How to Help Flatten the Curve Without Becoming an Atrophied Couch Potato: On the Unique Value of Blood Flow Restriction Training While Working Out at Home

I expect that the fitness blogosphere is inundated with articles, Tweets, and Instagram posts about how to have productive workouts in the confines of one’s home. I confess that I haven’t done much to verify this assertion, since studying for board exams has been a higher priority for me, though I’d probably bet Peter’s life savings that it’s at least somewhat accurate. I also tentatively suspect that many of these articles haven’t addressed the unique value of using blood flow restriction (BFR) training in these circumstances, and I’d like to address this topic for IHP’s oh-so loyal readership.

“What is BFR training, and what is its relevance?” you might be asking. To first address the latter question, a unique benefit of BFR training is that it allows one to achieve a degree of muscle hypertrophy while using relatively light weights (e.g., 20-30% 1RM) that is comparable to hypertrophy achieved through traditional resistance training methods (e.g., using 70% 1RM).[1] And to state the potentially obvious, many people stuck at home may have access to little, if any, workout equipment and might have to rely primarily on bodyweight exercises. Consequently, BFR training can be a huge boon for people who are trying to gain or maintain muscle mass without access to ample exercise equipment.

SHR # 2432 :: If Blood Flow Restriction Works Why Aren't You Using It
BFR wraps: You might look weird using them, though nobody will see you if you’re self-quarantined.

That said, it’s worth noting that this 2018 meta-analysis of twelve studies concluded that improvements in strength were less with BFR training than with traditional resistance training, on the order of approximately a 7% difference. Consequently, BFR training may not be a panacea to all of your COVID-19 training-related woes. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful tool, and, in times like these, perhaps quarantined beggars can’t be choosers.

There are people who are far more knowledgeable about BFR training than I am. Consequently, rather than try to reinvent the wheel by writing a lengthy article about the what’s, why’s, and how’s of BFR training, I want to direct you to an article written by one of those oh-so knowledgeable people, Dr. Jacob Wilson. The article, hyperlinked below, addresses the key topics of BFR training and answers many of the common questions about BFR training.

If you’re interested in trying BFR training, then the good news is that there are effective and inexpensive (~$25) BFR wraps available online. Of note, not all BFR wraps are the same. I’ve used a few different products, so I’m not an expert on the multitude of products on the market, though the following hyperlink is for the BFR wraps I’ve used for the past couple years and bought for others, and they’ve worked well for me and everyone I know who’s used them (link). (Note: I have no financial affiliation with that product, and I don’t make money from you purchasing it via that hyperlink.) Something to note is that they’re wide wraps, which means that they can be used on either the upper or lower extremities. (Thinner wraps might only work effectively on the upper extremities because they can’t sufficiently occlude venous return in the lower extremities.)

Once you have the wraps and understand how to properly use them—please read the article by Dr. Jacob Wilson for that information—it’s a matter of determining which exercises would be most appropriate given your circumstances. Assuming someone has no equipment, a simple workout could be as follows:

  1. A brief warm-up.
  2. Bodyweight or goblet elevator squats with the wraps around the thighs.
  3. Pushups (or pushups on the knees) with the wraps around the upper arm.
  4. Hip thrusts or single-leg hip thrusts with the wraps around the thighs.

A workout like the one above might take fifteen minutes, yet it addresses many of the major muscle groups in an effective manner. If someone has workout equipment, then they have more exercises to choose from, though the same principles apply whether one has equipment or not.

So there you have it. Yet another article about how to avoid deflating into an atrophied couch potato while you help flatten the curve. If you have questions or comments, then feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

[1] Lixandrão, M. E., Ugrinowitsch, C., Berton, R., Vechin, F. C., Conceição, M. S., Damas, F., … Roschel, H. (2018, February 1). Magnitude of Muscle Strength and Mass Adaptations Between High-Load Resistance Training Versus Low-Load Resistance Training Associated with Blood-Flow Restriction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine. Springer International Publishing.

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