The purpose of this article is to explain what the benefits of occlusion training are and how BFR training bands can benefit both young and old, as well as fit and healthy athletes, or anyone suffering an injury or experiencing chronic joint pain.
In this comprehensive guide, you will learn everything you need to know about how to weight train with lighter weights yet reap the same benefits that using heavy weights has to offer. We also did not forget to include our 6 best occlusion training bands to use when training both arms and legs.
- Benefits of Occlusion Training -- Build Muscle with Less Weight
- How Does Occlusion Training Work?
- 5 Ways Occlusion Training Benefits Muscle Growth
- The Basic Concept of Blood Flow Restriction Training
- The Many Benefits of Occlusion Training
- Top 2 Advantages of Occlusion Training?
- #1 Occlusion Training for Muscle Growth with Mind-Blowing Pumps
- #2 Occlusion Training for Rehab or Injuries
- Which Muscles can you Exercise using Occlusion Training?
- How to use Occlusion Training Bands Correctly to Benefit the Most
- What is the Best Occlusion Training Band Size?
- BFR Training Methods for Best Results: Reps and Loads
- Finishing Remarks
Benefits of Occlusion Training -- Build Muscle with Less Weight
Occlusion Training, also known as Blood Flow Restriction Training or BFR for short, is currently being discussed as a new method in strength and endurance training to positively affect muscle hypertrophy as well as endurance performance.
In this context, we can refer to occlusion as a closure or partial closure of a hollow organ (eg. a blood vessel) or a body passage to any of our limbs (arms and legs). Basically, controlling the restriction of blood from our limbs to achieve a positive outcome in muscle health, muscle strength, endurance and size with minimal load.
Build More Muscle with Less Effort
Undoubtedly the greatest benefits of occlusion training are being able to build bigger muscles without having to use heavy weights. With only 10 to 30 percent of the weight, you would normally lift, you can now achieve close to the same results as if you were lifting heavy. Occlusion training enables you to use less weight while still achieving close to the same muscle gains.
“You are not cutting off blood flow to the muscle as with a tourniquet, but only slowing blood flow leaving the muscle.”
Before we get into all the great benefits occlusion training has to offer, let me first explain how occlusion training works.
How Does Occlusion Training Work?
There are still varying opinions about the effectiveness of occlusion training at this time in the fitness industry. Nonetheless, its popularity appears to be spreading as more and more fitness enthusiasts and athletes are jumping onboard. So let’s take a closer look at how occlusion training works.
Occlusion training involves using BFR training bands which are then wrapped around the top of either arms or legs with enough pressure to restrict or occlude blood flow from the veins but not the arteries. In this way, blood continues to flow or be pumped into the limbs as you exercise, through the arteries.
However, veins struggle to move the blood back out of the limbs and back to the heart causing the blood to pool in those muscles. Can you picture the muscle pump this would create?
I highly suggest you watch the following short video on occlusion training and how BFR bands are used for BFR training.
5 Ways Occlusion Training Benefits Muscle Growth
Let’s examine how occlusion training can help you pack on new muscle with lighter weights using BFR training bands.
- Protein synthesis: The muscle pump is one of three ways BFR training causes muscles to grow. By generating such an intense pump, muscle cells become filled with so much blood that they have to grow. You may also refer to this as cell swelling, which inhibits protein breakdown and stimulates protein synthesis.
- Fast-twitch fibers: The second way occlusion training causes muscle growth, and much like lifting heavy weights is by recruiting larger amounts of fast-twitch fibers, although much faster than conventional lifting. These fibers are recruited due to low oxygen levels caused by high levels of blood being forced into the muscle cells.
- Lactic acid: Thirdly, when there are low levels of oxygen, higher levels of lactic acid are generated which may lead to increased protein synthesis.
- Myostatin: Studies have shown that resistance exercise training with venous occlusion helps reduce myostatin protein concentrations responsible for muscle hypertrophy (see Kawada S and Ishii N. Skeletal muscle hypertrophy after chronic restriction of venous blood flow in rats (Med Sci Sports Exerc 37: 1144–1150, 2005).
