Jul 28, 2021
Why Olympic Athletes Use Blood Flow Restriction Training

Since the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, a few people have taken notice of the U.S. Olympians wearing exercise bands wrapped around their arms or legs. Outlets like the New York Times and Today.com have done some digging and revealed athletes like swimmer Michael Andrew and marathoner Galen Rupp use these “tourniquet-like bands” during training.

This form of training is referred to as blood flow restriction training. It relies on slowing the blood flow to a muscle by using a strap or cuff while a person lifts 15 to 30 percent of their more lifting weight.

bloodAn article on Today.com spoke with sports medicine professionals to seek more information about the training method and its efficacy. Below is an excerpt from that article.

“It’s almost like a personal tourniquet system. So you have a cuff that’s applied to your arm or leg that significantly reduces blood flow,” Marc Sherry, a physical therapist and manager of the UW Health Sports Rehabilitation Department in Madison, Wisconsin, told TODAY. “The basic premise is that it’s inflated to a pressure that prevents the blood from coming out of your arm but doesn’t prevent the blood from going into your arm.”

The reason? That extra pressure allows the muscle to develop like it would from lifting heavier weights but using lower weights.

“The research has shown that exercising with this tourniquet on gives you comparable gains in strength that you would see with normal heavy lifting,” Evan Luse, a physical therapist at the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute at the Ohio State University, told TODAY. “One of the advantages is that you do not need to use heavy weights. Typically you use anywhere between 15 to 30% of your one-repetition max and we see similar gains.”

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For weight training, people lift about 65% of their maximum repetition weight. So if a person’s max is 100 pounds, they’d lift 65 pounds. Blood flow restriction training allows people to build muscle without putting extra strain on their muscles and joints from heavier lifts.

blood“It’s a very, very low-intensity exercise,” Dr. James Bradley, a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and head team orthopedic surgeon of the Pittsburgh Steelers, told TODAY. “You’re protecting your joints and you’re protecting (surgical) repairs.

Dr. David Geier said that it might be particularly useful for athletes in endurance events, such as swimming or long-distance running.

“I imagine it did make them stronger and it wouldn’t just be for powerlifting type sports. Swimming, track and field a lot of sports that require muscle power, muscle endurance and muscle strength absolutely would benefit from it,” the sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina told TODAY. “There may be some benefits to making those muscles be able to work for longer periods of time, which for an athlete might be very beneficial.”

To read the full story from Today.com on blood flow restriction training, click here

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