Biologically, men maintain most of their mass in their upper half while women maintain most of their weight in the lower half. Body types come in endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph flavors with variations. The title of “hard gainer” typically attributes itself to the ectomorph, you know, long and lanky—imagine an adolescent basketball player. To remedy this (as an ectomorph) I’ve subjected myself to rigorous training methodologies starting with five hour-long sessions of calisthenics with my coach JR of Beastmode to powerlifting style training at Harbor Fitness with eventually a mix of bodybuilding and powerlifting which results in the off-season powerlifting and in-season hybridization. One tool that has served me well and has provided compliments during my stage presence is the implementation of blood flow restriction (BFR) bands.
BFR is the use of a band, knee wrap, or any similar apparatus to create a tourniquet-like effect in the intended muscle. The key phrasing here is tourniquet-like, not an actual tourniquet. Using this restriction prevents the venous return of blood out of the target muscle. In this article, the focus is on the legs.
What to Look For In Blood Flow Restriction Bands
There are two options here: either budget friendly knee wraps or elbow wraps or designated bands, which may cost more. I am not sponsored by any of the aforementioned and as such I do not have recommendations. However, I highly suggest that you read reviews and look at the materials used to make the wraps or bands for durability. In addition, those with allergies to certain materials, please check to make sure that you won’t have issues with the materials in the band style you choose because you will be wearing them anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, typically. Choose a reputable powerlifting store for wraps—they have better quality products available, overall.
What to Wear When Using Blood Flow Restriction Bands
There are three options here: loose-fitting cotton clothing, compression shorts, or leggings. I recommend not having the bands directly on your skin as you can be subjected to folliculitis, a skin condition that causes inflammation of the hair follicles causing raised bumps on the skin or ruptured follicle roots that leave black marks on the skin. For some athletes this is non-existent, but if you have sensitive or dry skin avoid skin-to-band contact on the legs.
Loose fitting clothing is generally a good choice and seems to be appropriate in between for those who powerlift and those who typically do not like extra tight clothing. Lastly, tights or compression shorts are great as they often have moisture-wicking fabric and help to keep the band in place.
How to Place the Blood Flow Restriction Bands
For BFR band training in the legs, there is a carryover of placement, proximal to the working muscle, and distal from the working muscles insertion.
- Regardless of the plan of action for what to wear, these bands are going to be very close to the inguinal area.
- For men, I suggest wearing support briefs to hold your man parts so it’s easy to shift things over when placing the band. Go as high as you can, right about where the tensor fascia latae lies. This is going to feel, at first, very claustrophobic and very uncomfortable. My word of advice: suck it up. This is only for a maximum of 60 minutes.
- For women, placement is the same, however, disregard the shifting of genitalia. To avoid chaffing, lotion your legs prior to placing the BFR bands with a light lotion or an oil that is kind to the skin, like vitamin E.
- Securely wrap until there is a feeling of tightness—you should feel blood rushing through your veins constantly throughout the wearing process. This is not a tourniquet so complete occlusion of vasculature is not the goal, just restriction.
- I suggest adjusting the bands throughout your workout as your legs engorge with blood. Do not tighten more as you progress in your workout or you will risk numbness, tingling, or cyanosis.
- Do not use BFR bands use if you’re pregnant, have high blood pressure, diabetes, varicose veins, or other vascular diseases.
Exercise Choice with Blood Flow Restriction Bands
Exercise choice for leg training will depend on your anthropometrics, what you respond best to, and what keeps tension on working muscles. Therefore, I will only suggest exercises that have worked for me and how I choose to do a split.
- Adduction Machine
- Leg Extension Machine
- Leg Curl: Lying, Cable, and Seated
- Hack Squat Machine
- Leg Press
- Front Squat
- Romanian Deadlifts
I do two days of quadriceps and two days of hamstrings, respectively, such that the first day is light and second day is heavy. Tempo, time under stress, and positioning play a large role in the effectiveness of bands.
A sample workout on my banded quad day looks something like this :
- Warm-Up with Walking Lunges: 4 sets of 8 reps each leg, unweighted
- Adduction Machine: 4 sets of 12 reps, ascending weight
- Leg Extension Machine: 6 sets of 6 to 12 reps, ascending weight
- Weighted Lunges (in place): between sets of leg extensions maintaining the same weight until the last set as you will you increase approximately 10-15lbs, until failure
- Barbell Front Squat: 3 sets of 6, heavy
This example split for quads isn’t for the faint of heart and, despite the brevity, the very nature of this split is grueling and time-consuming such that it might require the 60 minutes as previously mentioned. The goal isn’t to spend hours in the gym if you can focus on what works and use tools that assist in focusing on the target muscle.
Make the Reps Count
Each and every rep counts. The stress you place on your muscles during full range of motion should be emphasized and maintaining a peak contraction is of utmost importance. A warning to the wise: delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is real and taking a deload week is not only beneficial but essential with BFR training.
Taking a week off from the bands is recommended after about four weeks of consistent use. Your legs need enough time to adapt and need enough recovery time in order to grow sufficiently. BFR training is great, and it isn’t just a fad. Lift with love my friends!