Story at-a-glance –
- Blood flow restriction (BFR) training was developed by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato in Japan in the mid-‘60s, where it’s known as KAATSU training. BFR involves partially restricting arterial inflow and fully restricting venous outflow while working the muscle
- BFR allows you to significantly enhance strength and muscle mass using as little as 20% to 30% of your single-rep max weight
- BFR training may be an ideal muscle-strengthening strategy for most people, but especially for the elderly and the untrained, as it requires just a fraction of the weight you’d typically use in conventional resistance training
- BFR has the ability to prevent and treat sarcopenia like no other type of training
- During BFR training, the slow twitch Type I muscle fibers become highly fatigued, necessitating the recruitment of fast twitch Type II muscle fibers as the exercise progresses. This explains how BFR training can deliver results similar to or better than conventional weight training, despite the use of light weights
Dr. Mercola Interviews the Experts
This article is part of a weekly series in which Dr. Mercola interviews various experts on a variety of health issues. To see more expert interviews, click here.
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is, without a doubt, the most exciting innovation in exercise training I’ve encountered in my 50 years of exercise. To help us walk through how it’s done, and to discuss its many health benefits, is Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen — an expert in BFR who has trained many elite and professional athletes.
BFR training was developed by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato in Japan in the mid-’60s, where it’s known as KAATSU training. Stray-Gundersen met Sato and worked with his organization, KAATSU Global, for a while. Stray-Gundersen explains the history and origins of this breakthrough system:
“Sato had an epiphany in 1966. He was busy attending a funeral service. He ended up having to sit in a certain position where we would say our legs fell asleep. When he tried to get up, his legs didn’t work very well. This reminded him of when he would exhaust himself with heavy weightlifting. That just kind of stuck in his mind …
In 1973, he had a ski accident. He ended up in a full-length leg cast. As most physicians know, these full-length leg casts produce lots of atrophy. He had been, in a way, just playing around with this idea of BFR, but this was an occasion where he could try this out for himself.
He took a judo belt and wrapped it several times around the top of his thigh, above the cast. And then he did isometric exercises in the cast. In those days, the casts were routinely changed at six weeks, because there typically had been so much atrophy that the cast was now loose and really wouldn’t hold a fracture in the proper location.
When he reported to the physicians to change the cast, it turned out he really didn’t have much atrophy at all. His ankle fracture and his knee injury were now not tender. Instead of getting another cast put on for another six weeks, he basically just walked out of the clinic. That was the point for him to say, ‘Hey there’s really something here.'”
The Early Days of BFR
Over the next 30 years, Sato experimented on himself and his fellow bodybuilders, trying to understand the ins and outs of what they were calling occlusion training at the time. One thing he discovered was that he needed to use a relatively narrow elastic band.
He also realized he could control the pressure using a pneumatic bladder. Sato published his first paper in the English literature in 1998. Another paper was published in 2000, in which his team conclusively demonstrated BFR effectively increased muscle strength and hypertrophy. Since then, many more articles have been published on BFR by Sato1 and others.
“In my particular case, I’ve had a career in human performance and elite performance,” Stray-Gundersen says. “I’ve worked with Winter Olympians from cross-country skiers, alpine skiers, speed skaters and hockey players. In the Summer Olympics, runners, swimmers, cyclists, triathletes, mainly focused on endurance sports, but also soccer to a large extent.
My day job was a professor at the med school at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. Through all these years, I always had my eyes out for things that could improve athletes’ performance, as well as be very useful for the population in general.
In 2011, I happened to run into a colleague at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, who told me about KAATSU … My colleague told me how great this was and that you could get improvements in strength in as little as two weeks. I was quite skeptical at first … To make significant gains in strength and muscle size you need about six weeks.
The short story is I checked it out and ended up contacting KAATSU Global and Steve Munatones. From there, [I got to] spend some time with Dr. Sato learning the ins and outs of KAATSU … It’s actually quite fantastic. It’s really a big paradigm shift in how we think about training and how to think about antiaging medicine, or using exercise as a medicine for health and fitness.”
Preventing and Treating Sarcopenia With BFR
It’s important to realize that without resistance training, your muscles will atrophy and lose mass. Age-related loss of muscle mass is known as sarcopenia, and if you don’t do anything to stop it you can expect to lose about 15% of your muscle mass between your 30s and your 80s.2
An estimated 10% to 25% of seniors under the age of 70 have it and up to half of those over the age of 80 are impaired with it.3 One of my biggest regrets in life is not knowing about BFR before my parents passed away.
They both had severe sarcopenia. I really believe they could have survived longer had I been able to teach them this technique earlier in their life. Sarcopenia is not just cosmetic, and it’s not just about frailty. Your muscle tissue is a metabolic organ, an endocrine organ.
Your muscle tissue makes cytokines and anti-inflammatory myokines, and is a sink for glucose. That’s the primary reason I’m so interested in BFR. It has the ability to prevent and widely treat sarcopenia like no other type of training.
What You Need to Know About Blood Flow Restriction Training
In my opinion, BFR is the most incredible innovation to improve your health that I have learned about in quite some time. It has the most significant potential to increase your healthful life span and help you maintain full range of your mental and physical capacities than anything that I know of.
To help you get started, I have put together a comprehensive article that outlines the benefits of this amazing technique. Click the button below to access it — absolutely FREE!
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