Let’s not kid ourselves. The vast majority of us want bigger arms. Whether you’re an athlete, a bodybuilder or a regular guy, you understandably want to fill out your sleeves.
Large arms aren’t that important outside of aesthetics. But they make it readily apparent that you put in work in the weight room—at least to an extent.
At STACK, we hammer away that training your arms should not be the focus of your training program. You literally have bigger things to worry about, and your arms comprise only about 10 percent of your body.
So when you train your arms, you want to get the most out of the few exercises you perform. A recently developed technique, which has been vetted thoroughly through research, is blood flow restriction training, or BFR.
In BFR training, blood flow to a muscle group is restricted by placing a tourniquet above the muscle. A tourniquet is a tight wrap typically used for medical purposes to restrict blood flow, but it has found its way into the weight room.
Muscle growth is caused by mechanical tension and metabolic stress. To create both, typical muscle-building routines call for 10-15 reps at about 65 percent of your max with short rest periods.
During BFR, mechanical tension is significantly lower. Studies have demonstrated that BFR is effective with loads as low as 20 percent of your max.
Applying the tourniquet above the working muscle group allows blood to flow in, but restricts the amount of blood flowing out. The result is a ridiculous pump and a buildup of byproducts from muscle contractions. According to hypertrophy expert Brad Schoenfeld, these byproducts increase metabolic stress, thus causing the muscle to grow.
This is not to say that traditional hypertrophy training is ineffective. However with BFR, you can perform more sets and reps with shorter rest times to stimulate as much growth as possible—which is why it’s incredibly popular with bodybuilders.
“This has been shown to be easier on the joints, and devastatingly effective for local muscle growth in the upper and lower extremities,” declares Dr. John Rusin, a strength and conditioning coach specializing in sports performance physical therapy and rehabilitation, in his Functional Hypertrophy Training Plan.
OK, it’s effective. But is it safe and should you do it?
Although it may seem a bit outlandish and weird, this style of training appears to be completely safe. In fact, the lighter weight loads make it an appropriate method for redeveloping muscle in rehab settings.
The technique can be used for training muscles in your arms and legs, including your biceps, triceps and quads. With that said, you should not restrict blood flow on every exercise. Athletes and others who want to add mass should perform only one or two BFR exercises and only once per week.
Now for the tricky part—actually restricting blood flow. You can use cuffs specifically designed for BFR or a resistance band, which Rusin shows how to set up in the above video. He advises making the tightness level seven out of 10. Your goal is to restrict blood flow, not stop it.
Once you set up, perform the selected exercise as you normally would. Here’s a biceps and triceps BFR routine featured in Rusin’s Functional Hypertrophy Training Plan.
BFR Bicep Curls
Weight: 40% max
Rest: 15 sec.
BFR Banded Tricep Pushdowns
Weight: Moderate resistance band
Rest: 15 sec.