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Blood Flow Restriction Training: A way to get stronger faster?

Typically, when we think of the “traditional way” of improving muscular strength, we think of lifting heavy weights. But what if I told you there was a way to see “GAINS” without lifting heavy weights. Like me, you’re probably intrigued.

Unfortunately, a lot of times during the rehab process lifting heavy weights can be contraindicated. In many cases such as post-operative clients, older adults or those dealing with acute onset of pain or injury, we are unable to load sufficiently enough to produce gains in muscle strength. This creates frustration for many in the early stages of the rehab process, and leaves some people feeling that PT might not be necessary at this stage of the game. For those who are frustrated by the inability to load in the early stages following an injury there is an effective alternative!

Before discussing this option, it is important to update yourself on what’s required for true strengthening/hypertrophy gains. Per the ACSM Guidelines, you must train at 75-80% of your 1 rep max for 12-16 weeks to see true changes in muscle strength. Additionally, our loading tolerance during this phase of injury or recovery often requires us to load at only 20-35% of your 1 rep max. In other words, it takes a long time to get results and if you’re like most American’s, you’re looking for quicker results! [1]

To supplement during this time, Blood flow restriction (BFR) training can be used to stimulate muscles gains in the early rehab phases. BFR involves use of a pneumatic cuff (similar to a tourniquet) to partially occlude arterial blood flow while completely occluding the venous blood flow. This process creates a hypoxic (low oxygen) event in the muscles 🤓AKA decreases oxygen supply, which in effect, creates many positive effects that stimulate muscle growth.

The most exciting part about Blood Flow Restriction training is that several research articles coming out have indicated that BFR in combination with low intensity resistance training can reproduce effects similar to that of hypertrophy strength training! The use of BFR can help delay muscle atrophy, while potentially allowing for significant improvement in strength gains when applied with the typical low intensity Rehab protocols. If you’re recovering from common surgeries such as meniscus repair or ACL surgery, BFR can be used to improve function, strength and performance. [2]

At Better Performance Physical Therapy, we utilize the “Smart Cuffs” Blood Flow Restriction system to help our athletes recover quicker, and return to the field or court, faster. If you feel like this is something that may accelerate your recovery, or you would like to use this as an implement in your training program, feel free to reach out today.


1. [1] Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. American College of Sports Medicine. American college of sports medicine position stand. quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334–59. 2. [2]Hughes L, Paton B, Rosenblatt B, Gissane C, Patterson SD. Blood flow restriction training in clinical musculoskeletal rehabilitation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;51(13):1003-1011. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-097071


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