Restricting Blood Flow: Effective for Toning Muscle?
Written by: Kusha Karvandi
Could restricting blood flow during exercise actually be beneficial for building lean muscle? This is a question I’m often asked with regard to the efficacy of Blood Flow Restriction Training, also known as Occlusion Training. Look, I know what you’re thinking. This is absurd. Outrageous. How could restricting your blood flow during exercise be anything but dangerous for your body?
My answer to the naysayers: read the research. Numerous published studies prove the effective promotion of lean muscle gain and muscle tone via Occlusion Training. As the studies suggest, you wear the Occlusion bands around the upper arms, legs or just below the knees to restrict venous blood flow out of the limbs. The idea is that you tighten the straps to a level 7 out of 10 (in terms of perceived tightness) and train at a very low intensity (20-30% of your one-rep maximum) with high repetitions.
The result is an increase in activation of your type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers – the muscle fibers responsible for aesthetic tone and athlete-like definition. To better understand why this is, let me explain your two muscle fiber types:
- Type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers have a low potential for growth, a high resistance to fatigue, require oxygen from blood and are the first to contract during exercise.
- Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers have a high potential for growth, do not require oxygen, contract las, and have a low resistance to fatigue.
With Occlusion Training, you “hack” your normal biological process by restricting blood flow to the muscles and pre-fatiguing the slow twitch fibers, forcing the fast twitch fibers to handle the load – even at low intensities.
Additionally, Occlusion Training induces hypertrophy (muscle growth) through metabolic by-product accumulation. In normal training, metabolic by-products are removed by normal blood flow. With Occlusion Training, by-products such as lactate accumulate near the muscle inducing spikes in growth hormone production as high as 290 times over baseline. This is double the growth hormone increase induced by normal heavy resistance training. Increased growth hormone production means rapid muscle gain and body fat loss.
Still not convinced Occlusion Training works? In conjunction with all of the above, Occlusion Training increases mTOR signaling (regulates cell growth and protein synthesis), NOS-1 expression (increases muscle growth through increased satellite cell activation) and reduces myostatin concentrations (myostatin limits muscle growth and the potential for muscle gain).
Other studies have been performed on the use of Occlusion Training on the legs during walking. The results indicated a significant increase in lean muscle tone in the legs with only 20 minutes of walking while wearing occlusion bands compared to the group that didn’t wear the bands.
Regardless of how you like to train, the results you can achieve at low intensities has its appeal for those who may not want to lift heavy weights (i.e. most women), those recovering from an injuring and men needing an active recovery deload week. Give this biohack a try and share your experience below.
Kusha Karvandi is an entrepreneur and fitness enthusiast with a passion for "biohacking" to help others live their best life. Kusha has 9 years experience as a personal trainer and health club manager, with over 10,000 session hours serviced and 15 certifications. He is the author of Nutriscribe, known for its no-nonsense, no calorie counting approach to weight loss and healthy eating. To round out his passion for helping others get in shape, Kusha has made it his mission to ensure that everyone has a unique personal training experience through his app, Exerscribe, which provides custom and adaptable workout plans to anyone with a gym membership.
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