Blood flow restriction training involves low-intensity workouts and blood flow constriction, which produces similar results to high-intensity training. Many exercisers wear restriction bands around their limbs in the gym, but this has also gained popularity in clinical settings. The process involves applying a pneumatic cuff to the muscle being trained and is used on either the upper or lower limb. When the cuff is inflated to a certain pressure to obtain partial and arterial complete venous occlusion, the patient is asked to perform resistance exercises at a low intensity.
When the cuff is wrapped around the limb during training, blood enters the muscle through the normal arterial flow. This then stays in the working muscle, causing a swelling effect since the veins are restricted. Restricting veins and not the arteries is why blood continues to pull into the active muscle and stay there for a while.
What happens during blood flow restriction training?
When blood dyscrasia is brought into the working muscles and kept there, various things happen. Firstly, you get an optimal pump, and your muscles become supersized. This leads to swelling of the cells, shocking the muscles involved into new growth. Besides that, you experience a severe burn on your muscles. When your muscle is placed under mechanical stress, there will be an increase in anabolic hormone levels; metabolic stress then occurs due to the release of hypoxia, hormones, and cell swelling.
Got the twitch?
This training limits oxygen to the muscles, which translates to slow-twitch Type I muscle fibres becoming inactive as they use oxygen as fuel. This means the bigger, faster Type II muscle fibres are recruited. These muscle fibres are used during high-intensity exercises in traditional resistance exercises, but oxygen limitations change everything in this training.
Blood flow restriction training matters because, for the release of growth hormones, lactic acid is required. Studies show that growth hormone secretion levels rise with blood flow restriction training compared to traditional resistance exercises. Therefore, the training increases muscle protein synthesis. It further allows you to build muscle while using lighter loads, hence, sparing your joints from heavy weight-lifting.
How to do it?
Wrap the cuff below the shoulder at the top of the upper arm, so it nestles into your armpit while training the upper body. For the lower body, wrap below the gluteal fold from the back, below the hip flexor from the front. On a tightness scale of about 1 to 10, you want to wrap it at 7 – you shouldn’t experience numbness or tingling sensation, so, if you do, loosen the cuff. When the cuff is wrapped too tight, it restricts arterial flow, preventing blood from pooling in the muscle; this defeats the purpose. It is recommended to use pressure specific to each patient because different strains occlude the blood flow for individuals under the same conditions.
Effects of blood flow restriction
The training aims to mimic the effects of high-intensity exercises by recreating a hypoxic platform using a cuff. Low-intensity training results in greater muscle circumference and an increase in the muscle cells’ water content, which causes swelling and greater muscle strength.
Using the right equipment
The training requires that you use a tourniquet that is placed on the limb being trained. Training cuffs are made from elastic material or nylon. Elastic cuffs have an initial pressure even before the cuff is inflated, resulting in different abilities to restrict blood flow than nylon cuffs; studies show that elastic provides greater arterial constriction pressure than nylon cuffs. The cuff’s pressure depends on the width of the cuff and the size of the limb on which the cuff is applied. The narrower cuffs should be elastic while the broader ones nylon.
When it comes to the width of the cuff, a wide cuff is preferred – a wide cuff of 15cm allows room for even restriction. Modern cuffs have been shaped to fit the natural contour of one’s arm or thigh with a proximal to distal narrowing.
This training method ensures that patients exercise at the correct pressure for them with the type of cuff in use. It also ensures that they exercise at optimal pressure – not too high to cause tissue damage and not too low to be ineffective. For practical training, use light loads, incorporate high reps and short rest periods of about thirty seconds or less. The important thing is to ensure that pressure is high enough to impede venous return and allow blood pooling but low enough to maintain arterial inflow.
Blood flow restriction training should not replace your regular exercises but enhance them. Consider checking with your doctor before starting. Combine the training with proper nutrition and a healthy diet to boost muscle recovery and consume high protein supplements for better results.