Blood Flow Restriction Training: Lift Less to Gain More Muscle


Blood Flow

Sound too good to be true? Here is everything you need to know about blood flow restriction training. 

It’s not.  Learning how to get more from less is fundamentally human nature – I mean, who wouldn’t want to get more muscle from their workout?  There is a supplemental weightlifting tool that you can add to your existing routine that will allow you to lift less, but gain more muscle.  The technique is known as Blood Flow Restriction Training.

Still skeptical?

Check out a recent study that highlights the benefits we will talk about today.

The technique of weight lifting known as Blood Flow Restriction Training or BFR, involves restricting venous blood flow from the muscle group that you are focusing on. The intent is to allow the venous blood to “pool” in the region of the body you’re training (i.e. upper or lower limbs).   By doing this, the body will naturally trigger several hormone responses that cause an anabolic push to the large fast twitch muscles.  Because they are the largest muscle group, they are the most likely to gain mass and tone quickly.

Blood Flow Restriction Training 101

The occlusion training bands should be applied right below the deltoid for the arms, or right below the hips on the quads.  Also, they should feel uncomfortable (a level 7 out of 10 in terms of tightness), but you shouldn’t completely restrict all blood flow.

Most studies conducted on the value of occlusion training are similar to what you probably know as high-load training in terms of results.  Studies show that, when compared to other types of training, occlusion-training results in greater development of muscle mass than without.  BFR training also appears to increase muscle strength as well.

Blood Flow Restriction Training

Occlusion Training Bands and How they work

So, how does it work?

The premise is simple. When you workout using conventional methods, all of the metabolic byproducts of the workout move through and out of your body. With BFR training, the movement of the exertion hormones and by-products are restricted from leaving the limbs, forcing them to pool in or near the trained region.  By doing this, several things occur in your body.

First, your body will interpret this occlusion and, in an attempt to compensate, will release more of the anabolic growth hormones. The production of protein is also increased.  Restricting blood flow during your workout also has been shown to aid in the repair of cells and tissues that are broken down during the workout cycle.

Second, by restricting blood flow to the muscles that you are focusing on, the smaller slow-twitch muscles fibers which rely on oxygen for energy starve out quickly, forcing the use and muscle damage of the fast twitch fibers – the fibers with the highest potential for growth.

Type-II fast twitch muscle fibers are typically used during the final phase of a muscle contraction, not using oxygen, but by restricting blood flow the body must begin using the fast twitch fibers much sooner.

blood flow restriction training

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Occluded Blood Flow Technique

So, how should you train using this restrictive blood flow technique?  

Using your occlusion training bands, occlude the limbs of the area of the body you are focusing on.  Tie it tight enough that it is mildly uncomfortable but not completely restricting all blood flow. This weightlifting technique is best used for a cycle of 4-8 weeks, or during the last week of each month as a de-load week to prevent overtraining.

BFR training is an extremely successful way to maximize your workout, allowing you to lift less weight and gain more muscle mass.  It can be extremely painful and sometimes difficult, even when the load is light.  It is an excellent way to grow and tone thigh, calf, and arm muscles. Studies have also shown that removing the occlusion during the workout to allow for a rush of the blood back to the muscle and the occluding it again does not produce a greater result, so it is better to leave the occlusion on during the entire workout.

The recommended load to lift during BFR is at least 30% (and no greater than 70%) of your maximum to achieve hypertrophy in the muscle and achieve the desired results. Considering several studies pertaining to this type of training, BFR training makes sense because major imbalances between muscle protein synthesis and muscle breakdown are the process that occurs during hypertrophy, the load lifted during the exercise is less important than what is actually occurring inside your body.

One other important key factor to consider is the release of various hormones as described previously.  Several naturally occurring hormones are produced at an elevated rate during BFR.  This elevation of hormone production has always been associated with acute resistance exercise routines with or without the restriction of blood flow, but the same product can be achieved with less work and to a higher degree.

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SO – what do we take from all of this?  

Blood flow restriction training can produce the same or better results with less work.  Joints that are directly above the muscle groups that are the focus of the workout are tied off using occlusion bands allowing some blood flow.  This type of exercise should only be augmentative, not a long-term replacement for traditional strength training, but you can “get more for less” by adding this as a supplemental workout to your regular routine.

Guest Blogger

Kusha Karvandi


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