How Blood Flow Restriction Training Pumps Up Your Workout

Bodybuilders use blood flow restriction during workouts to increase muscle gain. It’s a technique that causes more blood to stay in the muscle during exercise, which leads to more growth. Sound crazy? Well yeah, actually it does… but here’s how it works.

Blood Flow Restriction Training

Blood Flow Basics

Before we get into blood flow restriction training, it’s important to understand the circulatory system. This system is made up of arteries and veins which transport blood around the body.

First, arteries carry blood away from your heart into the body, supplying oxygen and nutrients. Then, veins carry depleted blood back to the heart for reoxygenation.

Arteries have thick walls to withstand the high pressure from the heart’s pumping. While veins have thinner walls that are easily collapsed.

What is Blood Flow Restriction?

Blood flow restriction is when you intentionally constrict blood flow by wrapping a band or strap around the upper portion of your arms or legs.

Since veins are thinner and closer to the surface of the limb, the bands only limit flow back to the heart. So more blood stays in the working muscle.

How Does Blood Flow Restriction Training Work?

Now that you understand the physiology of blood flow, let’s talk about how restricting it can be useful in training.

Blood flow restriction training is used by physical therapists, athletes, and bodybuilders. The reason is that it stimulates the recovery and growth of muscle tissue.

First, the high volume of blood causes muscle cells to swell, forcing them to grow larger. This is sort of like a form of fascia release.

Second, blood flow restriction limits the supply of oxygen to the muscle. Your body responds by recruiting fast-twitch fibers that work with low oxygen better than slow-twitch muscles. This is advantageous for muscle building since fast-twitch fibers have a higher potential for growth than slow-twitch fibers.

Finally, blood flow restriction leads to more blood in the muscle during exercise. More blood in the muscle means delivery of more of the nutrients required for growth… at exactly the time when they’re needed.

blood flow restriction training before-after

How to Use Blood Flow Restriction Training

You can use blood flow restriction when training any of the muscles in your arms or legs. To restrict blood flow, you wrap a band around the upper part of the limb.

For best results, wrap the band around the smallest circumference of the limb. Such as at the top of the arm where the upper arm muscles meet the shoulder as illustrated in the picture above.

Keep in mind, the bands need to be tight to restrict the veins. But not so tight that you restrict the arteries! It’s a bit of a balancing act.

So how do you know you’ve wrapped the bands right? Well, if you don’t notice an extra pump and more vascularity during your set, then it’s not tight enough.

On the other hand, if you experience extreme discomfort, or your extremities turn purple – that’s definitely too tight! Some discomfort is normal. But as a general rule, it should not exceed 8 out of 10 on your pain scale. With some trial and error, you’ll find the sweet spot.

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The best time to use blood flow restriction training is at the end of your workout. Select a weight you can lift for about 30 reps before failing. Then, perform 3 sets of fast, explosive reps with only about 15 seconds rest between each set.

With each successive set, the number of reps you can do will drop. Another benefit of blood flow restriction training is that the muscle fails with lower weights. Failure results in growth, but less weight reduces damage to joints and tendons.

After 3 sets, your muscles will be engorged with blood. Remove the straps and your workout is complete.

In addition, I recommend you drink a protein/carb shake right after because the nutrients go straight to where they’re needed for repair and recovery.

Blood Flow Restriction Training Bands

I’ve tried a few different kinds of bands over the years. Everything from elastic tubing to football belts.

Then I tried the wrist wraps I used during my powerlifting days. These wraps are actually designed to stabilize your wrist during exercises like bench press. But I’ve found they work well for blood flow restriction training too.

The Velcro straps make them easy to secure. And the extra width means they don’t dig into your skin like narrower bands. They even have little thumb loops, which makes it easy to hold one end while you wrap the other.

You don’t have to use wrist wraps for blood flow restriction training, experiment and find what works for you. But if you want to try wrist wraps, I recommend these ones from Rogue Fitness. Click the link above to order on Amazon.

Conclusion

Blood flow restriction training isn’t for everyone. But if you have a hard time getting your arms or legs to grow, it can be a worthy addition to your workout routine.

For more muscle building tips, check out some of my other useful articles below.

What Is A Drop Set?

A drop set is a technique that makes your workouts more challenging. Force your muscles to work harder & bust plateaus to build new muscle!

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