Many weightlifters know about the importance of enhancing blood flow to their muscles when they exercise. But why is it so important? The effect working out has on your circulation is to significantly increase your blood flow through your exercising muscles and to keep the flow through the other organs at a much lower rate, just enough to supply their metabolic needs.
During your workout, the blood vessels in your muscles will dilate to allow greater blood flow. Because ATP is used in the working muscle, the muscle then produces several metabolites such as adenosine, hydrogen ions, and carbon dioxide. These leave the muscle cells and cause the capillaries to produce vasodilation. That’s why increased blood flow delivers more oxygenated blood in the exercising muscles and the blood from your organs is redirected to your muscles.
This diversion happens as your muscles begin to work, your sympathetic nervous system produces nervous stimulation, that causes vasoconstriction, which is when your arteries and veins contract. This reduces blood flow to the tissues and while your muscles get the same signal, because of the metabolites, the effect that occurs is of vasodilation.
As you work out, your body gets the signal to constrict blood vessels, and your muscles dilate their blood vessels. So then blood from your stomach or kidneys for example, flow to the working muscles. And this further increases the delivery of oxygenated blood to the muscles you are trying to build.
If you want to amp up your muscle growth, blood flow restriction (BFR) training can be a useful strategy. BFR involves occluding, or in more modern times, compressing circulation of the working muscle. Traditionally, this is accomplished by wrapping a restrictive piece of equipment around the limb or limbs while performing a dynamic exercise.
The purpose of this is to restrict venous flow without affecting arterial circulation, so that the blood goes into the muscle. Studies have shown that by occluding blood flow to bed confined patients can prevent atrophy and muscle weakness.
Training in an oxygen-limited state is extremely beneficial for your metabolites, which are the training byproducts that build up the metabolic stress. They enhance your anabolic state and a variety of other mechanisms, like helping the release of growth factors and cell swelling. This further enhances protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle growth.
Controlled BFR involves the use of pneumatic cuffs, belts and wrappers to restrict blood flow. These usually provide adequate pressure to a limb, but they are not always affordable or very convenient if you want to apply this sort of pressure to larger muscle groups, as well as your limbs. Additionally, with equipment like this, you can risk to wrap them too tight to the point of excessive discomfort.
If the purpose of BFR is to impede venous return, but not arterial flow to the muscle, then instead of the sort of equipment previously mentioned, your best bet is with compression garments. For example, if you want to focus on your legs and posterior chain for hypertrophy, a pair of compression leggings will put the adequate pressure you need for enhanced blood flow to your muscle tissues in the posterior chain and legs.
How to Integrate BFR into Your Routine
Usually, BFR is performed in isolation, which is more appropriate for the elderly, or those in rehabilitation from an injury. But as a lifter or athlete, you will have the best results by integrating this into your hypertrophy training program. There are many different ways you can go about this, but if you want to use the 'wrapping' method, it is best to use it for a finishing technique.
Additionally, it works best for single-joint movements, like bicep curls, leg extensions, etc. But if you perform multi-joint exercises like rows, squats, pressing movements, then the wrapping technique won't cut it. This is why for your squat or deadlift, your safest bet is with a pair of compression leggings, to put just the right amount of pressure, without hindering your performance, instead, enhancing it.
Compression gear not only compresses your muscles and enhances blood flow to the muscles, but it also keeps them warm and provides joint support as well, which makes it a great recovery item as well. When you wear compression gear for your BFR, make sure you go for lighter weights and higher reps.
Take short rests in between sets, for about 30 seconds. This will help increase the metabolic stress in the working muscles, and achieve optimal anabolic benefits. Compression gear will also allow you to do the finishing sets to failure without risking injury or muscle damage. This is great for hypertrophy because this is how you can maximize metabolite accumulation, which is associated with a good anabolic response.
This BFR (with compression gear) technique can be applied to more than just your lifting sessions. If you want to focus on strengthening and building your lower body, compression leggings will help with your deadlifts and squats, but they can also be used in the same way if you want to ride your bicycle, go for a jog or running session, and even if you walk. You can very casually rock a pair of compression leggings for an afternoon or evening walk, to get similar results.
Incorporating this method into your training can really do wonders for your muscular gains. Consider that for your lower body gains, a pair of compression leggings can change everything. If you already have a good resistance training program, this method may very well be the technique that takes your muscle gains to the next level!