Occlusion (closure or blockage) training involves causing a blockage of blood to the muscle groups being exercised through either applying a band, strap or cuff. The principle may seem rather extreme; and in relative terms I suppose it is, however it is practised by several top fitness athletes and bodybuilders in order to induce more growth for the same level of effort.
The temporary occlusion of blood to a muscle theoretically causes a physiological shift allowing your body to adapt to a comparatively lighter weight, the same way it would respond to a heavier weight. Therefore there is scope for you to lift the same weight whilst yielding more gains!
Occlusion training may enable you to train at a lower percent of your 1 rep max (1RM) i.e. 20-50% 1RM, and reap similar benefits to those seen when training at >65% 1RM. This isn’t an excuse for you to get more for less, but it may be a useful tool for smashing down plateaus (slowed gains)…a common stumbling block in fitness training and bodybuilding.
Occlusion training is thought to target your Type 2 muscle fibres…Type 2 muscle fibres are the muscle types that release the most strength and power, and are thus more commonly found in power athletes such as sprinters, powerlifters and Rugby players. Conversely your Type 1 fibres are more predominant in endurance athletes such as marathon runners or endure cyclists.
Ordinarily Type 2 fibres are recruited at or around 80% 1RM, so it’s usually imperative that the load lifted is heavy, or indeed moderate weight performed over a higher rep range. Occlusion training may recruit Type 2 fibres far earlier in the set resulting in exaggerated hypertrophy (muscle growth) compared to ordinary training.
The act of ‘trapping blood’ in the muscle through occluding its exit vessels is thought to increase the stimulation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a protein synthesis pathway seen to boost hypertrophy (Takarada, Takazawa, Sato et al. 2000).
BONUS FACT #6
Occlusion training has also demonstrated the capacity to increase growth hormone (GH) response to exercise; in fact GH was seen to rise up to 290 times above baseline when blood flow was temporarily restricted (Takarada, Takazawa, Sato et al. 2000).
NOTE: If you have circulatory issues, are at risk of thromboses or have any other underlying medical condition, consult a Doctor before attempting such a training technique.
Loeneke & Pujol, (2011). Sarcopenia: An emphasis on occlusion training and dietary protein. Hippokratia 15(2): 132-137.
Takarada, Y, Takazawa, H, Sato, Y, Takebayashi, S, Tanaka, Y, Ishii, N., (2000). Effects of resistance exercise combined with moderate vascular occlusion on muscular function in humans. J Appl Physiol. 88:2097–2106.