I know I was quite taken aback when I saw someone wrapping a band above their biceps or quads while working out. For the uninitiated, it can seem a bit scary, and for the untrained, it is! But not to worry, according to the experts, using blood flow restriction training bands are completely safe if you know what you’re doing.
But do they work? If they do work, is it worth restricting your natural blood circulation? Well, that’s what we are here to talk about. If you are someone like me back in the days, you will love the discussion.
There are lots of different types of BRF bands found in the market. And they are not all the same. Some even have the potential to harm you in the long run. So, what do you do? You can research and experiment to see what the best option is. Or you can read people’s experiences and opinions.
1. Do BRF Training Bands Work? Who Should Be Using Them?
What is the reason behind people using these blood flow restriction training bands nowadays? Is the craze behind it justified? These questions are important. You don’t want to just blindly follow anyone and everyone. Let’s discuss.
We need to first realize how these training bands function and changed how we perceive bodybuilding.
1.1 Occlusion Training
The method of using BFR bands in training is called Occlusion training or, as the pioneer called it, ‘Kaatsu.’ It works by simulating a natural condition that promotes muscle hypertrophy. When you do hammer curls or preacher curls, after a few reps, you start to feel fatigued, and the muscles seem to lose strength.
Why does that happen? Well, it’s the lactic acid formation in the muscles that causes this condition. And exactly at this point, the brain receives a signal that your muscles are experiencing difficulty. As a result, the brain sends signals to release more growth hormones to repair the muscles. That’s how hypertrophy works.
1.2 Repetitions and Time
The difference between your traditional training and BFR training is that BFR training needs more reps to work the muscles. For example, if you were doing 10 reps per set in bicep curls, BFR training requires you to do 30 reps in each set to achieve the same amount of development.
2. How It Works
When you wrap the BFR band around your arms and legs, it puts pressure on the veins and restricts blood flow. This artificial blockage, opposite to common sense, doesn’t hurt you. Rather, with correct application, it increases muscle development.
The technique is to wrap the bands where your bicep and quad muscles start. It’s the slight curve on your arms and thighs. Don’t wrap it down the middle unless you want to.
Occlusion training artificially creates a condition where the body automatically releases growth hormone. Here, the advantage is that you don’t have to lift so much weight to achieve the same result.
According to research, you can achieve the same hypertrophy by lifting 70% less weight than normal. The blood restriction mimics the natural lactic acid build-up by increasing lactate concentration. And the brain asks the pituitary gland to release more growth hormones.
And just like that, with low weight, you achieve the same level of muscle development.
3. Is It Safe?
The good news is that research has proved it to be as safe as any bodybuilding technique. As long as you’re applying the technique correctly, you won’t experience any reduction in your muscle function. Even the intensity of muscle soreness is found to be at the same level as your normal weight lifting.
This technique was first used in 1937 by medical practitioners to help regenerate tissue and help patients with lower body disorders to walk better. So, you can rest assured about its safety.
4. Who’s It for?
The target audience for the occlusion training can be everyone who wants to put on muscles but, for some reason, can’t use heavyweights. Home workout programs have been heavily integrating the BFR training bands in their workout routines.
Even seasoned bodybuilders have opted for BFR bands. Why is that so? Because you can simply use lighter weights as a way to rehabilitate and recover. And for the same reason, you can see doctors prescribing patients to occlusion training.
Those who struggle with heavyweights due to low muscle density or medical conditions or accidents are the perfect groups of people. You can slowly work with these bands and increase muscle mass with a pair of 5lbs dumbbells instead of 25lbs ones.
The reduction in weight helps a lot because it doesn’t strain the muscle as it’d be in normal weight lifting.
With occlusion training, not only your muscles get trained but also your nerves. It increases vascularity, and vascularization affects your nerves and senses. This is another reason why it is used in physical therapy for both athletes and patients.
5. Are There Any Risks Involved?
Risk is in everything. If you want to achieve something, develop something, you need to take risks. All types of bodybuilding have risks if you do it the wrong way. In this case, the wrong way is to mess up the pressure you’re exerting on your muscles.
