In Part 1, we established the mechanisms of occlusion training and showed that it wasn’t just a gimmick. In Part 2, we are going to explore the possible applications of the training. Because of the mechanisms and benefits, it has lead researchers to start exploring other areas this style of training can be implemented. It can be a valuable tool used for a multitude of scenarios which go deeper than just hypertrophy. Remember: determining the proper application of any training “tool” comes down to the answer to our golden question…. What are you training for?
Increase in muscle hypertrophy: Less = More
The mechanisms of occlusion training proposed were increased fast-twitch recruitment, elevated free testosterone, growth hormone secretion, and cellular swelling, all of which have positive effects for creating a larger muscle. Interestingly, studies have shown that hypertrophy can be achieved in a shorter period of time when compared to normal heavy resistance training. Studies by Takashi Abe and colleagues found that vascular blood flow restriction training can produce hypertrophy gains in little as one week of training. It isn’t uncommon for a strength and conditioning coach to have limited time with their athletes in between seasons. In this case, occlusion training could be just the form of accelerated adaptation needed.
Expansion of overall strength: Beyond Numbers
A number of studies have shown a positive increase in strength when comparing groups who supplemented with occlusion and those that did not. In a study conducted on NCAA Division II American football teams, there were significant increases in squat 1RMs for those athletes that used traditional high intensity training supplemented with occlusion training when compared to the other three training programs (2). Another study also used football players and investigated the effects of occlusion training on strength, but this time from Division I. Their study found an increase in the squat of 8% compared to the 4.95% of the control group. Bench press showed a significant improvement as well, 7% compared to the 3.2% of the control group (5).
Interestingly, in a study that was done on rugby union players they not only saw an increase in squat and bench 1RMs but also in the more explosive test of maximal sprint times and counter-movement jump power (1). A big driver of these results was the increased fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment that occlusion training brings.
Post injury intervention
We know that low intensity resistance exercises combined with occlusion training have a positive effect on growth hormone secretion as well as hypertrophy. Researchers have started to look into how this can be implemented post-op to diminish muscle atrophy.
One study examined two groups; one group received an occlusion stimulus while the other did not. This was examined and implemented from the third day post-op to the 14th day. This is a crucial time period because the fastest rate of muscle atrophy takes place within the first initial one to two weeks, after which the rate slows down (6). When measuring the knee extensors and flexors the the non-occluded group had muscle atrophy of 20.7 +/- 2.2% and 11.3 +/- 2.6%, while to occlusion group had muscle atrophy of 9.4 +/- 1.6% and 9.2 +/- 2.6%. This indicates that a postoperative intervention of occlusion training diminishes the atrophy from disuse (3).
Yoshiaki Sato, the creator of the KAATSU Training System, fractured his ankle and damaged the ligaments of his knee, resulting in the need for a cast. He repeatedly applied KAATSU pressure on and off while doing isometric exercises for 30 seconds on and a few seconds off three times per day. When the cast was removed the doctors were astonished with minimal muscle atrophy. Being a month out from ACL reconstruction myself, I found the positive effects occlusion training has on the muscle atrophy to be very interesting.
Occlusion training isn’t just for us meatheads. As we age there is going to be a progressive loss of muscle strength and mass. Because of this, increasing muscle strength and mass are of great importance to the maintenance in elderly. Resistance training is encouraged to offset this process, however it may not be suitable for all of the elderly population.
Studies are starting to look at how it can be used as an alternative with elderly populations. In a study done with 14 men and nine women, with age ranging from 59 – 71 years old, they found that occluded training produced similar results to that of the heavy resistance group in regards to muscle strength and size. Now, just because the occlusion group wasn’t superior doesn’t mean there is no use for it. That is actually where the benefit lies. We can decrease the load by 50% but still drive the same adaptation.
During the 2016 Power Athlete Symposium, Dr. Tom presented occlusion training and mentioned that with his elderly clients he wasn’t even loading them. He simply occluded their legs and had them walk. The possible implication of using occlusion training for elderly populations could be huge in helping them maintain their independence as well as avoid injuries (4).
In-Season Training Use
In studies conducted by Takashi Abe and his colleagues, results show that occlusion training minimizes muscle damage, perceived muscle soreness, and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. All of these would be beneficial to help athletes in-season maintain overall strength and size. The problem with normal heavy resistance training is that volume is more difficult to recover from than intensity. This is the reason we reduce volume during the in-season training protocol. In doing so, we allow our athletes to be better recovered; however they lose the benefits of volume.
Occlusion training could be a supplemental component to reap the benefits of volume but not suffer the negative side effects.
PAHQ Taking occlusion training to the next level.
Ain’t nothing to it, but to do it!
Now, I am sure after reading Part 1 and now Part 2 you are dying to give occlusion training a go if you haven’t already. Here is a workout to get you started with that we did at the Power Athlete Symposium.
On the proximal end of the bicep wrap a band tight enough that it would rate a 7/10 on tightness, but error on the side of loose, rather than too tight especially in the beginning. Remember: you should maintain capillary refill. Start with 30 reps of plate curls with a 25 pound plate. Then 30 reps of reverse curls. Rest 30 seconds and then start the next set. Rest 30 seconds between each set. Lastly, and this part is critical, don’t forget the post occlusion training selfie!
Plate Curls x 30. 20. 20. 20
Reverse Curls x 30. 20. 20. 20
- Cook, C. J., Kilduff, L. P., & Beaven, C. M. (2014). Three weeks of occlusion training can improve strength and power in trained athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 9(1), 166-72.
- Luebbers, Paul E., et al. “The effects of a 7-week practical blood flow restriction program on well-trained collegiate athletes.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28.8 (2014): 2270-2280.
- Takarada, Y., Takazawa, H., & Ishii, N. A. O. K. A. T. A. (2000). Applications of vascular occlusions diminish disuse atrophy of knee extensor muscles. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(12), 2035-2039.
- Vechin, F. C., Libardi, C. A., Conceição, M. S., Damas, F. R., Lixandrão, M. E., Berton, R. P., … & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2015). Comparisons between low-intensity resistance training with blood flow restriction and high-intensity resistance training on quadriceps muscle mass and strength in elderly. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(4), 1071-1076.
- Yamanaka, T., Farley, R. S., & Caputo, J. L. (2012). Occlusion training increases muscular strength in division IA football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(9), 2523-2529.
- Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and Power Athlete inspired classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.
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