What is BFR Training?

It is now possible to cause muscle hypertrophy and strength gain with low-intensity resistance exercises-“light weights”. Your muscle tissue grows when the genes inside the muscle cells produce a protein called mTOR. This mTOR signaling pathway must be activated for muscle protein synthesis to occur. The mTOR pathway is stimulated after an acute bout of high-intensity resistance exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends lifting a weight of at least 70% 1RM

to achieve muscular hypertrophy as it is believed that anything below this intensity rarely produces substantial muscle growth. Low intensity exercises – light weights-normally would not activate mTOR and not cause muscle hypertrophy or strength gain. Recent studies using low intensity exercise combined with blood flow restriction (BFR) have shown muscle hypertrophy to occur with a training intensity as low as 20% 1RM.The new techniques called RBF training-restricted blood flow- restrict muscular venous blood flow but not arterial blood flow. The muscle fills with blood and is stressed and activates the mTOR pathway causing muscle hypertrophy and strength gain with very little resistance [Takashi Abe, Charles F. Kearns, Yoshiaki Sato; Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 May 2006 Vol. 100 no. 5, 1460-1466; Satoshi Fujita, Takashi Abe, Micah J. Drummond, Jerson G. Cadenas, Hans C. Dreyer, Yoshiaki Sato, Elena Volpi, Blake B. Rasmussen; Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 September 2007 Vol. 103 no. 3, 903-910]. This technique was initially developed for muscle rehabilitation in the elderly, the injured, or anyone who needed muscle repair but could not perform intense resistance training using heavy weights. RBF is currently being studied as an optimal technique for muscle development in healthy athletes.

Clinical Data

There is clinical data that confirms the benefits of RBF training. Performing the standard bench press with RBF versus normal training leads to significant increases in muscle size for upper arm and chest muscles in the RBF group [Tomohiro Yasuda, Satoshi Fujita, Riki Ogasawara, Yoshiaki Sato and Takashi Abe; Clin Physiol Funct Imaging (2010) 30, pp338-343]. RBF has been successfully combined with many types of exercise including leg extension and flexion, inclined leg press, cycling, walking, and upper extremity flexion and extension[ Jeremy P. Loenneke , Jacob M. Wilson, Pedro J. Marín, Michael C. Zourdos, Michael G. Bemben; European Journal of Applied Physiology;May 2012, Volume 112, Issue 5, pp 1849-185]. The benefits of RBF increase as well with high intensity resistance training [T.Yasuda et al; Eur J Appl Physiol (2011) 111:2525–2533 ].


How to Perform BFR Training

BFR is designed to strengthen arms and legs. To start place a tourniquet above your biceps or above your upper thigh and watch as your veins fill with blood. The tightness is an expected subjective feeling without any numbness or tingling present. If numbness or tingling occur before you exercise, your tourniquet is too tight and is restricting arterial blood flow. Next perform your biceps or triceps exercise or leg extensions or squats with 30% to 50% of your normal weight and perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 or more repetitions with 30 second between set rest periods. The goal is for complete muscle failure during the 3rd set. Numbness and tingling will occur during the exercise but should disappear during the rest periods. You should feel intense lactic acid build up and intense muscle “pump”.