Blood flow restriction training, or Kaatsu training, involves performing strength training exercises while restricting blood flow to the extremity being worked on. This method is beneficial as it allows you to perform strength exercises using 30% to 50% of weight you’d normally use, while still reaping maximum benefits.
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In a way, you’re trading weight for repetitions, in that you’re using less weight but doing more reps — up to 20 or 30 repetitions — as opposed to the 10 or 12 you might normally do.
This training method uses cuffs or bands, like elastic knee wraps, that are just tight enough to allow arterial blood flow but not venous flow. This restriction causes lactic acid and other waste products to build up, giving you the same benefit as heavy lifting without the dangers associated with heavy weights.
Forcing blood to remain inside your muscles longer than normal by restricting venous flow also promotes more rapid muscle fatigue and muscle failure that prompts subsequent repair and regeneration processes.
A typical training session involves three sets, with repetitions ranging from 20 to 30 reps per set, while using half or less of the weight you’d normally use. Rest periods between sets are typically short, possibly lasting 30 seconds.
As a result, you end up doing upward of 90 repetitions of any given exercise. You would want to perform that many reps because you need to work the muscle long enough to create the “metabolic crisis” conditions described earlier. It is this metabolic stimulus that drives muscle adaptation and rapid growth.
When performing blood flow restriction exercises, avoid excessive restriction as this may lead to severe bruising and dizziness. If you band your arm or leg to the point that all blood flow is completely cut off while leaving it there for too long, it may lead to nerve and muscle damage. While such risks are said to be relatively low and simply uncomfortable, keep them in mind because they could lead to events that are the opposite of what you’re aiming for.
If your limb starts tingling or turns red, blue or purple, or you notice you’re losing feeling in it or cannot detect your pulse, this means that your band is too tight, so loosen it up — or simply remove it and stop the exercise. Other side effects that may arise from wrongfully doing blood flow restriction training exercises, although rare, include rhabdomyolysis, a condition that can trigger kidney failure or cardiac arrhythmia due to the release of intercellular contents from damaged muscle.
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