By Ryan Abdullah
Have you ever heard of occlusion training? Have you ever seen people wearing knee wraps above their biceps and ask yourself what in the world they were doing? Chances are you never came across occlusion training; well, trust me I guarantee you are missing out if you are unaware of it. By the end of this article, I am certain you will understand what occlusion training is and why it is so popular.
What is Occlusion Training?
Occlusion training, (also called blood flow restriction training BFR) is a type of low intensity training often used by professionals and beginners all over the world to mix up their workouts, beat plateaus, lose fat and experience great increase in growth hormone. The core purpose of BFR is not actually restricting blood flow to the muscles but instead restricting the blood flow returning from the muscles (restricting venous blood flow and not arterial blood flow). This can be achieved by using equipment such as knee wraps which are the most convenient or KAATSU bands for better results, but at a much higher price. To maximize benefits from occlusion training, make sure you are placing the bands above the muscle you are targeting.
Before introducing you to BFR’s benefits I would like to make sure the right people are doing BFR to reduce possible injuries. Do not occlude for more than 30 minutes for safety as short term blood flow restriction is beneficial and can help muscle growth but long-term blood flow restriction to muscles could result in tissue decay. Wrap the wraps carefully, not too tight because wrapping the wraps too tight could cause the rupture of blood vessels, arteries and veins. Do not wrap the wraps too loose or else you will simply not benefit from occlusion training. If you have or have had past vascular / cardiac blood flow problems/issues, it is strongly recommended not to introduce occlusion training in your workout to prevent possible negative side effects. Do not use heavy weights when occluding: not only does it defeat the purpose of occlusion (because in occlusion, heavier weights do not necessarily give better outcomes) but it is also dangerous. I highly recommend not using anything above your 50% one rep max, be realistic. Rest one to two minutes before starting a new set and remove the straps after every four to five sets to allow temporary normal blood flow.
Advantages of Occlusion Training
Now moving onto the advantages, one of occlusion training’s best benefits is the fact that it is done using lighter weights; this means that you are going to use weights with a maximum of 50% of your one rep max instead of your traditional 85% one rep max. The usage of this weight will not only be beneficial to your joints but will also reduce your mental stress while you are working out. In your normal weight training session, slow twitch muscles are used; this is because they can handle heavy loads better than fast twitching muscles. The disadvantage of this is that slow twitching muscle growth is extremely inefficient and slow, compared to fast twitching muscle. Using occlusion training can eliminate this problem by reducing blood flow from the slow twitching muscles and give greater emphasize on the fast twitching muscles resulting in stronger and bigger fast twitching muscles. Both long term and short term studies based in the U.S.A and overseas have effectively proved that occlusion training increases protein synthesis by up to 50% in the short term and up to 14% in the long term. Another advantage of occlusion training is that it gives the same benefits as high intensity training methods but is in fact a low intensity exercise allowing more you to complete more sets without raising your heart rate to a high level and feeling tired. Occlusion training has also been proven to increase growth hormone levels. Growth hormone secretion is directly proportional to the acidic conditions that the muscle is operating at. This means that a low pH value (the lower the pH value the more acidic it is) will result in more growth hormone excretion. This is because blood flow is restricted, leading to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscle while it is lifting weights. This will increase acidity levels because of the reduction the pH level and therefore will increase the growth hormone production. As you probably know an increase in growth hormones is probably the best thing you could look for when working out. It has been proven that occluding muscles that you are not even working out whilst in a workout will also increase the overall growth hormone concentration in your body. This means that if you, for example, want to train your biceps today you could occlude both the biceps and quadriceps.
How many times should you do BFR training?
Occlusion is quite a unique type of technique that as you might have realized is very beneficial, but I would not recommend using it every day. Using it perhaps once out of every four times you work out a specific muscle group would allow you to benefit from the advantages of BFR training without being exposed to too many risks.