Using the blood flow restriction training technique to build bigger muscles

Leg extensions are an excellent exercise to perform while doing occlusion training.

The impatience of people is never more pronounced than when they begin a fitness regimen, expecting results almost immediately. No matter how long you spend flexing in the mirror, change will only take place with proper exercise and nutrition.

But, what if there was a way to cut some corners and build muscle in a quicker, more efficient manner, using lighter weight at that? That’s what blood flow restriction (BFR), or occlusion training, is claiming to do.

In a study done with division IA football players, the athletes were able to increase their one rep max in squat and bench press  (8 and 7 percent, respectively) using occlusion training over a four week span. 

During BFR, muscle cells reach a point where they are so full of fluid that they have to either burst or grow. The second way BFR works is that the low oxygen levels in a muscle during the accumulation of blood forces your body to recruit larger fast-twitch fibers, resulting in extreme growth.

The technique requires some kind of wrap to be applied to the top of a limb tight enough to occlude, or restrict, blood flow to the veins, but not to the arteries.

“This way, the arteries continue to deliver blood to the limb, and the blood pools in the limb as the veins struggle to take it back to the heart,” Dr. Jacob Wilson said in his review of BFR

It sounds crazy, borderline dangerous even, but after training this way several times I can vouch for the insane pump and exhausted feeling it leaves on the arms and legs. The preferred choice seems to be knee wraps, but I have also used ace bandages.

Here's how it works: Using the wraps, tighten them around the upper part of your arms at its narrowest point where the top of your bicep meets your shoulder, and as high up on your quads as you can, basically by the groin.

Make sure you don't wrap so tight that your limbs are turning a shade of blue.

“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,” Wilson suggests.

As for training, there are several ways to approach it.

“You can do it anyway you want,” Dr. Layne Norton said. “I typically go heavy first then BFR at the end.”

That was the method I used as well.

Make sure to use a light load. About 30 percent of your one rep max will be more than enough to activate those hard-to-grow fast twitch muscle fibers. 

Loenneke and Wilson recommend 4 sets of 30, 15, 15 and 15 reps, with a maximum rest period of 30 seconds between sets. 

Give this promising training technique a try next time you visit your iron sanctuary and let us know what you thought of it.