More Volume Without More Injuries

If you are anything like me, I am getting pretty achy after a high volume training period. If there is a specific time I know I am at the highest risk for bothering the chronic tendinopathy in my left knee, it’s during or right after a volume phase. So if this is the case, what we can do different programming wise? Blood Flow Restriction training.

BFR training is slowly becoming more accepted within the Powerlifting community when it comes to direct arm training. After benching and low bar squats, direct arm work puts even more of a beating on those biceps and triceps tendons. With that being the case, many have made BFR training their go to for direct arm work, allowing you to still receive adequate volume and stimulation but without the same wear and tear. Research has been very promising for BFR training as well. At first glance, seeing some guy cutting off the circulation to his arms while doing some standing barbell curls looks like some weird new fetish fad, but once you look into the actual scientific backing, it starts to sound like that guy might be onto something. Research has shown that using as little as 30% of your 1RM while blood flow restricted can produce similar hypertrophy and strength gains, and it has also made its way into physical therapy protocols for rehabilitation purposes. (1,2,3,4,5)

So if it is becoming more widely accepted when it comes to biceps and triceps, why hasn’t it caught on for lower body work as well? That’s where I come in and propose for the use of BFR training during lower body accessory work, specifically knee extension based movements to reduce the wear and tear of the powerlifting grind. The best fit for this type of training would be during these high volume cycles, when less competition specificity is needed and volume is high. It’s great way to produce similar hypertrophy, volume, and metabolite benefits of higher repetition work in a less aggressive way. Look below at the example of how this could be implemented, one showing the original template, the following showing blood flow restriction being introduced.

Example #1: Non-BFR

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Competition Squat 1 4 400
Competition Tempo Squat (3 second eccentric 1 6 315
Bulgarian Split Squats 3 8 200

Example #2: Blood Flow Restriction

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Competition Squat 1 4 400
Competition Tempo Squat (3 second eccentric 1 6 315
Bulgarian Split Squats (Blood Flow Restricted) 4 15 60

So looking at these examples, after our competition movement and competition variation, we originally had some additional leg volume added in with Bulgarian Split Squats. Again, this would be an example of a volume phase, so competition specificity is lower, with one reason being to reduce the wear and tear on the joints of the heavy competition movements. But the second example takes this one step further with adding in blood flow restriction to the Bulgarian Split Squats, as well as increasing the sets and reps to account for volume changes due to the lighter weight. While I will be the first to say example #1 would be optimal in regards to immediate benefit, as I have mentioned multiple times in my writing, it’s not about what we accomplish today, but instead what we can accomplish long term. There is a higher likelihood of injury when performing 3×8 at 200lbs on Bulgarian Split Squats, versus 4×15 at 60lbs blood flow restricted. And if we can get somewhat similar benefits, I’ll take the option that is going to improve my longevity based on my past injury history.

I used Bulgarian Split Squats as the example here, but let’s cover some exercise variations that would be useful with BFR training, and ones that may not be. First, let’s look at what may not be the optimal approach with BFR training with the lower body. While there isn’t research that I know of stating this, usually barbell squats and deadlifts are not the best exercise for BFR use. There are just too many variables and muscles at play there, specifically the lower back, and our goal is usually to isolate the blood flow restricted area as much as possible. For quads, I recommend exercises that do not require high loads and for the most part take the lower back out of the equation. Below is a list of good exercises to try with blood flow restriction for quads:

-Bulgarian Split Squats (there is some low back involvement here, but with light loads it is minimal)

-Belt Squats

-Leg Press

-Leg Extensions

-Sissy Squats

There are others as well, but these 5 exercises seem to work the best due to decreased lower back activation and the ability to increase the focus on the quads. For hamstrings, I will usually stick to isolation movements, as most compound hamstring dominant movements are going to involve the lower back. Below are examples of my recommendations for blood flow restricted hamstring dominant movements:

-Seated, Standing, or Lying Hamstring Curls

-Smith Machine Bodyweight Hamstring Curls

-Furniture Slider Curls

If your body is rock solid and you are resilient to injury, this may not be for you. But if wear and tear has been a continual setback for you in the past, maybe this a new way of looking at your training. It is just another tool for your arsenal to implement in achieving maximal strength. With the benefit that has been seen in blood flow restricted arm training within powerlifting, I think it’s time to start experimenting more with BFR training for the lower body as well. Beware though, the pumps are insane!!!

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28224640
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27480315
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19760431
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21900845
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27749358
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