Former bodybuilder and professional rock climber Anna Davey explains how the next big trend in fitness, ‘blood flow restriction’ builds muscle quickly, using lighter weights. Say goodbye to intense hours at the gym labouring over those muscles!
For someone deeply invested in fitness, it’s not unusual to spend hours at the gym lifting weights to achieve a finely toned physique.
Traditionally, that means repeatedly lifting and lowering progressively heavier weights over a long period of time.
Now, a technique known as ‘blood flow restriction training’ (BFR) is taking off around the world because it creates muscle bulk and increases strength using lighter weights with fewer reps.
And a new world-first, wireless, app-driven device – created in Australia – is applying science to a fitness training method that previously required a lot of guesswork.
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How will BRF cuffs help my training?
The BFR Cuffs by SAGA Fitness (which are worn at the top of your arm or leg), act like a tourniquet to restrict blood flow in the veins.
That makes oxygen delivery more difficult, so your muscle has to work harder. This accelerates the activation of Type II muscle fibres. These are the ones that do the most to promote an increase in muscle size and strength.
According to scientific evidence, if you lift very light weights with blood flow restriction, you can still achieve the same results as if you were lifting heavy loads.
So in 10 minutes with minimal equipment, you create a similar stimulus as you would working super hard for an hour.
This is the perfect workout for the COVID-19 era. Let’s say you’re locked down, or don’t want to go to the gym – you could still do all of your exercises at home with just the cuffs and a pair of 5kg dumbbells.
But it goes way beyond that.
What is blood flow restriction training?
For people who’ve had injuries or can’t load up their joints, BFR is a safer way to keep training, reduce muscle atrophy, or avoid unnecessary strain on the body.
I hooked into this type of training after injuring a finger. That sounds like a minor injury, but for a rock climber competing at world championship level, it was devastating. An A2 pulley rupture can mean up to nine months off, and maybe your finger will never be right again.
After just three months of adding BFR into my strength routine, the injury healed completely.
Initially, it was a home-made solution: I used a stretchy fabric strap displaying a one to 10 numbering system, arbitrarily experimenting with setting it on seven.
But I could never see exactly how much blood flow I was restricting, so it was just a guesstimate.
“It takes all the guesswork out of it”
Then I got the BFR Cuffs and I could do everything through an app on my phone. It takes your blood pressure and uses it to recommend your optimal occlusion pressure (which is the amount of restriction on the blood vessels).
I was like, ‘That is the best idea I’ve ever seen’.
Now I can monitor my BFR training with confidence, and stick to the science. It takes all the guesswork out of it.
Even Thor’s stuntman uses them
The cuffs are a spin-off from AirBands, a practitioner-focused version launched by VALD. This company supplies hi-tech products and software to almost every big-name sporting franchise around the world.
“After launching AirBands into the elite sports market, we saw an emerging opportunity in the consumer fitness market for similar technology, and more broadly for scientifically engineered smart tech,” says CEO of VALD, Laurie Malone.
“This inspired us to create SAGA, with the goal of disrupting the smart technology movement and making world-class tools accessible for everyone, not just elite athletes.”
Now, The BFR Cuffs are used by elite athletes and fitness gurus including Bobby Holland Hanton – the Hollywood A-List stuntman currently on the set of Thor 4 as Chris Hemsworth’s body double.
Is blood flood restricting training ~legit~?
BFR is one of the most highly researched methodologies of the past decade, with more than 5500 papers published on its application in both performance and medicine since 2011.
“We’re dedicated to helping individuals train smarter and achieve more from their efforts,” says General Manager of SAGA Fitness, Erin Kearney.
“It’s no longer a question of, ‘Does BFR really work?’ The science has proven it does. The better question now is, ‘How can it work for you?’”
While BFR may not be for everyone (there’s a certain amount of discomfort due to the metabolic stress on the muscles) – if applied correctly, it’s as safe as traditional weight training.
If you experience a constant plateau in your strength training, or are too time-poor to fit a workout into your schedule, or struggle with the load of heavy weights on joints and tendons – then the BFR Cuffs are the perfect accessory for your gym bag.
Anna Davey quit her job as a lawyer to focus on fitness, personal training and championship-level rock climbing. She recently launched her own app, Anna Davey Climbing and Fitness by Trybe.