Over the years, the world of bodybuilding has witnessed many diverse and creative workout methods, all of which are aimed to enrich an athlete’s performance toolkit.
One particularly interesting topic in strength training is Blood Flow Restriction (BFR), or occlusion training. This type of training involves the tight wrapping of limbs in order to prevent the blood flow to the muscle.
In this article, we will not focus on the methods and mechanics of BFR workouts. Instead, we will show you where to buy BFR bands that are safe to use and go through a quick comparison guide.
Where to buy BFR bands
The first time I can across BFR training was during a time that my local gym was closed for reconstruction. I was looking for alternative methods to get a quick pump, in order to maintain my muscle and burn some calories.
Long and behold, I came across the concept of BFR training. The concept excited me and I started wondering how I could get my hands on blood flow restriction bands as soon as possible.
After giving it some thought, I rushed out the door and to my local pharmacy.
After briefly describing what I was looking for, the middle-aged lady at the counter couldn’t decide whether I was a drug addict or plainly stupid. “Why the heck would you want to do something like that?”.
Without time to explain, I told her to show me the available options and ended up getting one that looked like this:
Now, there is nothing wrong with using medical occlusion bands. In fact, the first few workouts I got some incredible pumps lifting at 20% of my 1RM.
However, there was one thing I disliked. The bands were too stretchy, making it difficult to get the proper tightness. During a contraction movement, the bands would feel tighter and, during the excentric portion, the felt a little loose.
Aside from that, it didn’t take long for the edges of the thin strap to start curling inward, making every consecutive bfr arm workout more painful.
Ever since that time, I have done a lot of research and ordered quite a few blood flow restriction bands (they make a great gift for my clients).
Therefore, if you are wondering where to buy BFR bands, the answer may surprise you.
Simply use Amazon!
I’m serious. Each bodybuilding brand will come up with a different ridiculous feature that supposedly makes their bands unique.
Without much knowledge on the subject, you end up paying a bunch of money and receive a product that is no different than its cheaper competitors.
But, with so many options, how can you make a choice?
Worry not, dear lifter. After much testing, I have compiled a list of my top 3 picks when it comes blood restriction training bands for bodybuilding.
Best BFR bands
Blood flow restriction bands don’t need to be expensive, but they do need to serve their purpose. I personally use different bands depending on the muscle I am training and experience great (and safe) pumps.
Starktape BFR bands – The overall winner!
Starktape is the first company to understand and work on the biggest problem of bfr workouts – the length of the band.
When I first got those I was not even aware that the bands had different sizes. I just liked the design and decided to give them a go.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the bands were shorter (66cm), which is especially useful when training your arms (unless you are Greg Valentino). Naturally, our legs have a larger diameter than our arms, and finding a product that fits perfectly on all limbs is not easy.
When tested on a bfr leg workout, I found Starktape bands to work great, especially at leg extensions. The leg bands are 105cm long and I didn’t feel the plastic buckle at all. By using less than half the load of a typical first set, my quads felt ready to explode.
One more thing that often goes overlooked is how fast an athlete is able to remove the bands after his sets are completed (primarily for efficiency). Starktape bfr bands have a quick-release button that reminds of those buckles seen on the infamous TRX bands.
Overall, I use these bands for the last year and find them a great addition when I have to do some quick hotel-room workouts. With 3 years warranty, I doubt I will be changing them anytime soon.
2. PRO-X BFR bands – Best for leg workouts
The PRO-X is a serious business. They are twice as thick as normal BFR bands and come with an even more comfortable buckle to unlock after you’re done with your set.
Due to their durable built, I find them to be the best blood flow restriction bands for any bfr leg workout that you plan on doing.
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, I also like them because of the pressure tracking system.
While I don’t think its particularly smart to train at different pressure points (as there is no study that indicates tighter to be better) I find it to be very convenient when sharing your bands with your lifting partner.
All in all, I believe this to be a great pair of bfr bands, but not ideal for arm workouts, when it comes to my personal preference. I strongly recommend you go through the reviews of this product on Amazon to get a better idea of what users of the PRO-X think.
3. Foxter BFR bands – Best budget option
If you are looking for inexpensive BFR bands that are great for training arms, but not so much for legs, then consider using Foxter bands.
At less than half the price of the options above, this band is very similar to medical bfr bands in that the remaining length of the band that is not hugging your arms simply hangs and becomes somewhat annoying (if you are a snowflake and care too much about the details).
For me, I think it works great. It is not as elastic as medical bfr bands, due to its high-quality Polypropylene fabric that is hard on the outside and softer on the inside part of the band.
