Build Muscle Faster, Safer and Easier With Blood Flow Restriction Training
If you haven’t heard of Kaatsu training before, you’re in for a treat. While still a novelty in the West, Kaatsu training was developed in Japan five decades ago. Ka means “additional” and atsu means “pressure.” An English layman’s term for the practice is “blood flow restriction training,” and involves performing strength training exercises while restricting blood flow to the extremity being worked.
A significant benefit of the method is that you can do strength exercises using just 30 to 50 percent of the weight you’d normally use while still reaping maximum benefits. In a way, you’re trading weight for repetitions, in that you’re using less weight but doing more reps — up to 20 or 30 repetitions opposed to the 10 or 12 you might normally do.
The cuffs or bands are just tight enough to allow arterial blood flow but not venous flow. This causes lactic acid and other waste products to build up, giving you the same benefit as heavy lifting without the dangers associated with heavy weights. For this reason, it’s a great strategy for the elderly and those who are recuperating from an injury.
Compelling evidence suggests that venous blood flow restriction dramatically increases muscle growth and strength by increasing growth hormone secretion, reducing myostatin and inducing cell swelling — all while circumventing the tissue damage that can occur with traditional high-intensity weight training.
Brief History of Kaatsu Training
The origins of Kaatsu training were detailed in a previous Outdoors Online article:1
“Kaatsu came about in 1966 when 18-year-old [Dr.] Yoshiaki Sato, now a doctor, noticed the intense ache in his calves after having assumed the traditional Japanese sitting position during a typically long Buddhist ceremony. It was an ache much like the one he experienced after lifting weights — an ache he realized had to do [with] the occultation of blood circulation.
Eureka! Using himself as a test subject, Sato spent the next several years perfecting a system of blood-flow moderation using bicycle tubes, ropes and straps. He later replaced the tubes with thin computer-controlled pneumatic bands. The idea was to apply pressure around the arms and legs while lifting a light load, safely impeding the flow of blood to exercising muscles.
Slowing this flow engorges the limbs with blood, expanding capillaries, engaging muscle fibers and raising lactic acid concentration. But — and here’s part of what makes Kaatsu unique — it fools the brain into thinking it’s being put through a vigorous workout.”
It’s said blood flow restriction training can stimulate muscle growth and strength in about half the time, using about one-third of the weight, compared to standard weight training. By using much lighter weights, you’re also dramatically reducing your risk of muscle injury. In recent years, Kaatsu has caught on among professional soccer players, downhill skiers and American football players, including the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.
In the U.S., Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen is a leading proponent and teacher of Kaatsu, earning the respect and admiration of athletes such as Olympic and World Cup ski champion Bode Miller — who credits Stray-Gundersen and the program with getting him back into world class form mere months after his back surgery — and other athletes who risked being sidelined by injuries.