Otherwise known as occlusion training, blood flow restriction (BFR) training is becoming popular these days. And when a new strength training modality comes up, people have many questions about it. Among them, the question of how long you can wear BFR bands is circling quite a lot.
I’ve also seen questions like, how often should you wear BFR bands? So, are there clear answers to these questions? Well, there is no clear answer as some factors will affect the answers for you. And if you want to get to the bottom of those factors and these two topics, you must continue reading.
1. How Do BFR Bands Work?
Before answering the above questions, you must understand how blood flow restriction training or occlusion training bands actually work. Basically, the BFR bands are a device you do occlusion training with. And through these, you can gain a good amount of muscle mass while lifting weights.
At its core, the blood flow restriction training bands will block venous blood return from working muscles. That will eventually result in the buildup of metabolic byproducts, which will be up to the same level after a heavy workout. And these metabolites will effectively trigger higher muscle growth.
In other words, you can enjoy the benefit of heavy resistance training with light weights only. And to get high gains from a BFR workout, you do not need to raise the intensity of training volume. Instead of a high-intensity exercise or lifting heavy weights, lighter weights with proper top body training will do charm.
On that note, this mechanism can enhance muscle size and enrich the muscle fibers with little to no muscle damage (more on that later). And the great part is that occlude blood flow technique works on all muscle groups, including the back and chest.
That said, orthopedic surgery sessions also use BFR training techniques with bands. A physical therapist will not make old adults carry heavy-weight training with the bands. Instead, using BFR training bands, in this aspect, would prevent muscle atrophy while promoting the healing of the tissues.
2. How Long Can You Wear BFR Bands?
To avoid muscle damage and safely enhance muscle hypertrophy or muscle size, you must know the time frame for BFR bands. Basically, you need to release the BFR training bands from the arms or legs after completing the exercise sets. However, you can not just put them on right after. There is a rest period.
Regarding how long the exercise sessions should be, they should not be more than 20 minutes. If you restrict blood flow longer than that, your risk of facing blood clots, damage to the nervous system, and adverse effects on bone density will be reasonably high.
On that note, you can do multiple 20 minutes sessions with occlusion training bands. For example, for the first 20 minutes, use BFR bands for the lower body. After focusing on the lower body, take a little break. And for the second session, you can use the BFR training bands for your upper body.
That said, shorter rest periods yield a better outcome in high-intensity training. So, during a workout session, try not to extend the rest periods higher than two minutes. Tighten the blood flow restriction bands again and dive right into the next set of exercises.
3. How Often Can You Use Blood Flow Restriction Bands?
Blood flow restriction training puts a good amount of metabolic stress on your body. In other words, it is metabolically demanding training. You will be maintaining specific blood pressure by using the blood flow restriction bands for workouts.
In most cases, if you practice BFR for two to three days per week, it will be more than enough to enhance protein synthesis and gain muscle mass. This frequency will allow you to enhance muscle growth pretty effectively. Also, you will have plenty of time to do regular heavy-lifting, cardio, and other training exercises.
But what if you are getting too comfortable with blood flow restriction training once or twice a week? Well, in that case, you can increase the frequency. However, you should only do that when you feel like your muscles are recovering faster from the occlusion training. Otherwise, you can face the side effects of BFR training.
4. How Many Sets and Repetitions of Occlusion Training Is Optimal?
If you are all about gaining muscles, a 20 minutes session that includes three sets of 20 to 30 reps is more than enough. But that does not mean you should carry out the same exercise for the whole period. Instead, consider adding three different types of activities to an entire BFR training session.
Withing the sets, you can assign 20 to 30 seconds of rest. And while you are on the resting period, it is totally okay to loosen up the BFR training bands. But if you do not want to go through the hassle of tightening and loosening the BFR training bands, you can just leave them on.
That said, in the first ideal 3-set exercise, you should be capable of finishing the first set pretty easily. Due to fatigue, the second will take a little bit of time. And finally, the last set is the one in which you will struggle the most.
But if you finish all these without any issues, you need to check the tightness of the bands. There is too much room for the blood to flow through. And if the arterial blood flow is too high, you will not get the full benefits of blood flow restriction training bands.
5. How Tight Should the BFR Training Bands Be?
BFR training bands are not like a blood pressure cuff. They should not be terribly tight. Fitness professionals recommend people judge the tightness of the blood flow restriction training bands through a ten-point scale. And usually, the effective range of the fastening level is between 4 and 7.
If the level is under 4, the band is not enough to be effective. And anything that is higher than seven is too much. You will risk yourself and can even seriously injure your muscles at those levels. That’s why we always recommend opting for smart cuffs over bands that adjust pressure automatically.
That said, the tightness of the bands is subjective, which will highly depend on your own feeling. But remember, you want them to feel tight instead of painful. Nonetheless, you might have a high threshold. In that case, make them fasten enough so that your arms or legs are darker red.
While adjusting the tightness of the bands, you should also consider the veins of your arms and legs. They should be easily visible. However, if you notice that your hands or feet are getting white and your veins are collapsing, the level is too high.
6. Tips That Will Make Your BFR Training More Effective
Want to enhance the effects of the BFR training? Consider these simple tips:
6.1 Warm Up
Doing a light warmup before carrying out any exercise sessions is always a good idea. Do a little cardio, cycling, or even walking. After that, follow it with 15 unwrapped repetitions with the same exact weight you will use for the first set of the BFR training.
6.2 Lift Much Lighter
Lower intensities of weight will offer you a massive increase in muscle size. It is the beauty of blood flow restriction training. And if you want to work on the slow-twitch fibers, you should opt for 20 to 30 percent of your one-rep max. On the other hand, you should lift around 40 percent of your one-rep max for the fast-twitch fibers.
6.3 Adjust the Reps and Resting Periods
You will increase the intensity and volume of the exercise while you are lowering the intensity of the weight. And as you know, blood flow restriction training utilizes higher metabolically demanding reps and sets with a short rest period.
For that reason, starting the exercise sessions with as little as 30 to 40 seconds of rest is a good idea. After going through a couple of reps, you can extend that to 1 minute.
6.4 Wear the Belt at the Right Place
You need to place the bands in the right place. For upper body workouts, put them on the upper arms. And for lower body workouts, place them on the upper legs. The bands do not need to occlude the targeted area directly.
6.5 Do Not Overdo It
No matter what you do, do not push yourself too much during the blood flow restriction training. Although you might be capable of taking your body to the absolute limit in regular exercises, you will risk injuries in BFR training by doing that. Adjust your recovery accordingly; listen to your body and understand it.
Remember, for blood flow restriction training, starting slow is better. Let your body get accustomed to the new training session, and when you get used to it, increase the intensity accordingly. You will injure your muscles if you start with high intensity at first. Also, do consider monitoring yourself throughout the sessions.