Developed by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato in the 1970’s, the Kaatsu training method has been used in the physical therapy clinic for some time but has only recently gained public exposure. The concept involves wrapping the extremities to maintain arterial flow to the muscle while simultaneously restricting venous return while lifting weights. While the idea of blood flow restriction (BFR) training is relatively safe, there are some contraindications you should be aware of.

Some of the effects on your body are similar to those involved with participating in HIT or high-intensity training. You can expect an increase in blood pressure and heart rate with a decrease in stroke volume. This isn’t something the average person needs to worry about but those with cardiovascular issues or vascular issues should seek medical advice before beginning a BFR training program.

From a physical therapy standpoint, BFR is touted to decrease the recovery time associated with musculoskeletal injuries. As of this writing, I am currently conducting a study by treating patients with knee pain using the BFR technique and treating others using traditional therapeutic exercise without BFR. Currently there are limited studies available that look at the long-term success of using BFR for rehabilitating musculoskeletal injuries. Based on my empirical evidence in the clinic I can attest to the measurable results when adding BFR to a patient’s physical therapy program.

For strength training purposes one can expect visible results while adding BFR to their routine. Without spending several thousands of dollars on equipment, results can be attained from using theraband or elastic straps. One possible issue is the size of the individual’s limb and the appropriate width of the band. This is where a professional can help guide you as well as ensure you are following a safe program.

One of the key points to safe BFR training is using a low load. Using no more than 30% of your one rep max will produce muscle hypertrophy while minimizing muscle damage. Using a slower tempo on the eccentric, or lowering portion, of the movement is also important in properly loading the muscle. Lastly, adequate rest between sessions is essential to achieving the desired effect of BFR.

Remember if you have any doubts or are unsure about how to safely add BFR to your routine, check with a physical therapist first.

Yours in Health,

Keith Pacific