T Nation

Kaatsu/Occlusion Training?

Maybe a recurring topic, but I am interested in knowing much more about this form of training.

This as @atp_4_me brought it up in a Darden thread re non-responders to training. I have only seen this in practice on one relatively fit trainee, who initially enthused shortly thereafter gave up his efforts on this. I’m wondering if this could serve as a rewarding method while having a break from my usual program?

Is it good for hypertrophy?
Is there any programs or protocols to follow?
What equipment/device/bands is the best?
Do you have any personal experiences to share?

I believe Paul carter has said it makes sense for an injured lifter working an injured area, but is pretty useless other wise.

On the other hand I believe Meadows has said some positive things on it.

I’ve tried it exactly one time and have no plans to try again.


I’ve done it for years. Probably helps with vascularity, but not much else.

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I’ve seen some speculation that training methods which encourage you to hold muscle under tension for longish periods of time (60+ seconds) might produce an occlusion effect. Not sure if that has ever been studied rigorously. But depending on how you train, maybe you are getting some of this now.

Perhaps this academic paper will also be of interest:

Blood Flow Restriction Exercise: Considerations of Methodology, Application, and Safety (nih.gov)

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Go follow Chris Gaviglio on IG and listen to his podcast, BFR Radio.

A short summary of effects of BFR/occlusion training:

  • Activation of high threshold, fast-twitch motor units at low intensities
  • Reduced muscle damage may allow increased frequency of training
  • May improve recovery
  • Improve local lactate buffering, which may be useful in certain sporting contexts
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I have used it somewhat regularly for quad movements over the last several years as my knees have prevented me from training them as hard as I’d like otherwise. It has had two main benefits from my perspective: 1) the occlusion itself seems to decrease the perception of pain in the joint (John Rusin wrote about this, I believe in an article here on T-Nation) and 2) I can get pretty close to failure with light weights so less wear and tear on already beat up joints. I feel it has helped me keep some of my quad size despite my knees being beat up.

As far as the cuffs go, I went big and bought the smart cuffs. Great product, but way more expensive than I probably needed (what can I say, I like training-related toys).

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They do, but not in the same way BFR does.

Every time muscles contract, the muscle fibres shorten end to end but bulge out side-to-side, which is why flexing your bicep makes it “pop”. When these muscles fibres expand, they compress the capillaries and arterioles around them. This reduces blood flow (both oxygenated and deoxygenated) to contracting muscle fibres for the period of their contraction, and limits gas exchange. Because of this, contracting muscles do not recieve oxygen and cannot remove CO2 until they stop contracting.

BFR training, in contrast, provides enough compression to stem venous blood flow out of the cuffed limb, but does not affect arterial blood flow. This is because there are major veins close to the skin, but major arteries are deep, and because veins have a somewhat “flimsier” structure. Because of this, when BFR is applied to a limb, the venous blood (which carries CO2 and metabolites back to the heart) is trapped in the limb, but fresh blood can still enter.

Thanks for that explanation.

The muscle must have a somewhat limited capacity to pool blood (can’t swell in an unlimited fashion). So after some period of time, does the arterial blood flow slow down or stop?

I don’t know the answer to your specific question, but this might be why the recommendations I’ve seen for BFR training are not to leave the bands in place for longer than 15 minutes without releasing the pressure.

yeah it can work. I see it as a tool in the toolbox/something to add variety to your routine…

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I don’t know. I assume if you were to get to the point you would be placing the limb at serious risk

Might not be pertinent to these mechanisms, but when you exert yourself, blood pressure does go up significantly. And may not be 1 to 1 but as level of exertion increases, so does blood pressure. In one study I read with athletes doing squats and performing the valsalva maneuver for bracing measured systolic pressure as high as 300 mmhg. Anecdotal- my own has been measured during moderate cardio in the 160’s, and I’ve seen others blow petechial hemorrhage in their eyes from squats and deadlifts.

This would serve to push arterial blood through any natural or artificial occlusion.

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Excellent point.

@average_al an easy way to check if you’re over-occluded, that I forgot to mention, is the capillary refill check.

Once you have the occlusion on, press down on your fingernail until the nailbed blanches(turns white). When you stop pushing on the fingernail, you want colour to return well within 5s. Any longer than 4-5s and it’s too much pressure.

If you’re applying the occlusion to your legs, perform the same test by pushing down on your VMO or toenail

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Searching the net, I have yet to see any programs. It seems most use a curcuit of a couple low weight excercises, done 4 times in a HIIT fashion - maybe 2-3 times a week - or as a finisher to a regular routine. Yes, some even recommend it aside of a regular program on rest days.

It seems I have to make my own program. You need to be experienced to reep the benefits from BFR.

What makes you think that?

BFR programs basically involve putting on BFR cuffs and training, generally for higher reps/TUT

I think, first and foremost, BFR is one the few training modalities that is supported by some solid science. I assume most folks (including me) don’t run it consistently for long enough due to programme boredom or the impact to ego from using light weights.

I’ve used it on and off for a while. Usually calves, quads and occasionally biceps. It’s obvious value is that it allows you to operate at lower intensity, i.e. light loads, which is handy if you have issues squatting, etc, or have limited equipment access.

I used to do stuff like sled drags for quads using knee wraps and it was brilliant. I could never get the same effect for biceps, though.


Well, in order to perfect the method you have to have a recent blood pressure taken in arm and ankle. Then you need the proper cuffs to lower the pressure approx 20 mmHg under your arterial blood pressure. Then you need the proper equipment (cuffs) to establish the correct pressure.
This can be complicated if you’re not used to it.

Or, you could just guess your way around, and use simpler straps which obviously is easier and more convenient. Subjective strap force 7/10. But what straps to what size of arms give what actual pressure? Is this a reason many experience less effect of this method?

The above meaning I consider any method using additional equipment/devices as fairly advanced.

Best straps anyone?

Use capillary refill time as a proxy. Dr Gaviglio talked about it on his latest podcast.

If capillary refill is instant, there isn’t enough pressure. If it takes longer than 4ish seconds, it’s too tight.

I just use relatively cheap BFR straps from amazon

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Please tell me more on how you apply BFR! Judging from your avatar them arms are looking BFR:ed (?) LOL