A common and physically uncomfortable training technique used by some Olympic competitors has experts torn apart about its benefits and risks.
Athletes in Tokyo 2020 – such as Americans Kayla Miracle, the wrestler, and Michael Andrew, the swimmer – were seen On social media And In the practice pool Restricting blood flow to certain extremities with tourniquets.
blood flow restriction (BFR) Training began in Japan and flew under the radar for decades before gaining popularity in recent years, according to researcher Jamie Burr, associate professor of human health and nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph. He’s been studying BFR for more than a decade in his lab.
He said in an interview with CBC News that BFR allows athletes to do lighter exercises while tricking their bodies into responding as if they were training harder. But it comes with risks.
“It feels like you’re lifting a lot heavier weights,” said Burr, who tried it himself.
The effect is minimal, he said, but well worth it for elite athletes.
Find live streaming, must-watch videos, breaking news and more in one package perfect for the Olympics. Following on from Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.
More from Tokyo 2020
“The changes we talk about are usually in the range, let’s call it one to three percent. In the Olympics, that’s the margin within being on the podium or coming off the podium or maybe not qualifying for the finals.”
But he said BFR does carry risks, including nerve damage and blood clots, if done incorrectly.
Some players on the Canadian Olympic rugby team use BFR, but only for injury rehabilitation training, according to Danielle Mah, a physical therapist who worked with some of the players until their departure for Tokyo.
“It’s a horrible experience, but they definitely give it a try,” she said.
“It’s an uncomfortable process, but the fact that they can retain muscle mass after surgeries, and situations where they can’t train, it’s a great tool.”
She said the rugby team doesn’t use it for general training because the benefits are minimal compared to traditional weight training.
Dr. Christopher Raynor, MD, a sports orthopedic doctor in Cornwall, Ontario, says rehabilitation training is a good time to use BFR. He says he works with patients with physical limitations, such as people who have just injured or had surgery, but he wants to see more evidence that he’s working for more general training.
“Maybe this will work, but I can’t really hang my hat on it,” Raynor said in an interview.
He noted that the studies that were conducted used small sample sizes, and the ideal amount of pressure is not yet known.
He says Olympic athletes can try BFR because they are in a unique position.
“They are willing to take a risk because if you can finish a hundredth of a second before your opponent, that makes you a gold medalist and they are a silver medalist. So they are willing to do it,” he said.
“But we also have to keep in mind that when they travel, they have a full medical team with them.”
Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health, Law and Politics at the University of Alberta, says the BFR is different from other fitness trends that appear at every Olympic Games.
He told her “biological plausibility”, while directions are like cupping – i.e. Michael Phelps And the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Both tried – did not. Cupping is a technique that uses heated cups to create suction on the skin to relieve pain.
“I think we always need to be careful about how we translate science, especially in the exercise space where there are a lot of variables involved,” Caulfield said.
“Often these things are presented as if they were to have this enormous, enormous benefit. But often to the recreational athlete, the benefit may be much less, if any.”