Occlusion, sometimes referred to as BFR, is an intensification technique used in strength training that allows you to gain muscle faster by reducing blood flow.

To build muscle effectively, you need to combine intensive training, proper diet and adequate rest. Each of these areas can be optimized, using “body hacks”. Here I explain how to hack your body by optimizing your strength training sessions, using occlusion training.

What is Occlusion Training?

Invented in 1966 in Japan by Dr. Sato, occlusion training aims to make your body believe it is performing a much more intense effort than it actually is. This is done by trying to reduce blood backflow into the trained muscle, using a compression device such as a rubber band or special compression cuff.

Two studies from 2017 and 2018, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and Sports Medicine, respectively, show that occlusion training results in rapid muscle and strength gains. The reason? The restriction of blood flow produces effects at the hormonal, vascular and muscular levels that result in rapid muscle anabolism. It’s as if you’ve been training with much heavier weights for much longer.

occlusion training

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Hormonal, Vascular and Muscle Effects of Occlusion Training

By properly tightening the elastic band or cuff around the working muscle, you greatly reduce the blood flow coming out of it. The muscle fibers quickly fill up with blood just as they would after a heavy load workout, causing the same muscle damage and pain.

The muscular stress thus “encouraged” causes a reduction of oxygen in the muscle, and thus the accumulation of lactate. The synthesis of proteins necessary for muscle growth will therefore begin much earlier.

In addition, the pituitary gland, reacting to intense muscular stress, will release the growth hormones that your body needs to gain muscle mass.

In conclusion, occlusion training will make you gain muscle faster and with lighter loads, because it will trigger the physiological mechanisms responsible for muscle gain earlier. Want to give it a try? I’ll tell you how to train in occlusion.

How to train in occlusion?

The structure of your workout will remain largely the same as it is usually. The basic movements performed at the gym are almost all compatible with occlusion training. You will be able to optimize your results on squats, deadlifts, curls, barbells, leg extensions… Only the pectorals, back and shoulders cannot be subjected to an occlusion for morphological reasons.

To do this, you must place the elastic band or the compression cuff at the top of the worked limb, close to the trunk, like a tourniquet. For the upper limbs, it is recommended to tighten so as to restrict at most 50% of the blood reflux. For the lower limbs, you can tighten a little more. You should feel your muscle swell after a few movements.

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However, be careful not to cut off the blood flow. If you notice any bruising or numbness, you should immediately release your limb from its compression.

Once equipped, train as normal, but with light loads. Focus on the muscle contraction, and you will find that with just a few movements you will experience the same burning and congestion as when working with heavy loads. For each exercise, focus on 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, concentrating on the form and cleanliness of the movement. If possible, hold the contraction for a second, then release while controlling the load. The advantage is that the strain on your joints will be much less. The best of both worlds.

Occlusion training: tips and contraindications

Although it has been proven that restricting blood flow during strength training is safe when done with care, there are some points to be aware of.

In addition to avoiding complete restriction of blood flow, never use rubber bands on the upper and lower extremities at the same time. Work the body parts separately, and only use the occlusion on the muscle group that is being worked.

It goes without saying that some muscles are not suitable for this practice at all. Indeed, it will be useless and dangerous (even stupid) to squeeze at the neck to inflate your trapezius. This is obvious, but I prefer to specify it.

Because of the use of light loads, this technique can be used by professionals as well as by beginners, as long as the precautions are respected. It is also suitable for older people or those undergoing rehabilitation, as well as for those whose joints cannot withstand work under heavy loads.

Occlusion training allows for short, intense sessions, perfect for athletes who cannot afford to spend hours in the gym. It feels like a heavy workout without the impact on the joints and builds muscle faster.

However, this method of intensification is not recommended for people with blood pressure or heart problems. In any case, if you have any doubts or questions, the best thing to do is to consult a sports doctor, who will be able to advise you according to your health condition.

Remember, however, that training is only one of three factors in muscle growth. Occlusion to intensify your weight training sessions will be useless without an adequate diet and sufficient rest.