In the spring of 2017, BfR Professional teamed up with two physiotherapist students focusing on the qualitative aspect of blood flow restriction training, and how people perceive the use of this still very new training method. Below you can read more about their interesting findings from their bachelor project.
By Højfeldt R. Jeanette, Jensen H. Pernille, BA. Physiotherapy, VIA University College Aarhus, Denmark.
Background and purpose
The project includes six participants. A physiotherapist, two patients with varying injuries and three self-trained subjects, one with an injury. In addition to using physiotherapists, all participants have been using blood flow restriction training in time periods spanning from three weeks to three months.
The analysed data can be grouped into topics with key findings:
Blood flow restriction training is versatile in its use and can, for instance, be used to max out in the last part of your session after high load training, or to prevent further pain from an injury during training. When tightening the band, some participants express a problem. They aren't sure whether the band is too tight or too loose, which is a common concern among the participants. This means that every individual has their own strategy to ensure the correct use, and therefore the tightening is self-perceived. Despite this issue, the band is reported easy to use:
Even though the band is tight, it gives the muscles room to expand during training.
A common experience is accelerated muscle atrophy compared to regular training. The participants observed visual changes in the veins, as these became more proinent and with a blue and red colour. This is an observation that the physiotherapist confirms. Another observation during training is a fast burning and a lactic feeling in the muscles. Several participants described blood flow restriction training as having a different feeling to its compared to regular training. The exhaustion was somehow different. One of the participants described the post experience like this:
Three out of six explain that blood flow restriction training has prevented pain from a current injury when training. One of them says that:
Back then, before I used the bands, I could barely do my exercises without feeling pain in my injury - I went home without working my muscles. It just hurt enormously.
The participants express great joy and satisfaction when using blood flow restriction training. Some mention that this kind of training is: fantastic, different, awesome, effective, a short and hard workout. In particular, they justify the relieving ability of the bands which causes the muscles to be stressed before the joint:
Just as annoying the soreness has been, it felt equally amazing - it's great because I feel alive.
Some of the participants report struggles with the low load training and motivation at the beginning:
At some points, it's demotivating not to have the usual kilos for someone who's used to training with a high load. But suddenly, I can take far more repetitions, and I came to notice that my legs become really tired, even without hurting the joints.
Among the participants, the feedback is an overall positive one concerning motivation for doing blood flow restriction training. For some, it was the applicability, for others, the competition and socialising.
The participants feel safe using blood flow restriction training. This is explained by the fact that they don't associate low load training with high risk of injury, despite tightening problems and a lack of knowledge:
I can go crazy while knowing I'm not going to break. I feel safe using it because I know the muscles get tired long before it ever gets dangerous for me.
Some of the participants report that the perception of safety is being created by the connection with the physiotherapist.
All participants found blood flow restriction training to be effective and said that it had a positive impact both physically and mentally. However, there is an issue with the subjective tightening of the bands, which requires more knowledge. The informants experienced a lactic and burning sensation, as well as an increased soreness, but this was not experienced as pain. This training method will suit both the elite and patients with injuries. However, consideration should be taken because blood flow restriction training can affect blood circulation.
Hope you enjoyed this read!
Team BfR Professional
We all know the feeling that tends to creep up on you when you're about to go to the gym as planned but realise that you just don’t feel like it today. All those heavy lifts suddenly seem a pretty bad deal compared to a chilled hour of Netflix on your sofa. You really want to stay in today, but your conscience is pricking you. You obviously know the consequences of skipping too many workouts, so what do you do to make sure you stick with your long-term goals for your training?
How your brain basically works
The main thing to realise is that you need to hack your brain or it'll most likely get the better of you. And in order to do this, you first need a little basic knowledge about the biology of your brain.
Actually, the modern human brain consists of three different layers or brains, and when it comes to classic struggles of conscience as the scenario mentioned above, particularly the second and third brains are of interest: The second brain is referred to as the limbic system, and this is where our emotions lie – in particular the ones that like things to be easy and fun. Because of this, humans are biologically wired to choose safe, well-known options and conserve energy. Consequently, Netflix seems a much better choice than sweating in the gym, muscles screaming and all.
However, around the limbic system we have another, more modern brain called neocortex. This brain is unique to primates and humans and is where our thinking lies. And this is also your strongest weapon when trying to beat the carefree impulse to eat that bag of crisps, stay in bed or watch Game of Thrones all day.
How to BEAT that brain of yours once and for all
Basically, there are three things you should remember in your daily struggle against your baser instincts:
1: Stop waiting for motivation.
