuned, you guys, for heaps of inspiring posts with the latest news, training manuals, interviews with the BfR users and much, much more!
Fit when travelling
Blogging isn’t the only thing we are currently upscaling: If you happen to open the magazine easyJet Traveller some time during October and November, you will be able to find our ad asking, “How do you stay fit while traveling?” EasyJet has seven million travellers per month and the easyJet Traveller comes in 210,000 copies. We want to help business people and others who travel frequently stay on top of their training as simply as possible in their hotel, hostel, AirBnB or wherever. For that reason, this ad offers a discount code on all BfR products. View the October edition of the easyJet magazine here.
Your time matters
You might say that we don’t just sell quality training equipment; we actually “sell time”. We know that your time is precious to you, so by providing you top of the line BfR gear, such as the Traveler Pack, enabling you to stay fit and healthy anywhere in just a matter of minutes, we are essentially giving you more time.
The Traveler Pack contains an elastic training tube, our BfR ARMS set and a training programme for arms, which will enable you to do your basic workout anywhere. Check out the easyJet magazine or our shop here for further information.
So basically, lots of exciting projects are in the pipeline, and we can’t wait to share it all with you. Stay tuned, and let us take your training to the next level.
To your success,
Team BfR Professional
Here at BfR Professional we are proud to announce that we have received a grant from The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (Fonden for Entreprenørskab). For the uninitiated, this is the Danish national knowledge centre for the development of entrepreneurship. It also allocates grants for students with great ideas in order to promote entrepreneurship as a career path.
Competition is fierce, which is why we are incredibly proud and excited about this grant. Those of you who may be entrepreneurs yourselves will know just how taxing startup life and building a business can be. However, receiving a stamp of approval like this makes it all worthwhile! Now we want to turn this into even more value for you.
Great application and we believe there is a huge potential in this niche. At the same time, it is nice to see how far you’ve taken this as a team already with the development process.
Feedback from the Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship
World domination, here we come!
Oh, we have big plans… Here at BfR we constantly want to stay innovative and ahead, and one of the many things we are currently looking into is prototyping. We’ll give you a small hint: It has to do with digital. The time is right to take BfR and you to the next level. For the moment, we want to keep our cards close to our chest, but stay tuned for more information by signing up to our newsletter here or follow us on Instagram here.
On a related note, this grant has also enabled us to join Web Summit 2017 in Lisbon on November 6-9. This is the largest tech summit in the world as well as a hotspot for entrepreneurs as well as investors, and as part of the ALPHA programme we are keen to exhibit BfR while boosting our inspiration and network.
Come and meet us there or stay tuned to our blog for a report on the summit. We will also be posting on Facebook and Instagram during our time in Portugal. As always, we welcome your feedback and personal BfR stories. Simply use the @bfrpro or #bfrpro on Instagram and we promise that we will find you.
Team BfR Professional
BFR training is a long-established training protocol combining the closing off a blood vessel and intense high rep training to alter the physiological environment in which a muscle is working. BFR is known by many names including occlusion training, vascular reduction (VR) and KAATSU training, so named by its inventor, Japanese Yoshiaki Sato.
It involves obstructing the venous system by using a form of compression to partially close a vein, reducing venous blood return to the heart altering the vascular system and bio-physiological chemistry of the muscles. BFR training should never impede the artery.
Tools for occlusion/BFR
The most common forms of compression used include knee wraps and KAATSU Cuffs, with the latter being considerably more scientific but expensive, or even the use of cut floss band to save on costs. The latter is however very uncomfortable, difficult to use and almost impossible to take off when your arms are weak and shivering. A fate I faced many times until BfR Professional came along and introduced their new velcro-based straps.
Easy to put on, comfortable and durable, the BfR Pro products allow full range of movement without shifting or impeding on the muscle. Once the working set is complete, their velcro design allows quick removal; a feature you'll only appreciate once you've trained this way!
The origin of BFR training
A bit more about BFR. It was discovered in 1966 by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato as an 18-year-old while he was attending a Buddhist festival. While kneeling, he suffered a reduction in blood flow to his calves leading to a painful increase in pressure in his lower limb muscles. Massaging them out he noted the similarity to that of a "pump" after an intense workout, including calf raises. He has since spent the about 50 years researching and perfecting his methods, tutoring and exploring new applications, gaining honorary degrees from the Medical Research Center at The University of Tokyo among others.
In that time, the training techniques and its application have developed rapidly, and it's now used in bodybuilding, rehab and medical interventions around the world. Similarly, the understanding of what mechanisms of change it creates within the body have developed in recent years allowing a more precise use of the technology, and it's now being used by many elite athletes and their coaches.
The slightly physio nerdy explanation of what's going on
Okay, here goes: By restricting the veins during muscular contraction, a number of changes happen. Blood is still able to enter the muscle supplied by the deeper laying arteries but unable to leave through the superficial veins. Because of this, an increase of pressure builds within the capillaries shunting hydrostatic fluids across endothelial membranes of the circulatory system and into the surrounding tissues, i.e. muscle fibers. This increase in fluids within the tissue draws nutrients from the blood vessel down a concentration gradient and into the tissue. Blood begins to pool in the veins while it backs up in the artery, decreasing flow as metabolites build up throughout the system.
The muscle swells as you actively contract it with the increased volume of each muscle fibre acting in the short term to increase strength. These already swollen fibres will continue to increase in size due to the hydrostatic pressures exerted by the artery until you either remove the venous block forcing them to either adapt and grow in size or burst. Since the intention of a resistance training is to damage muscle cells forcing them to repair and grow larger and stronger than before, this is a useful tool to consider when training.
