How to get better results in the gym by working half as hard

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Athletes are in on it, bodybuilders are in on it, now we will let you in on the secret.

See, when it comes to achieving your desired physique and fitness results, that does not mean that you slog yourself in the gym day in and day out. There is another way, and the reason athletes and body builders swear by it, is because they need results, but they can’t be fatigued, sore and exhausted come game day.

Enter Blood Flow Restriction training, a method of training that has been used for over 40 years in elite circles, and and thanks to companies like SAGA Fitness, they are now becoming mainstream and more accessible for everyone else.

SAGA Fitness’s parent company are the leaders in the field and they work with the likes of New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Cubs, Melbourne Demons,  Brisbane Lions,  AC Sparta, Houston Dynamo, Houston Rockets, Aston Villa, and Duke University – to name a few.

What is blood flow restriction training

Blood flow restriction (BFR or also known as occlusion training) helps you increase the results of your strength training which means you can train half as hard and half as often but get some serious results. It is a highly researched training method that involves placing a band or torniquet around your arm or leg while performing low intensity exercise. This results in reduced blood flow from the working muscles, creating an oxygen mismatch which in turn accelerates type II muscle fibres and releases growth hormone. Meaning bigger muscle gains, less exhaustion from a hard heavy workout and less recovery time.

Where does it come from?

BFR was discovered in Japan in the 1960’s and since then, over 5000 research articles have been published, validating BFRs ability to increase muscle strength and size. Military personnel, elite athletes and even astronauts have used BFR in their training. 

It has only been in recent years that new technology such as the BFR Cuffs from SAGA has made this type of training possible for the fitness industry. Early adopters have included Cross Fitters, MMA athletes and bodybuilders.

Earlier they were a little difficult to use unless you really know what you were doing, SAGA has changed that though, making it easier than ever. Their cuffs are connected to an app so you can tighten or looses the cuff easily via the app. It also contains a tonne of workouts to follow.

What do I need to do before starting this kind of training, is it appropriate for beginners?

Typically, you would add BFR to any type of strength or hypertrophy exercise – i.e. bicep curls, squats, push-ups. 

Research recommends using a lighter load when performing BFR, such as 20% of your 1 repetition max. You would then complete The BFR Workout, which is 30-15-15-15 repetitions. This protocol is used to quickly build up metabolic accumulate and fatigue the muscle. 

This causes maximal activation of the muscle, therefore better results. Due to the metabolic accumulate, you may experience a burning sensation in the muscle – it could be likened to lactic acid accumulate experienced in high intensity intervals. 

BFR can be tough and if-not, slightly uncomfortable, therefore it may not be for the faint-hearted trainer. But for those who are serious about results and want less down time feeling sore while recovering, it could be the answer you are looking for. 

It is also great for people who might experience joint pain or are unable to use heavy weights during exercise. This is because BFR can still increase muscle size and strength without requiring heavy loads that put stress of the body. 

What results can I expect?

While you will immediately see and feel “the pump”, you will start to see real results after around 2 week if you are using the cuff 3 days a week. 

Are there any risks associated with it?

Whilst there are some risks associated with blood flow restriction training, the degree of risk is no different than commencing a weight or fitness program. The biggest risk in fact comes from improper application of the cuffs, either cuff position is too low on the limb or too close to the elbow or knee joints. 

Using elastic bands or manual straps can also increase the risk of bruising, muscle tissue damage or cutting off circulation completely. This because manual straps don’t provide you with the to accurately measure the occlusion pressure. 

The BFR Cuffs by SAGA Fitness however are the world’s only wireless, auto-inflating BFR cuffs that accurately inflate to an individual’s personalized occlusion zone – removing any guesswork when it comes to occlusion pressure. The cuffs also use a sweat-resistant cuff with a quick-release Velcro strap – which makes them not only effective but a safe training tool. 

This content’s been written in collaboration Erin Kearney.

ErinKearney  is the General Manager for SAGA Fitness. Starting her career in fitness, Erin worked as a personal trainer for four years whilst managing a large Brisbane-based gym. After this she moved into working in elite sport, working with leading sports technology and analytics companies such as silicon-valley based start-up, Kitman Labs and human measurement tech-giant, VALD Performance. During her time in sport, she also worked as a strength and conditioning coach in the QRL.