Occlusion Training: What It Is And How It Works
Everyone knows that you want as much blood in a muscle as possible when you work out, and a new type of training has taken that goal to the extreme. The idea is that by restricting blood flow out of a muscle, you can keep an abnormal amount of blood in the muscle and increase anabolism. Sounds crazy right? Well, there are actually studies that support this theory.
The basic idea being ‘Occlusion Training’ is this: Arteries, which carry blood TO your tissues, lie deeper than veins, which carry blood FROM your tissues. So by physically tying bands around limbs at the proper tension, you can trap blood within the muscle.
This type of thinking has been used in rehab practices for quite some time. Products like VooDoo compression bands are designed to severely restrict blood flow in both directions for up to two minutes. When the band is removed, the rebound of blood lymphatic fluid into the joint flushes it and speeds recovery, according to leading physical therapists like Kelly Starrett. So the fundamental idea is far from unproven.
How to do it
Of course you can buy specialized equipment occlusion training. Some exercise scientists use tools known as KAATSU devices, which can cost more than $10,000. So that’s off the table. The truth is you can achieve the same effect with a wrap – either a knee wrap or an aforementioned elastic compression band. The trick is to know what tension is optimal. You want to stifle vein flow but not arterial flow.
Jacob Wilson Ph.D has performed numerous studies on the practice and says:
“Wrapping at a pressure that lifters perceived to be a 7 on a scale of 10 on the legs, and 5-6 on the arms, reliably occluded the veins but not the arteries. This is as tight as you should go, and no tighter.”
How it works
According to Jacob there are three potential mechanisms that explain the effectiveness of occlusion training. First, it enhances the pump. Muscle building is far from a completed science, but most bodybuilders agree that a pump is crucial to idea muscle growth. It tells you you’re targeting the right muscle, yes, but also the physical expansion of the muscle tissue and surrounding fascial structures can prepare the area for permanent growth. Secondly, accumulation of blood in a cell actually makes it harder to uptake oxygen, forcing the cell to function anaerobically and recruit larger fast-twitch fibers that have the most potential for growth. Third, this anaerobic activity produces a ton of lactic acid, which has been shown to increase protein synthesis and production of hormones like GH.
Is It Dangerous?
Since occlusion training involves partially restricting blood flow to a muscle group – it might sound potentially very dangerous. But this is mostly your brain running away from you. While it’s good to be concerned about potential injury or longterm health issues of various training trends, unless you have a pre-existing condition or underlying issues with blood pressure there is no real risk.
Still, if you are really worried it’s always good to ask a doctor if the current state of your health would welcome something like occlusion training into your workout routine.
So in the end, don’t be surprised if you see guys at the gym wearing knee wraps hiked under their crotch or putting elastic bands above their biceps. Nothing is too ridiculous in the pursuit of gains.