Have you seen anyone doing exercises at the gym with some elastic wrap knotted around — say on arms or legs?
Maybe it does, but the idea behind it can really amaze you.
Some people actually do this type of exercise. But if you try it yourself, you might be blown away. If you are among the busy people or those people limited by pain or injury, you may benefit from this. Even if you are in good condition, you can apparently still reap benefits from it.
This is called blood flow restriction (BFR) technique. This type of exercise can build muscle using lighter loads while sparing your joints.
What is BFR Technique?
BFR technique is when you exercise with an application of a cuff or wrap to restrict blood flow into your muscle. As a result, the blood pools in your limb. This is only for short-term and it is not supposed to restrict blood flow for hours or totally occlude it.
If you combine BFR with low intensity aerobic exercise, you are able to increase your muscle size and strength a little. But if you combine it with low load resistance training (30% max), it can increase your muscle size and strength similar to that of high load resistance training.
This is especially beneficial for people who are injured because they can only use very light weights. It allows them to remain active while giving their joints, ligaments, and tendons a break.
How Does BFR Technique Work?
BFR training is about restricting venous return while still allowing arterial flow by wrapping the topmost part of your limbs. Because you’re restricting your veins, not your arteries, the blood can keep pooling into a muscle you’re firing up and it stays trapped there. This allows for a swelling effect of the muscle. Blood flow restriction also causes buildup of metabolites, such as lactic acid, that can help with muscle growth.
Traditionally, BFR uses KAATSU device. It is a specialized inflatable cuff designed to restrict the venous blood flow. With it, you can precisely control the pressure and always replicate it on workouts. However, most people do not have access to this device.
Fortunately, a good ol’ elastic knee wrap can do the trick very nicely. The length of the wrap should be long enough to circle your limb several times.
How to Do It
BFR works best on your arms and legs. Get a knee wrap. Wrap the top portion of your target muscle. It’s either on the top of your biceps or your upper thigh. On a rate of 1-10, the tightness level should be at 7. There shouldn’t be numbness or tingling. If you’re having any of it, you’re wrapping it too tightly.
To secure the wrap, loop it under the top layer and pull it tightly. Afterwards, let it hang free and test how it feels. If you feel any discomfort, loosen the wrap a bit.
BFR works best with relatively light weight. Go for 40-50% of what you’d usually lift for a standard set of moderate reps. You can go even as low as 20% of your 1-rep max. Lift 15-30 reps per set and work on squeezing the muscle you’re using.
Rest for about 30 seconds in between sets. The blood will continue to go into the muscle while you’re resting. The buildup of lactic acid and the increase of pump will continue as well. These combined effects will result in substantial growth.
By just wrapping around your limb as you do some exercises, BFR training has a great thing to offer. Perhaps the takeaway here is what a popular internet quote says these days – “If looks stupid but it works, it ain’t stupid.”
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