Our bodies are full of amazing secrets that we are only just beginning to uncover.
The body has all sorts of innate survival mechanisms that evolved over the years. We were designed to survive in a variety of environments and circumstances and the body's reaction to certain stressors is a perfect example of this.
Uncovering stressors that cause the body to switch on its survival mechanisms are some of the most fascinating discoveries in the world of health today. One such stressor we've learned turns on many of the body's innate self healing properties is blood flow restriction during light exercise.
Blood flow restriction exercise is a training method where a cuff is applied to a certain part of the body, which restricts blood flow while a low load exercise is performed.
Why would you want to restrict the blood flow to an area of the body?
By restricting the blood flow, the effects have been shown to be similar to a high load exercise but without as much stress on the active muscle. This means you're gaining more benefits without working as hard. But that's not all, other beneficial reactions in the body are turned on as a result of blood flow restriction.
In the world of medicine, blood flow restriction training has been used for years to treat musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis and muscle atrophy. Blood flow restriction exercises are based in an ancient practices having somewhat of a comeback. Blood flow restriction therapy is mostly used in rehabilitation by clinicians, often times physical therapists. Though blood flow restriction is also used by athletes to speed up recovery times. And in the world of weight training, blood flow restriction has become somewhat of a “biohack” because it increases muscle gain and reduces atrophy with less wear and tear on the body.
Because blood flow restriction training is a purely mechanical process, it's relatively safe and has little to no side effects.
7 Benefits of Blood Flow Restriction Training
Many benefits of this treatment method have been reported and studied, though the results are usually variable. That being said, blood flow restriction training with a pressure cuff in intervals has been shown to:
- Improve the effectiveness of strengthening exercises
- Reduce inflammation
- Stimulate protein synthesis
- Reduce muscle atrophy
- Increase anabolic hormone production
- Suppress negative growth regulators
- Increase strength and muscle mass of targeted tissue
It's important to remember that these benefits of blood flow restriction training are variable from person to person. We would benefit from more research that outlines clear parameters for using this helpful method.
Though because this method is relatively safe, it's definitely worth a try for anyone who suffers from musculoskeletal conditions or injuries. If you're going to try blood flow restriction, I suggest you start with the supervision of an experienced personal trainer, coach, or physical therapist. Once you have a clear understanding of the system, you may find that this is a training method you can continue on your own – similar to other physical therapy methods.
6 Conditions That Benefit from Blood Flow Restriction Training
If you’ve sustained a musculoskeletal injury or have a condition that makes it hard for you to get the exercise that you need to stay healthy, it's worth considering blood flow restriction training.
Here are a few of the conditions that have been studied using blood flow restriction training, where scientists have found it to be beneficial:
- Knee osteoarthritis – The most common form of arthritis, associated with aging.
- Osteochondral fracture – Damage to the cartilage, most often in the knee or ankle.
- Muscular weakness cause by lack of use – Could be caused by other illnesses preventing movement.
- Inflammatory myopathies – A group of diseases that includes muscle weakness and inflammation.
- Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction – A ligament located in the knee.
- Sarcopenia – Muscle loss as a result of aging.
Much of the research on blood flow restriction training are on conditions. But the biohacking and weightlifting world have taken the underlying principles and applied it to their training. This is because blood flow restriction training is a safe method for using your body's innate healing abilities – when used correctly.
How Does Blood Flow Restriction Work?
To implement blood flow restriction, use a device like a pressure cuff or a band to wrap along the top portion of the targeted limb. This should reduce blood flow out of the muscle but not in. What that means is new blood can come in through the arteries but the veins are restricted, which prevents blood from fully leaving the working muscle.
Restricting the blood flow causes metabolites to build up in the blood, which helps stimulate protein synthesis and muscle growth. Starving the blood supply to tissues and muscles upregulates endocrine and vascular growth factors, which has a similar effect as a high intensity workout without the burden on tissues that comes with those intense workouts.
These effects are why blood flow restriction training has become especially popular in the physical therapy world. Because during rehabilitation of a musculoskeletal injury we can use this method to cause similar beneficial effects without as much stress to the body. This is especially good news for people who are affected by conditions like osteoarthritis and sarcopenia. With blood flow restrictIon restriction training we can increase effectiveness and minimize risk.
Blood flow restriction training is an example of another ancient technique that's worth a closer look. The combination of its effectiveness and safety make it an excellent option for people with conditions and those looking to gain an edge in their personal training.
3 thoughts on “Hack Your Recovery with Blood Flow Restriction Training”
Great post, Jill! I just rehabilitated a severe leg bruise in 2 weeks that I was expecting to take 4-5 weeks. I’m coming out of rehab with stronger legs and better balance than I had before my bike wreck. AMAZING!!!
Fascinating. As a former college VB coach who suffers from chronic pain and fatigue (multiple diagnoses) I am always looking for ways to maximize exercise opportunities. My mind is working on who to get to help me with this 🙂
Excellent article Dr Jill;
We have incorporated BFR into our post treatment Rehabilitation plans after PRP and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cell treatment.
Matthew Hyzy DO