Within these blood vessels, the endothelial cells react to the changing PH levels of the blood releasing an increased amount of Nitric Oxide. This chemical is found in most pre-workout formulas and marketed alone as a supplement used to increase the vasodilation of the vessels transporting blood to and from the muscles as well as giving you that "pumped" feeling. This is desirable for athletes as an increase in blood pressure directly raises the hydrostatic pressure and movement of fluids out of the blood and into the cells within the body. Similarly, Nitric Oxide has been shown to increase both permeability and elasticity of blood vessels when consumed or produced in higher quantities over extended periods of time maintaining vascular health.
With those extracellular changes occurring, it's no surprise to find that intracellular changes are abundant, too. Before we look into those, we must consider that muscle as a whole can be broken down into many levels with varying fibre types. There are 3 types of skeletal muscle fibre: Slow Twitch fibres (Type 1) are utilised by endurance athletes and can only function in the presence of oxygen. Fast Twitch Oxidative (Type 2a) are a much more explosive variety yet also utilise the oxidation of O2 to produce energy resulting in an explosive fibre with a resistance to fatigue in the medium term. The final fibre is Fast Twitch Glycolytic (Type 2b) which is only able to metabolise via the anaerobic glycolysis pathway without the use of O2. This drastically increases recovery time and reduces its ability to function beyond the most explosive of activities, i.e. intense weight lifting and sprinting.
During occlusion training, the Type 1 and 2a fibres are starved of oxygen decreasing their work capacity. This increases a neural stimulation to other fibres of the same type that may be inactive and increases motor recruitment. That is to say when we actively contract the muscle we only ever activate a percentage of its contained fibres. The percentage activated will vary from person to person but will never reach 100% of the muscle without external intervention from devices such as a Compex Muscle Stimulator which uses electrical impulses to stimulate 100% of motor units and in turn muscle fibres.
By activating more fibres through occlusion training, we are better able to train more of the muscle to the demands of our sports than we would likely be able to through standardised training alone. Once the Type 1 and 2a fibres are depleted and fatigued, we recruit Type 2b fibres to continue the exercise in the absence of oxygen.
This lack of oxygen creates a hypoxic environment within the tissue causing the release of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF). This signaling protein chemical is responsible for the creation of new blood vessels and their supporting networks. Blood vessels once complete will increase the surface area ratio of diffusion within the tissue allowing more oxygen and key nutrients to the tissue in the future along with increased lactate threshold.
With occlusion training reducing levels of oxygen available to working muscles, a lactic acid/lactate build-up occurs dramatically quicker than expected. This chemical soup build-up is counteracted by the body converting it back to pyruvate as previously mentioned. But with training, the body is better able to hold off and endure this acidic state for longer periods of time.
While more applicable for those completing High-Intensity Endurance Exercise (HIEE), the applications of occlusion training are useful for a variety of sports. Studies have shown that the change of intramuscular environment to an acidic state causes a vast increase in the release of Growth Hormones (GH), Myostatin (GD8), Heat Shock Protein (HSP) and Nitric Oxide Synthase-1, all of which are key regulators of hypertrophy and protein synthesis.
To sum up the benefits of BFR
With all that considered, it's clear that occlusion training should be a key technique in any athlete’s armory. However, it has one final trick up its sleeve. Occlusion training should be completed using only 20% of an individual’s 1 rep max and complete more repetitions per set, usually until failure. This reduced weight dramatically reduces the stress placed on joints which enables it to be used in rehabilitation or through minor injuries.
BFR training has been shown in research to effect:
Can you really afford to ignore it?
*This is a slightly altered version for BfR readers. Read the full article and find the resources used at James's personal blog here.
We hope you found this useful,
Team BfR Professional
In November 2016, we contributed to an online article about occlusion training on the Danish fitness website blivstor.dk. We're happy to do so since we're obviously enthusiastic about this new training method ourselves and want to share it with the world. The article is in Danish and can be found here.
BfR Professional on occlusion training
In some of our previous posts here on the BfR blog, we've outlined how practical blood flow restriction (BFR) or occlusion training works in simplified terms, what effects this training method can have and what results this might bring to your body.
In addition, we've gone through how to perform practical BFR training with our 4 tips on how to apply the correct pressure in another one of our blog posts recently, which you can check out here.
All our recommendations are made based on our own practical experience over the past two and a half years doing occlusion training in combination with studying the global scientific research within this topic, which is fortunately a body of work increasing continuously.
We view BFR training as a healthy complementary training method to your traditional training routine – not as a replacement for more heavy load oriented training as this too has its merits on improving your physical shape.
Simple and smart at the same time
The key is to be smart about your training and bring variation to the table using occlusion straps while being consistent over long periods of time. Preferably forever. This is basically why we've chosen "Simple concept, intelligent training" as our official slogan.
Take it to the next level with
Team BfR professional
When performing practical BFR training you need to adjust the pressure of your straps from a subjective standpoint. But we recommend following our tips below, which are based on up-to-date scientific research on the topic of BFR/occlusion training.
4 tips on how to apply the right pressure of your BfR Pro straps:
BfR Pro products versus alternatives?
The alternative to BFR training with straps is to apply air pressure controlled equipment such as the patented KAATSU machinery. However, this very expensive equipment is not easily accessible or affordable, which makes it nearly impossible for ordinary people to reap the benefits of this amazing training method. Moreover, the people using this machinery actually still use the 4 tips described here to check for correct pressure.
As with any type of physical activity, always remember to listen to your body and keep a “trial and error” mindset to find out what really works for you. Also check out the other posts on our blog here - they're packed with inspiration and tips just for you and your workout.
To your success!
Team BfR Professional