Over the summer I had a workout routine given to me by Ben Coomber that was intended as a preseason bulk for rugby. I had a brief look through the routine and noticed some exercises that use occlusion training such as preacher curls, close hand press ups and calf raises. I didn’t have a clue what it was so went and did some research to make sure I was going to do it right.
What is Occlusion Training/ Blood Flow Restriction Training?
Occlusion training is about restricting blood flow away from the target muscle to produce gains in size and strength. In normal circumstances in-order to stimulate normal hypertrophy you would expect to lift approximately 65% of your 1 rep max for about 6 – 12 reps. However with occlusion training or blood flow restriction training (BFR Training) you can get a hypertrophy response from a much lighter weight for instance 20% of your 1RM.
At first I was sceptical of this training method as I have always thought that it was important to optimise blood flow to a muscle to help improve performance, therefore restricting the blood seemed odd. It is important to note that we are not trying to completely stop blood flow as that could be dangerous.
Occlusion training is when you wrap either use some knee wraps or occlusion bands around the top of a target limb to restrict the flow of the veins to take blood away from a muscle so that the blood pools in the target area. Notice how it only restricts the veins taking the blood away from the muscle but allows the arteries to take blood to the muscle. You achieve this by having the bands tight but not so tight that your arm begins to go blue! Dr Layne Norton says the tightness should be a 7/10 where 10 is as tight as you possibly make it.
During this training the oxygen levels within the muscle are low which results in the production of lactic acid. You may think that lactic acid is a bad however studies indicate that it can increase protein synthesis and the acid pool in the muscle can increase the anabolic response. Also while you train a muscle, certain hormones are released and this pooling effect gives these hormones a chance to interact with the receptors also helping towards the hypertrophy effect. This pooling effect causes the cells in your muscles become so full of fluid that they either burst or grow.
Within a muscle there are a number of different types of fibers three of which are slow twitch fibers and the fast twitch fibers A and B. The slow twitch and fast twitch type A fibers are oxygen dependent and are used first when performing an exercise. The fast twitch type B fibers are the last fibers used in a movement as they are for short duration high-intensity bursts. Therefore if you lower the oxygen level in the muscle you are pre fatiguing the slow and intermediate fibers making your muscle use the biggest fibers which are the fast twitch fibers which have the most potential for growth.
Occlusion training is particularly useful in cases of rehab and injury as the low load reduces the stress on the joints allowing clients to train without hindering their recovery.
How to do Occlusion Training?
Tension of the wraps
As mentioned earlier, you don’t want the wraps to not be too tight as they may prevent blood flow in the arteries which we don’t want to happen. However, a tension of 7/10 on the on quad muscles and 5/6 on arms and calves is sufficient.
With the bands there is no benefit of going heavy and it is recommended that you select a weight somewhere between 20% and 40% of your 1RM. That might sound like a pathetic weight but I guarantee you will be crying at the end of it!
How many Reps and Sets?
4 sets of 30,15,15 and 15 seemed to work well for me and would be the place to start in my opinion. Also keep the rest periods short, say 30 seconds.
I hope you find this training method as interesting as I have and enjoy it and the insane pump!