The Jacked Street program from Power Athlete is all about putting on size and muscle mass using the time-tested old school bodybuilding concepts of moving heavy barbells in low rep ranges followed up by high volume max rep sets for assistance.
The concept of increasing myofibril density through heavy weights and then inducing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy through high volume is nothing new. As much as I like to keep it basic with heavy barbells and a variety of movements to keep driving adaption, I also like to bring new concepts into the training as a means of testing and experimentation, and occlusion training is just that.
Pushing the Envelope
Ralph Waldo Emerson was credited as saying, “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”
This quote could not apply better to training and putting on muscle (even though I have a feeling getting jacked wasn’t on his mind when he penned this statement).
In this regard, the primary advancement I have been using in the all Power Athlete programs is the addition of EMS training with Compex. The effectiveness of EMS and Compex is well proven and has produced results that are anything short of amazing. I believe Compex (EMS) is the most powerful ancillary training tool at our disposal today and if it isn’t find its way into your training; you are leaving gains on the table.
But when the goal is pure hypertrophy, occlusion training or Blood Flow Restricted Training has provided enough interesting results that I decided to incorporate it in the Jacked Street program to test its effectiveness.
Occlusion training or Blood Flow Restricted Training (BFRT) was recommended to me via Dr. Tom Incledon from Human Performance Specialists in Scottsdale, AZ. Tom has been using occlusion training with clients that have orthopedic injuries that have prevented them from training with heavy weights as a way to maximize hypertrophy. He has had great success with starving off sarcopenia; muscle loss that comes with aging.
Under Tom’s direction I found Yoshiaki Sato, MD, Ph.D, of Japan. He did the original research on occlusion training and created KAATSU training based off his research. The process involves using an air pressured cuff or band to restrict blood flow to an exercising muscle.
Benefits of Occlusion Training
The concept of KAATSU training is centered on controlled moderation of venous flow; blood pools in the limbs. This causes lactic acid produced during exercise to be retained longer in the muscles. Receptors in the muscles now send stronger signals to the brain, and large quantities of human growth hormone (HGH) are produced and sent through the bloodstream. As the HGH flows to the limbs that are moderated, it is retained longer in the muscles, intensifying its effect on muscular development.
The goal of reducing arterial in-flow and impeding deep venous out-flow causes the capillary venous space to become distended and congested in the distal muscle. This is accomplished by contraction with bands or cuffs.
While KAATSU recommends cuffs filled with air, many people use tourniquets or a simple pair of knee wraps to create contraction.
“Consequently, as the tissue becomes more hypoxic and energy is depleted, anaerobic glycolysis attempts to compensate by increasing its rate, which produces ATP, but also produces a marked disturbance in homeostasis of the muscle, ultimately raising intracellular, interstitial and blood lactic acid concentrations; the result in stimulation of muscles, tendons and vascular growth. “ – KAATSU Training
In laymen’s terms, restricting blood flow to the trained muscle by applying compression to the distal muscle you can train with a lighter weight for high reps thus increasing hypertrophy.
While hypertrophy alone was the goal, digging into the research, I found some interesting effects that are very useful in the larger plan of developing athleticism.
Muscles are usually categorized into two groups: slow and fast twitch.
Traditionally these fibers can not be trained at the same time as stimulating the fast twitch fibers require relatively high intensity training (weights over 85%, maximal sprinting) while stimulating the slow twitch fibers requires longer periods of lower intensity training. Occlusion training artificially stimulates both slow twitch AND fast twitch muscle fibers. The pressure from the bands restricts blood flow so there is insufficient blood volume. When the slow twitch muscles first start working they are in oxygen deprivation. This is an artificial inducement of the state achieved with high intensity work, which tricks the body into thinking there is a large load on the fast twitch fibers.
By using Occlusion Training, you can train both slow and fast twitch fibers in the same environment with lighter loads. (1)
Another factor of occlusion training is the pool of lactic acid in the muscles.
Lactic acid is produced by the breakdown of sugar into energy for muscle contractions. The more lactic acid produced the more growth hormone is secreted in response to lactic acid. This is known as exercise-induced growth hormone response (EIGR) and GH levels were found to increase 290 times above normal during Occlusion Training. (2)
And if that weren’t enough to convince you of the benefits, Occlusion Training has been shown to reduce myostatin concentrations. Myostatin is known as a myokine, a protein produced and released by myocytes that acts as a brake on muscle cells to limit muscle hypertrophy and muscle cell growth. (3)
How To Use Occlusion Training
First off, while many people have used it as a primary form of training, I do not recommend using Occlusion Training training as a sole means of training. I have found using occlusion training as an ancillary training protocol to be used after your heavy training to be the most effective.
We have been using 5 work sets for a given movement where we use a light weight to perform a prescribed amount of reps or to complete max reps in a given length of time. The goal is reach muscular failure during that time. The sets are divided by short rest periods of 30 seconds for smaller muscles and 60 seconds on larger ones.
Here’s an example of a brutal occlusion training set up for arms taken from the Jacked Street program:
My only caveat is you start conservative. The muscle being occluded should be wrapped tight enough to restrict blood leaving the muscle, not coming in like a tourniquet. That means start conservative and don’t crank the wrap/bands down until you understand the proper tightness to apply.
And a fair warning: occlusion training can be painful. With that in mind, be smart with your exercise selection and weight on a given movement. Most movements we use around 30-40% of a 1-rep max. The goal is failure and to drive as much blood in the given muscle as possible so it pools and cannot exit due to the band.
Now that you understand the science behind Occlusion Training and how it can benefit you, the only thing left to do is implement it in your programming.
Or if you want a detailed program with Occlusion training, check out Power Athlete’s Jacked Street.