Blood flow restriction (BFR) training to improve aerobic endurance
Incorporating blood flow restriction (BFR) into a high intensity OR low-intensity training programme can have a positive effect on aerobic endurance.
Firstly, it is important to understand some of the ways that aerobic training can improve endurance and overall performance…
Aerobic training can:
- Increase muscle glycogen content (energy storage)
- Increase stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the heart in one contraction and therefore the amount of oxygen transported to the working muscles)
- Decrease heart rate (so the heart needs to work less to deliver the oxygen)
These changes are usually seen after a period of high-intensity aerobic training. However, using BFR during low-intensity exercise can illicit these same responses. The result: physiological adaptations that improve performance.
What does the research show? Physical activity with BFR is more beneficial for endurance than without:
Intervention: 2 weeks of walking training using BFR on the legs (20 minute walk, twice a day, 6 days a week)
Result: BFR training increased aerobic endurance capacity (known as Vo2 max) by 11.6%
Furthermore, applying BFR during high-intensity exercise can have more benefits than high-intensity exercise alone:
Intervention: 4 weeks of treadmill running using BFR on the legs (2 x HIIT sessions a week – 30s on, 30s off at 80% peak running velocity)
Result: BFR training improved running economy (which allows for a higher running velocity whilst using the same relative oxygen consumption – VO2)
What happens during aerobic exercise using BFR to elicit these responses?
Greater stress on the cardiovascular system…
- When we train, heart rate increases in order to pump oxygenated blood around the heart. We also have a lowered venous return (less deoxygenated blood returning to the heart). The result = reduced stroke volume. This induces strain on the cardiovascular system as a whole.
Why is this important and what are the practical applications?
- Those who are unable to undertake high-intensity exercise (injured/recovering) can use light stimulus BFR training as an efficient training stimulus without much mechanical stress on the body. This can reduce the risk of injury/re-injury and aid recovery.
- Those looking to taper their training (before competition etc.) can still improve performance whilst not straining the body.
- Utilising BFR during high-intensity exercise can add to the physiological adaptations observed after normal training – such as improved running economy.