- mTOR: Occlusion training shows increased mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) levels. The latest science shows that a special protein mTOR holds the key to muscle building. When these proteins are activated, they cause muscle cells to increase protein synthesis which leads to skeletal muscle hypertrophy.
Recommended Occlusion Bands
The Basic Concept of Blood Flow Restriction Training
The basic concept behind the occlusion method, or BFR (blood flow restriction), is to work out with less weight but get the same results as if you were working out with heavy weights. So we are using a minimal load to achieve maximum muscle stimuli.
“Occlusion training tricks the brain into believing that you’re lifting with heavy weights when you’re not.”
Don’t think for a second that just because we are using much lighter weights this workout will be easier. In reality, when combining occlusion bands and the correct exercise routine, this workout can be quite intense.
The Many Benefits of Occlusion Training
Occlusion training can be utilized by just about anyone. If however, you are uncertain about whether this method of training is suitable or beneficial for you then maybe we can help.
Are you a Candidate for BFR Training?
Here are some of the many benefits of BFR training and why you might want to consider this type of training. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to give them a try.
#1 Bigger Pumps at the Gym
- Are you looking for a new method to create bigger pumps at the gym? Then occlusion training may be for you.
#2 Faster Recovery Time from Injuries
- Are you looking for a faster way to heal an injury? Then occlusion training may also be for you.
#3 A Better Way to Lift for Joint Pain Sufferers
- Are you unable to lift heavy due to joint pain? Then occlusion training is definitely for you.
#4 Avoid Future Joint Problems
- Are you a heavy lifter but would like to avoid possible joint problems in the future? Then try adding occlusion training to your workout routine.
#5 A Smart Option for Adding an Extra Layer of Intensity to your Workout
- Would you like to add more volume and intensity to your workout routine without overtraining? This may help.
#6 Workout from Home without All the Extra Weighs -- Space & Money Saver
- Do you workout at home but can not afford or have the room for heavy weights? Then occlusion training is for you.
Top 2 Advantages of Occlusion Training?
There are two very good reasons to use occlusion training. The first reason for our gym rats is to achieve greater pumps. And who doesn’t want a good pump? Our second reason is to keep you in the gym after an injury. And we all know how devastating it is when our workouts come to a halt.
For example, elbow pain can keep you from doing your biceps or triceps training. Not to forget knee pain, which can stop your leg workout routine dead in its tracks.
#1 Occlusion Training for Muscle Growth with Mind-Blowing Pumps
One great advantage of occlusion training is that it can be utilized by healthy athletes to obtain pumps you’ve never experienced before. The kind of pump that makes you want to cry with agony on the outside, but at the same time makes you smile on the inside.
After all, and I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s that pump that keeps us coming back for more. It’s what keeps us in the gym. It’s what keeps us motivated. And most importantly it’s what makes our muscles grow.
#2 Occlusion Training for Rehab or Injuries
One of the great benefits of occlusion training is that you will no longer need to skip a workout due to pain or injury. With occlusion training, you can continue working out with much lighter weights to push blood into the affected area. This will help expedite the healing process by pushing more blood and thus more nutrients to the injury.
In many cases, chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout, strains, sprains can be debilitating, to say the least. Some common terms heard in the gym include tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
If you’ve ever experienced any of these you know how painful they can be, and how they can make lifting heavy weights impossible. However, by using occlusion training you can bypass most of the pain by using lighter weights and not miss any more time at the gym.
Which Muscles can you Exercise using Occlusion Training?
You must know that BFR training bands are essential for controlling blood flow from the muscles being trained. However, we can only fit these bands at specific locations on the body to directly influence occlusion below the limbs. This, in turn, limits the muscle groups available for using this method. Or does it? Let us first take a look at all muscles directly affected by the occlusion training method.
According to Kusha Karvandi, creator, and owner of BFR Bands ®, occlusion training has what he describes as a systemic effect on the body. In other words, by using the BFR bands you are tricking your mind into believing it is working out with heavy weights.