Any goal will inevitably contain a certain amount of suffering or sacrifice along the way. Too many people postpone the things they want to do because they just don’t feel motivated. Your limbic system is whispering to you that skipping one workout wouldn’t do any harm to your long-term goals because the limbic system would rather do something much more fun. This is when you must hack your own brain by using your neocortex instead.
Simply remember the rational part of you that knows full well that skipping another workout will be bad for your long-term training goals and embrace the fact that in reality there's no such thing as motivation. You are more than capable of doing something even though you don’t feel like it – so do it. And build consistency like a pro.
2: Comfort yourself that with occlusion training you will be able to train with less weight and for a shorter period of time.
Your workout will be over before you know it, and then an hour of Netflix may be well-earned. Remember that the important thing is to build consistency: Instead of skipping a workout entirely, it's better to train for a shorter period of time.
Many BfR users also report a psychological rush that might best be described as elation or pride when seeing and feeling the unique pump which arises during occlusion workouts. No matter how you felt prior to your workout, you'll surely leave the gym feeling content and relaxed, with endorphins swimming around your body like happy little tadpoles.
3: Choose to do your workout at home.
If you can’t be bothered to make it to the gym, why not train in the comfort of your own home? It'll enable you to "trick" your limbic system by simply choosing an easier option. (Remember that your brain prefers things to be easy and comfortable). With the BfR products, this is all possible. As an example, the new BfR Pro Glute Builder enables you to perform a wide range of exercises for your legs and buttocks – and you don’t even need any weights.
Once you get the hang of catching yourself or hacking your own brain whenever it only wants to do what's easy, there's no stopping you. It is all a matter of understanding the psychology as well as the biology behind it and exploiting that knowledge to your own advantage on a daily basis. And the more you do it, the easier it'll become. Building the right mental state will enable you to take it to the next level!
Links for further inspiration:
The structure of your brain, read more here.
Mel Robbins on motivation, read more here.
Hope this got you all fired up!
Team BfR Professional
Here at BfR, we're proud to announce that the widely read Danish fitness magazine Aktiv Træning has tested our BfR Pro ARMS, which are our customised straps for blood flow restriction (BFR) training, and has put together a product review for all of their many readers.
Aktiv Træning is a fitness and health magazine known for guiding readers to a healthy lifestyle with everything from fitness and running to proper dieting and sleep in order to optimise your physical shape. At the same time, Aktiv Træning aims to test and review the best products on the market, and in their April issue of 2017 our BfR Pro ARMS was put to the test and received 4.5/6 stars.
The review in English
Obviously, the review is in Danish (see below), but we're keen to share so we've translated it into English for all of you guys to read here:
Occlusion training is a new trend in the strength training world. Many are using knee wraps for this training method, but the special occlusion bands here are clearly a more practical choice. Plastic buckle, velcro closing and anti-slip material make it super easy to strap on, close it and tighten it. Apart for the edges of the velcro which can be a little sharp, they are comfortable during training. It is nice that the whole band is sitting closely to the arm, and with a width of just 3 cm, you avoid the band disturbing the muscle when for example you are doing biceps curls.
A simple and relatively cheap solution for occlusion training. The straps are easy to handle, and without problems you get the pressure that you want applied to your arm muscle.
A positive experience
The product received 4.5 stars out of 6, which means that it’s a really good product according to their ranking system. As regards their comment about the Velcro pinching a bit, we suggest using a T-shirt or similar under the straps if you feel like it's bothering you.
If this positive review makes you curious, go check out our selection of quality equipment for BFR training now!
Below is the original review in Danish:
We hope this has piqued your interest! If so, swing by our store and let us help you.
All the best,
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
Since we launched BfR Professional using the world’s largest crowdfunding platform called Kickstarter to distribute our premium product for blood flow restriction (BFR)/occlusion/KAATSU training, we’ve been asked quite a few times why you can’t just use a rope or regular elastic band when performing this new training hack?
Of course, it all comes down to preferences, but we've tried a lot of different alternatives ourselves over the past two years, and the conclusion is that the design and comfort of the strap/band/cuff absolutely matter! In fact, our British BfR Pro Ambassador and guest blogger James Ruckley has been through the same trying to find the perfect occlusion straps; read more about his experience here).
Below are some of the things we have taken into consideration as we designed the BfR Pro ARMS for ourselves and you…
As BFR training becomes increasingly popular within fitness and for rehabilitation, more products will naturally hit the market, but the quality of them already varies greatly. Most of the current products come with a “one-size fits all” mentality, which may be just fine for you. Indeed, our own BfR Pro LEGS is a one-size product as this made sense to us in the case of leg training.
