Blood Flow Restriction Training: Using Small Weight for Big Gains


Blood Flow Restriction Training: Using Small Weight for Big Gains

Posted By Malcolm White

What is it blood flow restriction training?


Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is the use of a tourniquet to reduce blood flow to a limb while exercising.

Why should someone consider BFR training?


Research suggests that the best way to maximize strength training to build muscle and get stronger is to lift at least 70% of your one-rep max. For example, if the most weight you can squat one time is 100 pounds, then you should lift at least 70 pounds for eight to 12 repetitions to maximize strength and muscle growth.

However, some people cannot lift very heavy weights because of pain or because they are recovering from an injury or surgery. For them, 

BFR allows people to use much lighter weights (20 to 40% of one-rep max, compared to 70%) and achieve virtually the same results.

How does BFR training work?


Your muscles process energy differently based on the availability of oxygen. When training is intense enough, your muscles cannot keep up with oxygen demands.

Just as its name suggests, BFR reduces blood flow to and from targeted muscle groups, which limits oxygen availability and causes a temporary build-up of fluid and metabolites in the muscle.  

This low-oxygen environment, created by using BFR, mimics the same environment in your muscles created by lifting high-intensity training with heavy weights. It triggers the same release of hormones and growth factors that contribute to rebuilding and strengthening your muscles after training.

Who would benefit from BFR training?


With qualified supervision or done independently after training, BFR is a safe and effective method to build strength, muscle size and endurance. Some common groups who would most benefit from BFR include:

  • Those with lifting restrictions after surgery.
  • Those who are unable to lift heavy loads due to pain.
  • Older adults with poor muscle function.
  • Fitness-minded individuals who want to give their joints a break from heavy strength training.

Is BFR training safe?


Before trying BFR, it is important to consult a qualified medical or fitness professional prior to attempting BFR training on your own.

For those with medical issues related to their heart, blood vessels or lymphatic system, BFR training may not be appropriate. In addition, there are so many BFR products now on the market, it is imperative that you choose one that is both safe and effective — and a medical or fitness professional can help you decide which is right for you.

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is now offering BFR training at our Adaptive Sports & Fitness Center with our outpatient team. Learn more about scheduling an outpatient appointment.

Malcolm White is a senior physical therapist who specializes in treating orthopedic conditions and is certified in personalized BFR rehabilitation. As a former Division I college baseball player, Malcolm enjoys treating other athletes at all levels, especially those who compete in overhead sports. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and pre-physical therapy from Purdue University, his doctorate in physical therapy from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and advanced training in orthopedics through Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Northwestern University’s orthopedic residency.

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