Advanced, Podcast, Science, Strength training

Blood Flow Restriction training with Brendan Scott | EP#87

 December 25, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Blood Flow Restriction training with Brendan Scott | EP#87

Have you ever wondered if there is a science-backed method to achieving heavy-weight results for light-weight work? BFR could make this a reality.

In today's podcast Brendan Scott, PhD, explains how blood flow restriction training (BFR) in resistance and endurance training works and how it can benefit triathletes. 

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 
  • Could you see yourself trying this type of training if you were injured for example, or does it seem too foreign to you to even contemplate?
  • Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The Benefits of Blood Flow Restriction training
  • How to properly apply BFR in practice
  • Potential drawbacks and concerns
  • Who are prime candidates for using BFR
  • What are its potential benefits in endurance training as opposed to resistance training

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About Brendan Scott

2:43 - 

  • Earned his PhD in 2015 after completing his research on the effects of hypoxia on responses to resistance training.
  • Has extensive knowledge in resistance training strategies and in athlete monitoring.
  • Consulted with professional athletes in a wide range of sports including rugby, football, soccer, power-lifting and strength sports.
  • Certified conditioning coach with the ASCA
  • Currently works as a lecturer and coordinator for Functional Human Anatomy and Strength and Resistance Training at Murdoch University in Perth, AUS

BFR in a Nutshell

4:09 -

  • oxygenated blood (containing nutrients) going into the working muscles of the limbs via the arteries; and
  • deoxygenated blood will not be totally restricted from going back to the heart via the arteries which are more superficial and thus more prone to restriction.

Benefits of altering hemodynamics using BFR

6:25 -

  • It lessens the mechanical stress on the body without impeding the growth of muscles and its muscular strength. BFR allows you to grow muscles and increase strength without lifting heavy weights.
  • Altering hemodynamics facilitates resistance training athletes who are on a recovery regime following an injury, those who have little time to rest and recover between performances, and those with diminished abilities to recover due to aging.
  • BFR basically increases the physiological impacts of a rather light-weight regime.

Mechanisms Behind BFR Training

8:18 -

  • BFR training can be beneficial for certain types of triathletes. Ideally, those who have lean physique with relatively small muscle mass such as runners who want to gain muscles to develop their swimming and cycling performance.

Potential Drawbacks and Safety Concerns of BFR Training

11:10 -

Increase in muscle strength comes via hypertrophy rather than neural adaptations. These neural adaptations are yet to be seen regulated by BFR.

BFR Applications - Equipments, Safety Implications, Steps to take when applying BFR

20:53 -

  • Make sure that you are not in any way contraindicated for blood flow restriction training (e.g. get screened for cardiovascular conditions and blood clotting diseases)
  • Get your arterial occlusion pressure measured in order for you and your trainer to know the most appropriate amount of pressure to apply on your limbs during the training. About 60% of arterial occlusion pressure will be applied during BFR training.
  • To stay safe, look for expert-recommended brands for bands, cuffs and pressure-regulation devices to use in your BFR training.
  • You can also look up published formulas that factor in limb circumference and blood pressure aside from arterial occlusion pressure to help you set a ballpark and regulate restriction pressure. But the best route to safety when applying BFR is still to check with your physician or a specialist.

Formulas to regulate pressure

  • For a lower limb arterial occlusion pressure formula, refer to Loenneke et al.
  • For a upper limb arterial occlusion pressure formula, refer to Jessee et al.
  • You can use elastic wraps or power-lifting knee wraps. Wrap them around your thighs. Cut the wraps in half for your arms. Regulate tightness through:
    • Perception - tighten the wraps on your thighs so that you have a 7/10 pressure (10 highest pressure and thus inducing pain; 0 no pain at all). Do the same for your arms but with the wraps cut in half since your arms are smaller and requires less pressure.
    • Exercise difficulty - perform your exercise as usual and see if you can get through the sets. If you will have trouble getting through 50% of your sets, loosen the wraps as they might have been wrapped too tightly. If you’ve breezed through your session, you might need to tighten the wraps in order to gain the benefits of your BFR training.

Other Important BFR Training Advice

28:00 -

  • Safety first: while BFR training can be very beneficial, it comes with implications at any point in one’s training. So it is always best to get screened and to check with your doctor. 
  • Practice BFR with efficiency: talk to your coach and see when it is the best time for you to apply BFR training.

Bonus Question 1: In the resistance training perspective, what makes athlete monitoring relevant to endurance athletes as part of their triathlon training.

29:06 -

  • If your body responds less to the same external stimuli, that means it has beneficially adapted to the regime.
  • Fatigue is when your body’s internal load increases at the same (or less) amount of external stimuli.

Bonus Question 2: I've been exposed to hypoxic training in the pool these recent weeks, do you know about the benefits of long dives for endurance training?

36:04 -

  • Though I am not exactly sure what the actual mechanisms would be, there must be some research on how the ability to hold one’s breath longer after sessions of free dives is a sign of adaptation. This adaptation can be very beneficial for swimmers and triathletes especially for the swimming leg of a triathlon.

Science of hypoxic swim training

  • Brendan kindly found this publication on the effects of hypoxic swim training for me. See the abstract below:
  • Purpose : Repeated-sprint training in hypoxia (RSH) has been shown as an efficient method for improving repeated sprint ability (RSA) in team-sport players but has not been investigated in swimming. We assessed whether RSH with arterial desaturation induced by voluntary hypoventilation at low lung volume (VHL) could improve RSA to a greater extent than the same training performed under normal breathing (NB) conditions.
  • Methods : 16 competitive swimmers completed six sessions of repeated sprints (two sets of 16×15 m with 30 s send-off) either with VHL (RSH-VHL, n=8) or with NB (RSN, n=8). Before (pre-) and after (post-) training, performance was evaluated through an RSA test (25m all-out sprints with 35 s send-off) until exhaustion.
  • Results : From pre- to post-, the number of sprints was significantly increased in RSH-VHL (7.1 ± 2.1 vs 9.6 ± 2.5; p<0.01) but not in RSN (8.0 ± 3.1 vs 8.7 ± 3.7; p=0.38). Maximal blood lactate concentration ([La]max) was higher at post compared to pre- in RSH-VHL (11.5 ± 3.9 vs 7.9 ± 3.7 mmol.l-137 ; p=0.04) but was unchanged in RSN (10.2 ± 2.0 vs 9.0 ± 3.5 mmol.l-138 ; p=0.34). There was a strong correlation between the increases in the number of sprints and in [La]max in RSH-VHL only (R=0.93; p<0.01). 
  • Conclusion : Repeated sprint training in hypoxia induced by voluntary hypoventilation at low lung volume improved repeated sprint ability in swimming, probably through enhanced anaerobic glycolysis. This innovative method allows inducing benefits normally associated with hypoxia during swim training in normoxia. 

Rapid-fire questions

Favorite book, blog, or resource related to your field of expertise: 

Favorite piece of gear or equipment:

  • Weightlifting shoes

What do you wish you had known or done differently in your career?

  • I wish I started reading more outside of my area of expertise.

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Brendan Scott

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy!

Could you see yourself trying this type of training if you were injured for example, or does it seem too foreign to you to even contemplate?

Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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