Occlusion training or blood flow restriction training has been getting a lot of attention lately.
You might be wondering if it is something that you should implement into your workouts or if it is something to steer clear of.
As with just about every fitness strategy there are two sides to the argument.
Some people say that is brings no benefits and then there are others that claim that it can enhance muscle growth and aid your workouts.
In this article you will learn exactly what blood flow restriction (occlusion) training is, how effective it is, and how you can use it in your workouts.
What is Occlusion Training?
Occlusion training involves restricting the flow of blood to a muscle group while training. That is why it is also commonly called “blood flow restriction training.”
Basically you take a wrap or band and apply it to the top of your limb.
The aim of this isn’t to completely cut off circulation to the area as that is dangerous and painful.
This means that you aren’t restricting arterial flow to the area, but you are restricting the venous return from the muscles.
Arteries are what takes the blood from your heart to your muscles and it is then returned to your heart through a system of veins.
Restricting the blood flow back to your heart causes a pooling of the blood in the area that you are working.
This is what occlusion training uses to create an anabolic effect on your muscles.
How Does Occlusion Training Work?
The bloodstream is the network that connects the muscles in your body, providing oxygen and nutrients and carrying away waste products
Muscles require a steady flow of blood to operate.
That is why we aren’t cutting off the flow to the muscle, we are only slowing the rate at which the blood releases from it.
When performing any kind of resistance training your body directs more blood to your muscles performing the exercise.
The reason you get a “pump” when working out is that the speed at which your body is pumping blood into your muscles is faster than the amount of blood going out of them.
Your pump reduces when you rest between your sets as more blood is released from your muscle groups.
Blood flow restriction training prolongs and intensifies your pump.
This is done by placing wraps in one of two places during your working sets.
1. Above your bicep
You wrap above your bicep for movements that involve your bicep’s, triceps, forearms, and even chest and back can benefit from this.
While wrapping in this position it makes sense that it would benefit your arms but how does it help your chest and back?
There is no possible way that you can restrict blood flow to your chest and back because of the positions they are located in.
However wrapping your arm allows you to pre-fatigue your arms and as a result chest and back exercises that you perform are going to require more involvement from those muscles rather than your biceps or triceps.
2. Upper thigh
Wrap your upper thigh for movements that involve your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Building Muscle With Occlusion Training
During training you have two types of muscle that are responsible for all muscle growth in the gym.
Fast twitch fibers and slow twitch fibers.
Slow twitch muscle fibers are smaller muscle fibers and generate less power and strength than fast twitch fibers. However slow twitch fibers fatigue slower and can sustain activity for longer.
Fast twitch fibers are larger muscle fibers, generate more power and strength and have the most potential for growth.
Fast twitch fibers are recruited last during contractions and mostly don’t use oxygen. Slow twitch fibers on the other hand use oxygen and are recruited first in the movement.
This means that by restricting the blood flow to a muscle group you are pre-fatiguing the slow twitch fibers and forcing the fast twitch fibers to take control even when you’re using low weights.
There are two main factors that lead to muscle growth during training. These are:
- Metabolic Stress
- Cellular Swelling
When you’re working out your body is burning energy. As your body chews through its fuel stores, metabolic by-product accumulates in your muscles.
Metabolic by-products act as an anabolic signal, telling your body to increase size and strength.
Under normal training most of these by-products would be washed out by blood flow.
Occlusion training keeps them near the muscle helping to increase the anabolic effect that the by-products have on the muscles.
During resistance training your cells expand and fill with fluid and nutrients. This is known as cellular swelling and has also been shown to be an anabolic signal for muscle growth.
Using blood flow resistance training increases the amount of time that your muscle sells stay swollen.
Benefits of Occlusion Training
Occlusion training isn’t a better option than heavy training, but that said it is a nice supplement.
Regularly pushing your muscles to the point of failure or at least close to it (1-2 reps) is an important factor of increasing your strength and muscle mass.
Occlusion training allows you to replicate this without putting anywhere near as much strain on your joints, ligaments and tendons as you would to get the same result from lifting heavy.
This means that you can do more volume without the risk of overtraining.
Here are a couple of scenarios where this could be really beneficial for you:
- If you suffer from joint issues
- If you’re travelling and only have access to hotel weights
- If you’re injured or have nagging aches and pains.
- If you are deloading.
In short your body might not always feel up to another heavy training day. Occlusion training can be a great way to get a good workout in and help you maintain muscle mass.
How To Do Blood Flow Restriction Training
As I mentioned earlier you only ever wrap yourself at the top of your biceps and the top of your thighs.
Elastic knee wraps, medical tourniquets and exercise band are good options to use for your wraps.
Here’s two videos explaining how to wrap your arms and legs.
Blood flow restriction training works best when with isolation exercises. If you are going to do compound movements do them at the start of your workout and save the blood flow restricted exercises for the end.
Layne Norton recommends performing lifts at 20%-30% of your 1rm for 20-30 reps of the first set and then the next three sets at 10-15 reps. Have a 30 second rest between sets before going again.
You want to keep the cuffs on your limbs for the entire 4 sets and then release them at the end.
If you’re in pain before the exercise starts that’s a good sign that your wraps are too tight.
Also if you can’t complete the prescribed sets either the wraps are too tight or the weight is too heavy.
Blood flow restriction training has been getting a lot of hype lately.
While it isn’t better than regular strength training, it is a good supplement for it and can be beneficial when used in conjunction with your regular training.
This is more of an advanced training technique so if you are just starting out lifting it probably won’t give you any more benefits than your normal heavy training.
If you’re an advanced lifter, are injured, or don’t have access to heavier weights than this training technique could benefit you.
What’s your take on occlusion restriction training? Have anything else to add? Let me know in the comments below!