Therefore, you could use occlusion bands around the arms to also benefit the chest or shoulder muscles. Furthermore, wrapping the occlusion bands around the legs would also benefit your abs and glutes.
How to use Occlusion Training Bands Correctly to Benefit the Most
Before moving on to our training methods, knowing how to use and apply occlusion bands is paramount to your success. First let me say, I do not believe in making your own BFR bands for training purposes by using wristbands or knee wraps.
I strongly believe in using a product specifically manufactured for occlusion training and to follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions and precautions.
The elasticity of these bands is important for controlling blood flow from the targeted muscle group. But at the same time, and most importantly, it will help avoid complete blood flow restriction. BFR bands when used correctly are designed to slow the blood flow leaving the limbs and not how much blood is entering the limbs.
Not using the proper bands or over-tightening can completely restrict blood flow to the limb and should be avoided at all times. Always follow the instructions from the manufacturer for the best results and to avoid injury or complications.
Arm BFR Training: Correct Position and Tightness
To train arms, place the occlusion bands around the top part of your arm between the bicep and shoulder muscles. You should tighten these bands to about a 50 to 70 percent tightness level, where 100 percent would be close to complete restriction. Depending on body type these levels may vary for the best results.
It’s a good idea to experiment and find what works best for you. In some cases rather than tightening the bands, increase your reps from 30 to 50 and decrease your rest periods between sets.
Leg BFR Training: Correct Position and Tightness
The same goes for leg training except that you will be positioning the BFR bands high up on the thigh area right beneath your glutes. Again, experiment with the tightness levels and adjust accordingly.
What is the Best Occlusion Training Band Size?
I have found that wider bands (2 inches and up) perform better than narrow bands. Narrow bands tend to cut into the skin when not wearing a shirt that covers the upper arm area. It appears they do not control the blood flow as effectively as the wider BFR training bands.
Thus, a tighter fixation is required with the narrow bands than with the wider BFR bands. This, in turn, increases the risk of over-tightening arterial vessels. Furthermore, if you are big into using these for your leg routine, definitely invest in a wider bandwidth (2-3 inches at least).
Now that we have covered the correct positioning and tightness required for the best results, let’s address the BFR training methodology.
BFR Training Methods for Best Results: Reps and Loads
Now that we’ve got all bases covered, it’s time we hit the weights and put these bands to the test. Here are your basic workout instructions to follow when using BFR training bands for effective occlusion training.
- Apply bands at the correct position and tightness level
- Load: 10-30% of 1RM (1 rep max)
- Repetitions: to muscle failure (at least 30-50 reps)
- Training sets: 3-5
- Execution speed: 2-0-2-0
- A 30-second break between training sessions
- Leave cuffs between sets
- Remove the cuffs when the exercise routine is complete.
- Try applying supersets when possible
In conclusion, it can be said that we can use occlusion training in any performance area. And thus we can consider it a great alternative when used alone or in combination with “normal” strength training. Older and injured individuals, as well as competitive athletes, all seem to benefit from occlusion training.
This is especially true in training phases where you are handling very little weights. Competitive athletes with high training density can benefit from occlusion training. Especially during the season by reducing joint stress through reduced loads.
In this way, you can keep rehab times down to a minimum. It would be conceivable to incorporate “occlusion sessions” into your normal training plan in order to constantly set new stimuli for muscle growth. In addition, it helps athletes to rebuild muscle faster after an injury to get back in the game.
We hope our article on The Top Benefits of Occlusion Training informative and helpful. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share.
Joint Friendly Strength Training [How to Build Muscle with Light Weights using BFR Bands]…Less Pain & More Gain.
With over 30 years of experience in strength training and fitness, Mark LaRue is the founder of Fitness Mastered, a blog to help educate fitness enthusiasts of all fitness levels, ages, and gender. We write topics that range from weight training tips and exercise routines to home workout machine and fitness related product reviews, to name a few.