What Is BFR?
BFR training, or Blood Flow Restriction Training, is the training style in which you restrict the blood flow to a limb, region or muscle. This can be done using anything from a wrap, tourniquet, or even some braces. However, it’s important to first understand that if you are wanting to try BFR training, to fully understand how to implement it into your routine safely as to avoid any potential damage to a limb or region on the body.
Just like anything else, when done safely BFR training can have its advantages, however, if done incorrectly by wrapping too tight it can lead to severe injury to the body.
How Does BFR Help?
The idea behind BFR training is to reduce circulation or blood flow to a region, but it’s important to make sure that when wrapping the tourniquet that you avoid going as tight as possible. Instead, try and tighten it to around what you would feel would be a 6-7 on the tightest amount of pressure you can apply. 6-7 should feel pretty tight, while a 10 would be restricting all blood flow entirely to the limb or region. (Do not tighten to a 10, blood flow is required to avoid injury).
I also recommend that when you are using BFR training, to wrap the limb you are restricting towards the top of the limb. By wrapping this tight you are creating enough pressure to restrict complete venous flow, but not enough to restrict arterial flow. If you do wrap too tight and restrict arterial flow, you can prevent blood from flowing into the region entirely.
The advantage of restricting venous flow is that you allow the blood to flow into the region but not back out of it, or slowly back out of it. By restricting this flow you allow the blood to stay trapped in the region which helps increase the swelling of the muscles stimulated. This increase in cell swelling helps leads to metabolic stress, which is the key point to achieve when using BFR training.
Another advantage of BFR training is that it helps engage your fast twitch fibers much easier. Normally your fast twitch fibers won’t be activated unless you are using a super heavyweight load at explosive reps. With BFR training, you are engaging your fast twitch fibers while using a much lower weight load for shorter reps which creates the same amount of muscle stimulation as if you were using a heavyweight load for higher reps.
Let’s say you are going to implement BFR training into your arm routine. You would tighten the tourniquet up around your upper arm/bicep and tighten safely. While tightening the BFR strap, make sure you tighten it in a layering fashion in which the tourniquet is layering upon itself, and not in a spiralling fashion going all the way down your arm.
The strap should only be in one small section of the region tightened and it should be wrapped around itself so you would only see one band if looking directly at it, and not a few layers. You will perform your bicep curls as you normally would, however, I recommend aiming for a rep range of around 20-30 reps while also decreasing your rest time between sets. A good idea of a rest period would be around 30-45 seconds between sets as this will help keep the muscles stimulated and provide as much blood flow to the biceps as possible.
How Heavy Can You Lift With BFR?
When it comes to lifting intensity with BFR training, I never recommend lifting super heavy as since the blood is restricted it can lead to many issues and possibly making you feel lightheaded. Instead, your weight load should be around 40-50% of your 1RM and nothing higher. It’s important to note that when using BFR training, the amount of muscle damage created during your exercise will be very minimal if none at all.
This may sound strange as to why BFR works since, in order to grow, muscle damage is actually needed for muscles to repair and become larger over time. With BFR training, what you are doing instead is increasing the overall muscle thickness instead of muscle damage. This increase in muscle thickness has its advantages due to it allowing the cells of that area to swell up in size, which can help promote muscle hypertrophy.
When your muscles swell up in size due to an increase in blood flow to the region, hence the pump we get when we workout, this actually stretches the muscle cells which results in muscle growth over time. Be safe when using bands for BFR training. I only recommend using BFR near the end of a workout and not for every exercise. Only incorporate it into about 1-2 exercises or so as a superset at the end of a workout to finish off a muscle group.