What is Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training?

Updated: Apr 24

What is BFR training?

Blood flow restriction (BFR) training has been around for over 50 years. It involves restricting arterial blood flow into the arm or leg while simultaneously fully occluding venous return of the blood flow. This increases the oxygen demand of muscles during exercise and traps certain byproducts in the exercising muscles.

BFR training allows for someone to improve muscle strength and size while training at lower intensities. Research points to using 20-40% 1RM loads with 50-80% occlusion for the best benefits. Exercising with loads in the 20-40% 1RM range would normally not be enough for strength and hypertrophy gains. Improvements with low-intensity training with BFR use are statistically similar exercising at higher intensities (70-80% 1RM) but without the compressive and shear forces on joints, ligaments, and cartilage. High intensity training does still seem to be superior to low-intensity training with BFR, however there are many circumstances that could limit someone’s ability to train at high loads, such as injury, surgery, osteoarthritis, etc.

What are the benefits of BFR training?

Depending on the type of programming utilized with BFR training, you can expect to see some of the following benefits:

  • Reduced pain

  • Increased muscle strength

  • Increased muscle size

  • Increased VO2 max

Who should use BFR training?

BFR training is safe for the overwhelming majority of people looking to improve their performance or recover from an injury. That being said, it may not be the best for everyone.

There are certain precautions and contraindications to using this modality. I will not go into detail on that today as it’s more complex than a short list, but you will want to discuss potential contraindications with a qualified BFR provider before starting a training regimen.

I love the use of BFR in post-operative physical therapy. It has the ability to limit atrophy of muscles and reduce pain in the early stages, build strength without overloading surgical repairs, and ease the transition to return to high-intensity training.

BFR also can be used to allow lifters to train at lower loads to prevent injuries to connective tissues while still maintaining or improving muscular strength. Along the same lines, it can provide variability to a training program.

Be sure to look out for future posts to learn more about the safety and programming of BFR training. If you want to discuss if BFR training is right for you, shoot me an email at corey@beyondmovementpt.com.

Corey Hall, PT, DPT

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