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Using Blood Restriction To Train Better Among Some Olympians

In addition to limiting blood flow in order to strengthen muscles and speed healing, some Olympians, athletes, and surgery and physical therapy patients have restricted their blood flow as a method of strengthening muscles and speeding recovery.

The practice originated in 1966 when a Japanese monk named Yoshiaki Sato observed his calves feeling tingly and pumped up during a temple ceremony. Steven Munatones, CEO of KAATSU, an eponymous company with a product and educational line related to blood flow restriction, said Sato wondered if his limited blood flow may have contributed to experiencing that sensation. KAATSU Global — or “additional pressure” in English — was co-founded by Munatones and Sato in 2014 after Monatones had been trained by Sato in the Kaatsu technique for 13 years.

Using Blood Restriction To Train Better Among Some Olympians

Munatones wrote that Sato “experimented with different types of bands that were attached to various parts of his body from his head to his torso to his lower legs seven years after experiencing the initial tingle.” The Japanese martial art KAATSU enabled him to rehabilitate his ankle after breaking it in 1973.

Using Blood Restriction To Train Better Among Some Olympians

Munatones explained that this was the very first experiment with the KAATSU Cycle mode, which involves inflating bands with internal bladders for 30 seconds, compressing them around upper limbs, and then deflating them for five seconds before repeating the process. Rhythmic compression of the veins and capillaries causes the treated areas to slowly engorge with blood as you exercise, Munatones explained. This is visible as a gradual reddening of the skin during exercise.

Growing engorgement of blood stimulates several natural biochemical reactions, including the production of nitric oxide, human growth hormone, insulin growth factor-1, and beta-endorphins, each of which functions in different ways to increase blood supply, prevent tissue damage, regulate body composition and muscle growth, and support growth of bone and tissue.

Physical therapist Nicholas Rolnick via email stated that pets perform exercises during the application of BFR in order to increase muscle mass, increase muscle strength, reduce pain, enhance recovery, enhance cardiovascular capacity and enhance sports performance.

The Sato method has proven beneficial for a variety of athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and Olympians over the years, including those like Galen Rupp, Laura Wilkinson, Michael Andrew, and Mikaela Shiffrin. Here’s what experts say you should know before you use Kaatsu or blood flow restriction training, whether you’re an athlete or not.

This is how it works

Blood and metabolic byproducts are trapped in the muscle when someone practices Kaatsu or blood flow restriction, Rolnick explained.

“The metabolites make muscles work harder than they normally would produce a contraction, causing the muscles to fatigue more quickly,” he added. As well as the fatigue produced by the BFR, keeping up with the exercise requires a great deal of effort. This additional effort dramatically speeds up muscle mass and strength gains.

By email, Stephen Patterson, a professor of applied exercise physiology and performance at St Mary’s University, London, said that muscles needed for high-intensity activities — such as jumping, throwing, lifting weights, or kicking — are recruited at lower intensities than necessary. This means someone could lift 20% to 30% of their maximum weight instead of the usual 70% or even more, and still feel the same reaction as training with heavier loads, he explained.

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How to practice the technique

To be sure that the pressures advertised are accurate, Patterson recommends using medical-grade-type equipment. Exercise bands, exercise mats, etc. may be able to restrict blood flow, but from the viewpoint of safety, no one knows how much restriction is applied. You may be hampered in adapting and responding or you may be injured.

Rolnick said several cuffs are available, but his preference is for a pneumatic cuff that can be inflated manually or automatically (as in blood pressure cuffs). As the number of BFRs continues to grow, more cuffs may enter the market which may not be adequate or appropriate, which is why these cuffs all allow the restriction of blood to be carefully measured.

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