Occlusion Training Increases Strength in Football Players

Occlusion training involves cutting blood flow to the muscles in order to enhance muscle growth. Sound crazy? New research says it helped Div IA football players increase their 1RM on squat and bench.

A new study performed at Middle Tennessee State University discovered that occlusion training increases muscular strength in Division IA football players. The study investigated the effectiveness of four weeks of low-intensity resistance training with blood-flow occlusion on upper and lower body muscular hypertrophy and muscular strength.

Thirty-two Division IA football players participated in the study, and each player was randomly assigned to either a control group or an occlusion group. Tests were taken before and two days after the completion of training sessions to measure blood pressure; girth measurements for the chest, upper and lower arm, and thigh; height; body mass; and 1RM on the bench press and squat. The experimental workloads were determined based on the 1RM for each lift.1

The exercise protocol consisted of 1 set of 30 repetitions of each exercise at 20% of 1RM, followed by 3 sets of 20 repetitions which each set with 45 second rest periods. This protocol remained the same for both the bench press and the squat, and training took place 3 times a week for 4 weeks after regular off-season football training.2

Occlusion of the blood flow to the muscles was achieved by wrapping elastic bands with Velcro on the most proximal portion of both upper and lower extremities during the blood flow restriction training sessions. The bands were applied to restrict the brachial artery on both upper arms and the femoral artery on both legs. The restriction was maintained for the duration of the entire exercise session, including rest periods. The bands were applied on the arms first, and the pressure was released immediately after completion of the bench press. The bands were then applied to the legs for the squat, and were released just after completion of that exercise as well. The bands were applied tightly at a pressure of 50-100 mm Hg.3

The results of the study showed the blood flow restriction group experienced greater increases in bench press and squat 1RM (7% and 8% increase respectively), upper and lower chest girths (3% increase for both), and left upper arm girth compared to the group who did not use blood flow restriction.4

This study indicates that low-intensity resistance exercise at 20% of 1RM combined with blood-flow restriction training can be an effective training method, and can actually result in greater muscular strength and hypertrophy than traditional training methods. This could potentially be very beneficial to athletes since wear and tear from training often impedes the recovery process, and can affect their performance. Blood-flow restriction training provides a method that does not induce as much muscle damage and allows for increased recovery.5

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