Rugby Strength & Conditioning: Blood Flow Restriction Training

Intro

Blood flow restriction training is becoming more and more popular with all types of strength athletes. You may have seen it in your local gym, a bodybuilder with straps on his arms, screaming and shouting while his arms turn purple and he performs rep after rep!

Now we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach but the bodybuilders have accidentally discovered something that is extremely effective. And the more research that comes out on blood flow restriction training the more potential uses for the technique become apparent.

In this article we will explain what blood flow restriction is, how it can benefit rugby players and how to perform it safely and effectively.

What is Blood Flow Restriction Training?

Basically you restrict blood flow to the extremities using bands or specialist cuffs (we recommend BStrong cuffs). You then perform resistance exercise with light loads close or to muscular failure. Research has shown its effects rival traditional resistance training and the use of lighter loads has definite benefits for a few populations.

How Does Blood Flow Restriction Work?

When you apply blood flow restriction and perform exercise, the working muscles don’t get the blood flow required to maintain the work. This causes them to fatigue and then for you to recruit more muscle fibers. What you find is that despite using light weights, fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited and fatigued. These fats twitch fibers are the ones who have the greatest potential for strength and growth so it’s imperative that we stimulate them during training.

The reduced blood flow causes a build up of metabolites which sends a powerful hormonal and neural signal that stimulates anabolism through increased levels of growth hormone. The great thing about this response is that it effects the whole body not just the working muscles.

This is a huge benefit because it means we can stimulate adaptation with light weights therefore increasing results whilst decreasing stress on joints and in short periods of time.

What are the Benefits of Blood Flow Restriction Training?

Blood flow restriction training has many potential uses but here are our favourite ways to use it:

Rehab

It’s pretty straight forward then when you are injured using lighter weights makes more sense and decreases loading on joints. Thats the beauty of blood flow restriction training you can use light loads but still get a similar stimulus to the muscles. Also because of the systemic effect you can just put them on to walk and stimulate protein synthesis and prevent muscle atrophy. This helps you maintain muscle and get back to fitness quicker.

Assistance Work

Once you’ve carried out your heavy and explosive barbell work try using blood flow restriction training. Assistance work is designed to increase muscle mass and improve muscle imbalances so if we use blood flow restriction training we will get an excellent hypertrophy stimulus but in a less fatiguing manner than traditional training.

Lean Mass

If you or one of your players needs to put on lean mass it can be a challenge to get enough work in, especially during the season. Well Blood Flow Restriction training allows you to stimulate hypertrophy with reduced stress and recover easily so you can train more and are still fresh for the weekend!

HIIT

If you want ot increase the fat loss and muscle building effect of high intensity interval training then blood flow restriction is the answer! Increase your bodies response to interval training sessions by using blood flow restriction training, remember its a whole body effect not just local to the muscles being worked.

Outside of performance training blood flow restriction training has benefits for the elderly because of its effects on bone mineral density and tendon strength.

Is Blood Flow Restriction Dangerous?

Firstly any form of exercise has a level of risk with it but there have been some scare stories about blood flow restriction training which probably are a bit harsh. Bottom line when performed correctly blood flow restriction training is safe. Here are some tips to makes sure you are training safely and effectively:

Never Occlude!

Occlusion of arterial flow is when things become dangerous. Good rule of thumb is to wrap to 7 out of 10 discomfort and you should still be able to feel a radial pulse. BStrong bands make it almost impossible to occlude arterial flow.

Use an appropriate cuff

Bands that are too wide can damage muscle fibers (definitely not a goal if you’re trying to get bigger and stronger!) and bands that are too narrow can occlude arterial blood flow. We recommend BStrong bands for blood flow restriction training they are the right size and are easy to put on and adjust pressure.

 

Don’t Lift Heavy Weights

As discussed the benefit of blood flow restriction training is getting similar results to heavy lifting but with lighter weights. So stick to light weights never use heavy weights!

Never more than 20 mins

20 minutes is enough to get the benefits of blood flow restriction training but anything more could be dangerous. Trust us you’ll feel like you’ve done enough!!

How Do You Perform Blood Flow Restriction Training?

As with all training modalities there are tons of different ways to perform blood flow restriction training. In a rehab setting simply putting on the cuffs and walking has good results for reducing muscle atrophy and stimulating protein synthesis and anabolism. Here is a rough guideline that most of the protocols we’ve used fall under:

3-5 sets x 15-30 reps (or to failure!) with 30-60s rest between using weights of 20-30% 1RM

Thats a good starting pint and from there use traditional progression methods to make sure you are improving.

Here’s a few protocols that have been used and the research and /or we’ve used with good results:

Strength & Size

2-3 Exercises

30% 1RM

x 30/15/15/15 

30 secs Rest Between Sets

2-3 Times Per Week

Bike:

60s Work @ 400 Watts

60s rest

x 5 Sets total

Rehab:

As previously mentioned blood flow restriction training is ideal for early rehab phases as lighter loads reduce stress on joints but you still get stimulus for adaptation. Putting cuffs on and reducing the load is a great way to start with eccentric and isometric training protocols and is also a great way to deal with tendinopathy issues. But even when used walking, during early post op situations will enhance the rehab process.

Isometric Loading For Tendinopathy in Rugby

Wrap Up!! (No Pun Intended!!)

Blood flow restriction training may be an effective way to train for rugby players in various situations, mainly rehab and when deloading but also a good way for adding extra volume for players needing lean mass increases. If used correctly it can be a very good weapon in your rugby strength training arsenal!

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