• Sutton Atkins

Vascular Occlusion Training

I do not recommend you try this without professional supervision and instruction, and without seeking advice from your doctor beforehand. In addition to this if you or your close family have a history of vascular, blood pressure or heart conditions then you should not use this method. #DoNotTryThisAtHome

In speedskating there is a high "pure strength" demand on the body, particularly the legs of course. In the winter-season is where we build strength. Building a stronger body is essential to improved performance next season, so finding ever-more efficient ways of building muscle (hypertrophy) and building strength are advantageous. (Although, it is worth noting that muscle size is not proportional to muscle strength. However, muscle size can be a limiting factor in terms of strength in many cases.)

Vascular occlusion training (VOT) or muscle occlusion training (also called blood flow restriction training abbreviated BFR training) is an exercise approach involving compression of the vasculature proximal to the exercising muscles to reduce venous return from the limb, which causes venous pooling. Vascular occlusion slows the removal of blood from a particular muscle group by applying pressure to the muscle. Blood pressure cuffs or elastic bands are applied, such as above the biceps femoris, to occlude the blood vessels and decrease venous return. The purpose of this technique is to increase the accumulation of local metabolic byproducts. These compounds include lactate, IL-6, IL-15, and other “muscle molecules”. They are not simply waste material, but are now understood to be potent stimulators of muscle growth and fat loss through intracellular and hormonal mechanism.

Unlike arteries, veins have low pressure. They are dependent on valves and both the contraction and relaxation of muscles to help return blood to the heart. Valves keep blood from flowing backwards, and moving muscles create a pumping action on the vessels to push blood forward.

Squeezing a muscle, like a bicep, causes a contraction that constricts the blood vessels. When the tension is released, the blood vessel relaxes. This contraction and relaxation when coupled together creates a pumping action with the valves, assuring blood moves in the right direction.

A study in The International Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed the most recent understanding of VOT. The common dogma regarding weight training intensities for muscle growth dictate four to five sets of eight to twelve reps with a weight between 65% and 75% of a 1RM. This review highlights studies showing vascular occlusion with 45% to 55% lighter weights generates the same growth stimulus of traditional weight training protocols. This means vascular occlusion protocols may be able to bolster results while minimizing injury risk. This is an appealing tool when dealing with the frail and elderly (or injured Masters skaters, like me, who are going through re-hab and returning to training). Other studies have shown vascular occlusion greatly increases the production of growth hormone despite very light loads.

This also may have implications for speedskating even more than we first believed. Why? Well, the correct speedskating position is to sit low. This naturally bends the hip joint, and thus constricts the vessels at the top of the thigh in or adjacent to the hip. This restriction in blood flow may be similar the the occlusion effect. (However, it may also be different; it may reduce blood flow IN to the muscles, although probably to a lesser degree as arteries have their higher pressure as they are pumped directly from the heart). Either way it's an interesting area to be "experimenting" with, and potentially a way forward in performance.

The original protocol is to do 3 super-sets;

45% of 1RM and do 25-30 reps (to exhaustion, or almost to exhaustion, 30-45 seconds rest (without removing the straps), followed by a set of 15-20 reps (or to exhaustion). This is one super-set.

Rest 2-3 mins, you may remove the straps.

Repeat two more times.

You can find other protocols if you read about a bit, but the evidence is far less for these other protocols.

Occlusion training has helped me to re-gain lost muscle surprisingly quickly, and build strength without the dangers of lifting extremely heavy weights. To read more about how I have used Occlusion training combined with other functional strength training and lifestyle changes to return from serious injury, click here.

"Let's go faster"

Coach Sooty

Thanks to Michael Myhre at Performance Centre CPH for the support, advice and assistance in getting me through months of re-hab, and back to being a strong athlete again.


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