In many ways, these particular bands reminded me of lifting straps, due to their material and thickness. I would honestly not be surprised if someone mixes them up and tries to wrap them around a heavy barbell.
Frequently asked questions
Now that you know where to buy BFR bands, it’s time to answer some of your most commonly asked questions.
Do bfr bands work?
While initially approached with skepticism from the scientific community, over the years BFR training has shown to induce similar results in hypertrophy when compared with higher loads and proved to be an effective training method.
Are bfr bands safe?
To answer this question, we need to look at the existing literature. There are several studies that look into the safety and efficiency of BFR bands.
More specifically, a study made in 2011 by the Department of Health and Exercise Science concludes that: “Although still sparse, the blood flow restriction training research thus far is promising with respect to safety outcomes”.
To support this evidence comes an earlier study (2007) which found that, when blood flow towards a limb is cut, it takes up to two hours for any type of nerve and/or muscle damage to occur.
Now, if you’re like me, you just wanna hear things in plain English, without too much scientific talk. In short, BFR workouts are absolutely safe, and there is no evidence that shows any sort of dangers.
How to wrap BFR bands
One thing that is often overlooked is how and where to wrap BFR bands. While occlusion training can be used for all muscle groups, the athlete can only wrap the bands around the higher portion of their arms (under the deltoid muscle) and at the higher part of their legs (at the upper part of the quads).
For that reason, it is often believed that BFR workouts are only limited to arm and leg workouts, an idea that has some validity but is unnecessarily limited. In this section, however, we will not deal with all the types of exercises one can do following this training model.
When it comes to the wrapping part, studies have shown that the pressure on the limb needs to be high enough to restrict venous return, causing a blood pool, but needs to allow the arterial blood to flow into the muscle.
Another interesting study by Wilson et al (2013) looked into the perceived wrap tightness and tested which pressure point would maximize results. Measuring from a scale of 0 to 10, the researchers found that a perceived wrap tightness of 7-7.5 out of 10 provided the best results.
What is worth mentioning is that, even though not supported by any current scientific data, athletes have observed that the pressure of the occlusion bands should be higher when wrapping the arms (70-80%) and lower when wrapping the legs (50-60%).
Can I buy BFR bands from my local pharmacy?
Depending on your location, your pharmacy may sell BFR bands. However, from my personal experience, I would not recommend getting your bands from your local pharmacy for the following reasons:
- The quality of the bands is usually very low and only meant for its medical purposes
- The price is usually much higher compared to BFR bands bought online
- The pharmacy owner may know your mom and make her think that you are a drug addict.
Need I say more? When wondering where to buy BFR bands, save your money and buy good quality products from Amazon instead.
Can I lift heavy with BFR bands?
It is not recommended to lift heavy with BFR bands. Not only will it not have any additional benefit when compared with low-load training, but it will also make your muscles literally hurt.
When you decide to implement BFR into your workout, you should always remember that this training method is not meant to replace your heavy lifts. Instead, it is best to keep blood flow restriction training for accessory movements and isolation lifts, usually towards the end of your workout.
While inducing a high amount of metabolic stress, they don’t cause as much overload and muscle damage as your heavy compound lifts (Bench, Squat, DL, OHP).
How can I use occlusion training as part of my workout?
For push days – Use BFR bands towards the end of your workout, when you start training your triceps. If any dropsets were part of your tricep work, make sure you replace them with AMRAP.
For pull days – Use BFR bands after training your back, when you start your bicep exercises. If any drop sets were part of your tricep work, make sure you replace them with AMRAP. Experiment with isometric work as well.
For leg days – Use BFR for leg extensions and seated/lying hamstring curls, using a low load and very controlled movements. You can also use them when training your calves from a standing position.
For arm days – Use them for the last exercise of both biceps and triceps to maximize the hypertrophy result.
It is recommended to take a max break of 30 seconds between sets and perform a maximum of 4 sets per exercise.
How many reps should I do with BFR bands?
The most practiced and recommended rep scheme using BFR bands is as follows:
- Perform 30 repetitions in your first set and take a short, 30-second break, afterwards.
- Perform 15 repetitions for each of the next 3 sets and rest for 15-30 seconds in between.
This should give you a total of 75 repetitions in a very short amount of time.
You could see the first set as the priming load to start the Lactic acid cycle. Performing a high amount of reps on your first set will feel very easy, especially for the trained individual, but it will set you up for 3 challenging sets shortly after.
Are there any side effects of occlusion training?
When looking at occlusion training side effects, the following has been observed in amateur and trained individuals:
- Numbness, pain, and discomfort
- Delayed onset muscle soreness