What Is Muscle Hypertrophy? How Does BFR Help?

In dealing with Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training, you’ll come across the term hypertrophy (hai-PUR-truh-fee). But what exactly does this term mean in conjunction with BFR, and how can muscle hypertrophy benefit from BFR training? BFR training can lead to increased muscle hypertrophy and significant progress for your patients.

What Is Muscle Hypertrophy?

In simplest terms, muscle hypertrophy is the growth and size increase of muscle cells, leading to larger muscles and greater strength. For muscle growth to occur, two essential components must take place: stimulation and repair.

Stimulation occurs during exercise when the muscle contracts. Repeated contractions cause damage to the muscle fibers, and the body then acts to repair that damage by producing new muscle fibers. To compensate for the damaged fibers, the body produces more fibers, causing muscle growth. 

Hypertrophy is possible through resistance training (weight training). By increasing the number of sets and reps while decreasing the intensity via longer rest periods, hypertrophy occurs.

Why Is Muscle Hypertrophy Important?

Muscle hypertrophy has several benefits. The practice can improve aesthetics and aid in fat loss. The biggest benefit, especially in terms of immediate health-related benefits, is the improved functioning of joints, tendons, and ligaments. This is especially important as we age — muscle hypertrophy can help us maintain mobility and an active lifestyle.

Muscle hypertrophy also helps decrease the chance of injury, especially for high-performance athletes. Through muscle hypertrophy, patients improve their muscle’s motor learning and enhance muscle strength. The increase in the number of sets and reps also helps promote a boost in nutrient transfer to the muscle cells, which helps stimulate muscle growth and gains. 

This reduced risk of injury is important not only for athletes but also for people with active lifestyles and older adults who still want to maintain and advance their exercise and fitness routines. 

How Does BFR Help with Muscle Hypertrophy?

BFR training (What is BFR? – link to this blog article here) can help with muscle hypertrophy and further promote its positive results. Unlike traditional physical therapy, BFR training (What is the Difference Between BFR and Traditional Physical Therapy? – link to this blog article here) limits the amount of oxygen available to the muscle. Because slow-twitch, Type I muscle fibers require that oxygen as fuel, they aren’t active during BFR training. This, in turn, helps recruit Type II muscle fibers, which are bigger and faster. 

With a 170% growth hormone secretion level with BFR training compared to normal resistance training, the impacts and benefits for IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor-1), MTORC1 (mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1), and myostatin are significant. BFR training increases muscle protein synthesis and improves the ability to build muscle dramatically. 

This is excellent news for elderly and bed-ridden patients, as well as those with mobility issues and those going through rehab. These patients can see significant positive results without the high-intensity exercise you would normally associate with building muscle. Those who don’t have the ability to train aggressively and at a high intensity can still experience the positive outcomes and improve their overall quality of life through BFR training.