Changing It Up: Occlusion Training

Here is a way to change it up using occlusion training!

The gym can be a breeding ground for groundbreaking idiocy but in the same instance it can help provide inspiration for some new ways to train also.

The technique I am going to talk about, isn’t one that is used too often as it has the potential to be dangerous if used incorrectly but also if used right it can add to your gains.

What method am I referring to? Of course, it is Occlusion training.

What is Occlusion Training?

The term “occlusion” has a literal definition of “a closure or blockage”. 

So Occlusion training or Blood Flow Restriction training (BFR), is the act of causing a blockage of blood to the muscle groups being exercised with the use of cuffs, bands, or wraps. 

An example would be using bands around the top of the biceps to ensure maximum pump during bicep curls. Or cuffing the top of your legs to get those quads pumped. If you have lagging calf muscles then why not cuff the tops of your calves and go HAM with calf raises.

So what makes this method work?

Because blood flow is being restricted to the muscle which has been cuffed, the blood is essentially being pooled in that one area (the muscle which has been cuffed), and this then limits oxygen delivery to that area, which in turn takes longer to reach muscle fatigue in the area that has indeed been cuffed.

One of the most amazing aspects about Occlusion training is that it actually allows the body to respond to low level intensity exercise (best used for fat loss) in the same way it does to moderate intensity exercise (best use for muscle hypertrophy). This means you are able to get the same muscle building benefits while lifting lighter weight as you would by lifting heavier weight

So even though you’re lifting a lighter load it will feel heavier and this metabolic stress tricks your brain into believing it is doing more work than you actually are and this then triggers the release of growth hormone.

How to do it:

For muscle growth, you need to use heavy weights (> 65% of your 1RM). However, occlusion training with lighter weights (20 -50% of 1RM) has shown to achieve muscle & strength gains comparable to conventional training with heavier weights (around 80% 1RM).

Should you do it?

One study concluded that the occlusion or ‘BFR can lead to improvements in strength, muscle size and markers of sports performance in healthy athletes’.

They also added that additional studies needed to be ‘conducted to find the optimal occlusive pressure to maximize training improvements.’

 

So how does it increase muscle growth?

Well muscles are made of two types of fibers: Type 2 & Type 1 fibers. 

Type 2 fibers are the ones which grow easily and make you look big. But Type 2 fibers are only recruited when you go to failure or when you use heavy weights (>80% 1RM).

When lighter loads are combined with occlusion, Type 2 fibers are recruited way early in the set just like when you are doing a heavier weight. So they get naturally bigger.

Lighter loads with occlusion have also shown to increase growth hormone (GH) levels more than heavy training would normally do.

But how does it release Growth Hormone?

A study from 2000 showcased that low load BFR training to failure increased growth hormone ‘290 times as high as that of the resting level 15 mins after the exercise’ in question.

And as mentioned earlier, even though you’re lifting a lighter load it will feel heavier and this metabolic stress tricks your brain into believing it is doing more work than you actually are and this then triggers the release of growth hormone.

Body parts for occlusion:

Muscle Where to cuff
Biceps Top of arm between delt and bicep
Triceps Top of arm between delt and 

tricep

Quads Top of the Quad
Hams Top of the Ham
Calves Top of calves
Forearms  Top of forearms, just below elbow

Tips: 

  • Do not wrap at knees or elbows, go top of arms or legs depending on muscle you are training 
  • Wrap in layers, and spread out the cuff and bandage being used so excess pressure isn’t being placed on the same area
  • Do not wrap too tight where movement becomes restricted, you want to aim for 40-60% tightness 

To conclude

Now if you’re looking to build up strength especially after an injury, short term use of occlusion training may be a good way to get back in the game. Likewise, if you’re getting fatigued by heavy lifting or just the thought of having to pick up a really heavy bar to make a difference is getting you down, doing some short term occlusion sets because of their effective low reps and light weight, may be just the thing to keep you training and provide the mental break necessary to get back at it.

So there you have it, occlusion training can now be added to your armoury for the next session.

So until next time, keep pumping! 

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References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530612/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33196300/

https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jappl.2000.88.1.61

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19885776/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5609669/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6349784/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30011262/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683630/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23446173/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463864/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26323350/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10846023/

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Mehmet Edip
Mehmet Edip is a fitness writer, actor, and model who has worked in the industry for over 8 years. He focuses on achieving his physique through an all natural plant-based diet and shares his insight via his workout & nutrition guides.