The Science Behind Occlusion Training
It can be hard to keep up with all the different trends in the world of diet and exercise, but if you’re patient and smart, you will find something that works for you. We often hear promises of big gains with minimal effort, but oftentimes, it just doesn’t pan out. You can keep at it and see some improvements, sure, but still have it fall short of what it promised. Not with occlusion training though – the science is sound. It’s a life hack for the gym, where you basically trick your body into thinking it’s doing more work than it actually is.
So what is occlusion training?
Occlusion training, also known as blood flow restriction training or BFR, is when you wrap a band around the upper part of your arm or thigh prior to performing your usual exercises. It’s so simple, and yet it activates more in your body than if you were to just exercise normally.
“Blood flow restriction” may sound intimidating to some, but don’t let that put you off – when done correctly, it’s highly, highly effective.
How does it work?
Just so we’re on the same page, hypertrophy means an “enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells”. To stimulate a hypertrophy response, loading requirements for traditional hypertrophy gains typically means weights heavier than 65% of your one rep max or 1rm.
For example, if you bench press 200lbs, you will have to bench heavier than 130lbs to stimulate a hypertrophy response.
But with occlusion training, you can achieve the same level of hypertrophy stimulus from as low as only 20% to 30% of your 1rm (again, because the idea is that you’ve tricked your body into thinking it’s working harder than it actually is).
When you exercises normally, you activate slow-twitch Type I muscle fibers that help with protein synthesis – but they require oxygen as fuel, so by wrapping a band around the limb, you limit the amount of oxygenated blood circulating through that occluded limb.
So the bigger, faster, Type II muscle fibers are recruited to help. Ordinarily, they only activate when we’re performing load resistance exercises at very high intensities, but you’ve tricked your body into thinking it’s working harder than it actually is, right? So it thinks it’s responding accordingly (ha!).
By wrapping a band on the limb, you also slow the movement of blood flowing back to your heart. The occluded limb becomes engorged with blood, which increases the concentration of lactate acid in it. Your pituitary gland then releases up to 170% more growth hormones to help out, along with IGF-1, MTORC1, and myostatin, which are directly related to muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth.
This also has a significant impact on rehabilitation from injuries, since growth hormones serve a protective role for tendons, muscle collagen structures, and helps increase collagen synthesis.
You’ll only need to lift 20% to 30% of your 1rm to achieve the same gains. And even though you’ll have more growth hormones helping to protect your tendons and joints, since you’re lifting lighter loads, there’s less actual stress on them.
As a bonus, measures of muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS are minimally elevated on BFR, too.
Check out our Occlusion bands, available in classic black and a variety of cool camo!
Win, win, win.