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BFR – also known as Occlusion Training or Hypoxi Training – was originally pioneered in Japan in the 1970’s by Yoshiaki Sato. By 2011 the US Military started to experiment in its use on injured soldiers to help skin and tissue grafts heal, and to strengthen limbs in preparation for prosthetics.
In essence, BFR is about profusing the muscles in use with blood. Within the body, arteries take the blood into a muscle, and veins take the blood away from the muscle. Partially restricting the outward flow of blood from the muscle, causes the muscle to swell with a build up of blood, metabolites and lactic acid. The metabolites stimulate muscle growth, the lactic acid increases protein synthesis, and the muscle cells reach a point where they are so full of fluid they can either grow or burst. The result of all this is that the muscle improves in strength, size and functional aerobic capacity in shorter amounts of time with less stress on the body than normal training.
The restriction of blood flow is achieved by specially designed cuffs – something like an old fashioned blood pressure cuff – which are inflated to restrict the veins. These cuffs are placed at the top of the muscle. It is important to get the tightness right. If the cuff is too tight blood flow into the muscle can be compromised, and if it is not tight enough, the blood will not profuse the muscle.
The cuffs are used during training and exercise. Studies have shown that by using BFR you can reduce the weights used in training – by up to as much as 80%. This reduces the stress on your joints. Even uncuffed muscles benefit, as the nervous system senses the increased fatigue in the cuffed muscles, and directs the body to engage related muscles to compensate.
The problem, as you might expect, is that many lifters don't know how tightly to wrap to restrict the veins and not arteries. This is no good. But our study addressed the problem directly, and we found a simple approach to make sure you're on the right track.
Simply put, wrapping at a pressure that lifters perceived to be a 7 on a scale of 10 on the legs, and 5-6 on the arms, reliably occluded the veins but not the arteries. This is as tight as you should go, and no tighter.
You may have to do some tinkering to find your 7, but you should never wrap as tight as possible, which would be a 10.
As for weight, all the research indicates that there's no benefit to be gained from going heavy. Select a weight that is 20-40 percent of your 1RM—seriously! Trust me, it will feel much heavier by the end.
Our recommendation for the ideal BFR workout to optimizing growth is 4 sets with reps of 30, 15, 15, and 15, with only 30 seconds rest between sets. Perform this workout 2-3 times per week.
It is essential that you wrap directly around in a circular manner on a narrow area, such as the narrowest part of the upper arm. Wrapping in a wider area puts you at risk for occluding the arteries.
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