As of today, there have been no known recorded medical issues resulting from BFR training. But there is a concern that the increased metabolic stress may induce rhabdomyolysis, although the current evidence says the risk factor is the same as other forms of resistance exercise.
Check with a physician and take his/her recommendations. If you’re a healthy individual, you can start right away!
6. Which Blood Flow Restriction Bands are the Most Recommended?
Here, we’ve reviewed 3 of the best smart BFR bands and laid them out for you to decide for yourself. Each of them is from three different price ranges. The options will cater to all.
If you need a broader selection, we have a separate article that covers not only 3 but 11 BFR smart cuffs you can find on the market at this point in time.
6.1 SAGA BFR Cuffs
If you take budget out of the equation, the Saga BFR smart cuffs easily take the top place in terms of quality. I think it was a smart thing to integrate pressure sensors and wireless control through smartphones into your BFR cuffs.
The first benefit of having the Saga cuffs is the ability to maintain the same pressure in both of your limbs. When the occlusion training method first came out, most people were asking the question, “Is it safe?” and with these smart cuffs, you don’t have to worry about safety.
It has a pressure sensor and a pump that tells you how much pressure is optimum for you. And it tells you through an app that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. There’s automation in place to inflate or deflate the cuffs, depending on your blood pressure.
Whenever you have it on, it feels soft on the skin and comfortable. It won’t choke you out. You can expect long-lasting safety and comfort.
It works just like your ordinary cuffs but increases your efficiency and ability to work harder by taking out the risk factor. For people who are coming back from injuries to rehabilitate, this is a great option as you can progress gradually. This seems to be a great tool for physical therapy.
If you don’t have a smartphone, this smart cuff won’t be of much use to you. But that’s rarely the case. In that case, you may want to opt for the cuffs with a manual hand pump.
- Pressure sensor
- Automated pump
- Controlled via App
- Optimal and balanced pressure
- Completely relies on the app for control
6.2 Smart Tools SmartCuffs
Anyone who has been around the fitness world knows about them. In terms of price and quality, this set of cuffs is also up there with the Saga BFR but with more options and packages.
There is something different about how it works. It’s neither a manual BFR band nor a smart one. So, it works through a combination of a pneumatic pump, automation, and a pressure sensor.
The control unit is how you can set your desired pressure instead of using an app. It has a pneumatic pump that inflates your cuffs through a tube. And consequently, it also displays the pressure amount and updates automatically each time you connect it.
You can either keep the unit in your bag while you’re working out or strap it on your hands as it’s very light. Either way, the whole thing is comfortable and safe to use. This is the great thing about it compared to the elastic bands where it’s impossible to maintain pressure balance on both sides. And that results in uneven development.
How does it run then? It runs on batteries that you can fast-charge. Don’t worry if you forgot to charge it overnight. Just plug it in while you’re getting ready.
It comes in two options; 1. for hands (2 pieces), 2. for the whole body (4 pieces). And prices are different for each one.
- Pneumatic mechanical pump
- Displays pressure
- Cuffs for the whole body
- Sets optimal pressure
- Fast-charging batteries
- Lack of wireless control
- More expensive
6.3 RecoverFun Air Cuff
People who don’t like to work with electronics or prefers cheap but functional products will appreciate these cuffs from RecoverFun.
So, this RecoverFun package comes with 2 BRF bands, a hand pump, and a pressure gauge. There is a release valve on the bands for quick deflation. Plus, there’s zero complexity to its design. You just need to wrap the bands just above your bicep muscles if it’s the arm you’re targeting or the quads if it’s your leg day.
Yes, this pair of cuffs can be used on both arms and legs. The usable length of these cuffs ranges from 10 inches to 23 inches. So, it can accommodate even the beefiest biceps.
As for the bands themselves, there’s nothing you can find fault with. They are comfortable even when it’s inflated to restrict blood flow. The applied restriction doesn’t hurt, thanks to an evenly spread pressure.
But if you somehow experience any discomfort, use the quick-release valve to deflate and check the bands to see whether or not it’s deformed.
Always check your blood pressure by yourself or by a physician. As there is no automatic control, you have to do the heavy lifting by maintaining the correct pressure.
- Hand pump
- Valve for quick release
- Cheap but durable
- Manual control