However, we decided to focus on offering a customised arms product in different sizes to match the needs of the individual, and this is how our top teller BfR Pro ARMS came to be. This makes it not only more comfortable to wear but also a lot nicer to look at from an aesthetic point of view without half of the band flapping around your arm as you work out. (If you're as vain as we are from time to time, you'll surely appreciate this!).
Finding the right size for you
Our website has a size guide as well as instructions on how to measure your upper arm correctly in order to pick the right strap size. In short, you should measure the area below your shoulder but above your biceps and triceps – not the area around the middle of your biceps where the circumference is naturally larger.
You may ask, “I’m between two different sizes, so which one should I choose?” We always recommend going for the larger one since it's better to apply a lower pressure than too hard of a pressure which can have a negative effect on your muscle-building and in worst cases cause an injury. Another advantage is that picking the larger of the two will allow you to grow - and believe us, you will!
One of the major challenges using knee wraps or other one-size occlusion bands can be to strap it on in the first place without the assistance of a buddy since this kind of product is typically long and unhandy.
And although you may be the type of person who welcomes any opportunity to interact with your fellow gym-goers, these makeshift bands may often also cause an uneven pressure to be applied to the muscle which may decrease the actual physiological effect of your training.
We solved this by designing a product that you can strap on and release with one hand making it even more simple to use leaving you to focus on finding and applying the right pressure for you.
In doubt about how to find the correct pressure? Read this post with 4 easy tips that will enable you to take your workout to the next level.
Anti-slip technology: Don't worry, we got you
The white anti-slip stripes embedded in the specialised elastic band support the single-handed fitting as they grab on to your skin once you tighten the strap around your arm.
The anti-slip technology eases the use of this new and intelligent training method considerably. After all, BFR training should propel your workout forward and challenge you to break free of your routine - not be the cause of frustration because you can't even strap on the product to begin with.
Width; wider is not always better
Unlike most other products available for occlusion training on your upper body, we decided to create our strap with a width of 3 cm. According to the latest scientific research done on the practical application of BFR training, it's recommended that the straps used on your upper body extremities (meaning your arms) should be between 3-5 cm wide.
After hours of testing prototypes ourselves in the gym and outside doing functional training, we found that applying a wider strap was less comfortable and often annoying, especially to your biceps during sets.
Lastly, to see our BfR Pro ARMS straps in action, check out our 3 min Kickstarter campaign video here.
We hope you find this an inspiring read! If you've got any questions, don't hesitate to hit us up via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
All the best,
Team BfR Professional
Most of us view our workouts as a break from our busy daily lives; a place where we can let go and work on ourselves.
At the same time, we want to see results as fast and as efficiently as possible – but how?
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training, also sometimes referred to as occlusion training, may certainly be the answer to this. Studies have now been carried out widely on an international scale leading sports scientists and highly respected Ph.D.’s to be more conclusive with regards to the benefits and overall potential of this new and upcoming way of training.
Origins and terminology
Actually, the idea behind BFR training isn't new but was first discovered in Japan back in the 1960’s by a man named Yoshiaki Sato, who would later become the inventor of the KAATSU training principle. Often you'll see three terms - occlusion training, blood flow restriction training, KAATSU training - being used interchangeably to describe the same thing, and there are indeed many similarities between these three forms of training, but technically there are some (slightly nerdy) differences between them.
How it works
The main idea of what we try to teach you guys about here is that by restricting (occluding) part of the blood flow from your extremity like your arm or leg back to your heart you cause a pooling of blood in your muscles along with increased levels of lactide acid which triggers a state of hypertrophy (muscle growth) by increasing the level of growth hormone from your brain.
The muscles react to the decrease in oxygen level caused by the restricted blood flow forcing them to work harder and fatiguing also the fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibres, which are the ones with the highest growth potential compared to the slow twitch ones (Type I).
The best part is that you should only do your sets using between 20-50% of your 1RM (meaning 20-50% of what you can lift one time only) in weights.
This means that your joints and ligaments - well, your whole body in the long run – will thank you for taking away large parts of the stress that traditional heavy lifting causes.
Therefore, BFR training is an amazing supplement to traditional training but has also proven to be a very powerful tool in injury prevention and during rehabilitation. If you'd like to dig in to the physiological details about what goes on in your body during a BFR workout, check out this post by our guest blogger and BfR Pro ambassador James Ruckley. (Also, if you'd like to be an ambassador for us yourself, don't hesitate to contact us!).
In other words, BFR training is intelligent training where you trigger your body to naturally produce more out of less. "Simple concept, intelligent training", as we put it.
Here at BfR Professional, we want you to reach your physical goals faster and more efficiently, and we can’t wait to be part of your journey towards a fitter, stronger you.
Link on types of muscle fibres for further inspiration:
Take it to the next level!
Team BfR Professional