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AirBands – Blood Flow Restriction: The ‘next big trend’ in training?

RESTRICTING blood flow might seem like a counterintuitive training technique, but last year Forbes described it as “the next big fitness trend”.

BFR works by reducing venous blood flow out of the limb, while leaving the arterial blood flow in largely unaffected. This causes an “accumulation of metabolites around the muscle,” according to the University of Mississippi’s Jeremy Loenneke, a leading researcher on the technique.

Put simply, training with BFR at low loads can lead to a change in muscle size similar to that of traditional high-load resistance exercise. The protocol has already been used by organisations ranging from NASA to Premier League teams to rehab facilities for the elderly.

Traditional BFR training cuffs traditionally resembled the blood-pressure meters (sphygmomanometers) doctors use to measure blood pressure, wrapping around the limb and inflating through a tube, via either a hand pump or bulky external device.

Now VALD Performance, the company behind the NordBord, ForceDecks and ForceFrame, has released AirBands – wirelessly-controlled cuffs that detect personalised pressure zones and connect to an app via Bluetooth.

Elite 400m runner Alex Beck tested the early prototypes and said the cuffs were instrumental in 2019 being his best ever year.

“A lot of that is down to load management, which the AirBands have made a big difference in,” the Australian, a 400m relay finalist at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, explained.

Beck has been using the product to maintain quality gym work without compromising his track training.

In athletics, as in football, there’s a fine balance between maintaining sufficient loads while not overloading and risking injury.

“As an elite athlete, you’re always on a knife edge; over-train and risk injuring yourself, or under-train and risk not being ready to perform,” Beck explained.

“I’m usually on the track four times a week, which results in a lot of load, so the AirBands are enabling me to not just maintain that over a 12-month period, but also still make strength improvements. I can ensure I get quality strength work in without compromising my track work.

“I’ll often do body weight or low-load exercises and still feel like I’m getting a high-quality session in. For example, if I’m squatting, I could put 180kg on my back and my knees might pull up a little sore the next day, especially as I’m getting older.

“Or alternatively, sometimes I can put the AirBands on and squat as little as 40kg instead, but still get a similar adaptation. I obviously still need to go heavy as much as I can, but it’s great to be able to have the ability to back it off without sacrificing progress.

“I’ll also regularly AirBands for running arms, so I would often put the cuffs on the upper limb and go through arm drills. Being a 400m runner, I spend a lot of time working on my lactic system. The cuffs help simulate the feeling towards the end of a race when the arms get heavy and hard to move.

“They are also useful when I’m travelling and competing on the circuit, staying in hotels throughout Europe. Using AirBands, I can usually still ensure I get a decent session in, even when a lot of the hotels don’t have very good gyms.

“10kg are often the heaviest dumbbells a lot of hotels have, but with the AirBands I can still feel like I’m doing a significantly heavier session, and ensure I’m still maintaining my strength.”

With BFR becoming more user-friendly, we might see the likes of AirBands becoming more widely used in football and among the general public as well.

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