What is BFR (Blood Flow Restriction) Training?

In Equip Your Gym by Tim Steward

Last updated on June 1st, 2021 at 08:39 pm

Every once in a while, something new comes to the world of weight lifting and training. Sometimes it’s a fad, other times it’s not. Sometimes it shows results, sometimes not so much.

Because there is so much information out there today, much of it conflicting, it’s hard to know whether or not to add something new to your home workouts. Especially if that something is new, controversial, and at first glance, kind of weird.

This is the case with BFR training. BFR, or “blood flow restriction” training (also know as occlusion training) is a method of occluding the blood flow into your extremities with bands or cuffs (click here to see an example on Amazon). By strength training in this manner, some amazing muscle and tendon building results can occur.

 

Getting a pump…

One of the most satisfying parts of lifting weights for many is the pump. Let’s be honest, most of us go look in the mirror after lifting specifically to see this pump. Our muscles feel like they are about to rip right out of our skin. We’re bigger than we are during normal “walking around” times. We look big and muscular and we love it.

Muscle pump

Getting a pump with BFR training.

Using BFR bands or cuffs is one of the best ways to maximize this pump. One session of work with them and you’ll notice this very enjoyable side effect. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the pump you get from one BFR session far surpasses any pump you’ve had from any other workout!!!

Muscle growth…

Without getting into the science here (click here to see a very highly sourced article), BFR training can also accelerate muscle growth. These days it seems like you can find a study to support any position you might want to have on a subject. The studies cited in that article seem very promising. But studies don’t add muscle, right?

What I like to go by is personal experience. I have traditionally had a very hard time putting size on my arms. Once I started BFR training just once a week, that changed. And it changed fast. For me, I really don’t care what the studies say. I see results, so I have them as part of my home gym!

Safety…

So is it all about the pump or is there something else to these? One of the least talked about benefits of BFR bands and cuffs is the safety factor. Unlike most weight training, BFR training calls for very light weights and very high reps. Typically you are working out with only 10%-30% of the weight you would normally use. An example of this is one of my finishing exercises on an arm day. 10 sets of 20 dumbbell curls using only 15 lb. dumbbells. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. Trust me when I tell you the pump and the results say otherwise!

safety

Be safe out there!

What does this have to do with safety? Quite a bit. You see, at 46 years old, I don’t recover quite like I used to. Going super light and high rep really serves to protect my joints and tendons. When working out at home, by myself, this is even more important. Instead of struggling to lift up heavy weights and risking injury, BFR training allows me to get significant results without significant risk.

Results…

So do they actually do anything, or are they a gimmick? Well, that’s a very large source of debate. You can find people on both sides of that argument. For me, I’ve seen noticeable muscle growth using them. That combined with the lower risk of injury is all the anecdotal evidence I need to continue to use them. But don’t take it from me. Check out this article by Dr. Mario Novo.

How to use them…

Here on GymCrafter.com, my goal is to help you build the perfect home gym for you. It’s not to give training advice, diet plans, or exercise instruction. So while I’ve provided a very brief glimpse here of the most basic aspects of blood flow restriction training (aka occlusion training), I highly recommend you visit these very complete resources for a much more detailed description and guide to their use.

Click here to check out a very in depth article on Men’s Health on how to use BFR training for muscle growth.
Click here for the most highly sourced article I could find on occlusion and BFR training.
Click here for another very thorough guide over on bodybuilding.com.

Where to get them…

One of the nice things about BFR training is that you don’t really need specialized equipment. You can use something as simple as an ACE bandage wrapped to the appropriate tightness. You can also use therabands with great results. I started by using muscle floss (see example here on Amazon) until I decided to go with something more purpose built.

A big warning I’ll give is that you can definitely make this too complex and expensive. With some research you’ll find some very expensive cuffs that you can pump up with air. These cuffs have the ability to measure a specific amount of pressure. It all sounds very scientific. But it’s really not needed. You just need to restrict your blood flow, that’s all.

I’ve tried a few options.

For me, my first set of dedicated BFR bands were these I bought on Amazon (and that you can see two sets of in the image above… The first set I ordered came defective). I do NOT recommend this set. The buckle doesn’t work well, they are uncomfortable, and they were much more trouble than they were worth.

If you are looking for a solution you can order on Amazon, I highly recommend these for your arms, and these for your legs. They are simple, comfortable, and affordable. You really can’t go wrong with them. That said, after much trial and error I have found what I think are the absolute perfect set of bands…

This set, made by Dr. John Rusin, are amazing. They work incredibly well, and are extremely high quality. For those reasons, they are usually out of stock. If you can find them in stock, though, grab a pair! I’m not affiliated with that site at all, but I really don’t have a better recommendation.

BFR bands

Dr. John Rusin BFR bands.

In the end…

As a closing note, please realize that this piece of equipment is highly controversial. It’s something you could train a lifetime without using and never feel that you have missed out. My goal in putting together GymCrafter.com is to share with you what I’ve learned about building a tremendously effective home gym. BFR training is something I use regularly and have seen great results from. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here.

If you decide to try it out for yourself, please let me know how it’s worked out for you in the comments below!

Disclaimer…

As stated in our site disclaimer, please see a physician and/or consult a qualified professional before starting any new training modality. BFR training, when done incorrectly (as with ANY other type of training) can cause injury.

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