To examine the effects of moderate-load exercise with and without blood-flow restriction (BFR) on strength, power, and repeated-sprint ability, along with acute and chronic salivary hormonal parameters.
Twenty male semiprofessional rugby union athletes were randomized to a lower-body BFR intervention (an occlusion cuff inflated to 180 mmHg worn intermittently on the proximal thighs) or a control intervention that trained without occlusion in a crossover design. Experimental sessions were performed 3 times a week for 3 wk with 5 sets of 5 repetitions of bench press, leg squat, and pull-ups performed at 70% of 1-repetition maximum.
Greater improvements were observed (occlusion training vs control) in bench press (5.4 ± 2.6 vs 3.3 ± 1.4 kg), squat (7.8 ± 2.1 vs 4.3 ± 1.4 kg), maximum sprint time (−0.03 ± 0.03 vs –0.01 ± 0.02 s), and leg power (168 ± 105 vs 68 ± 50 W). Greater exercise-induced salivary testosterone (ES 0.84–0.61) and cortisol responses (ES 0.65–0.20) were observed after the occlusion intervention sessions compared with the nonoccluded controls; however, the acute cortisol increases were attenuated across the training block.
Occlusion training can potentially improve the rate of strength-training gains and fatigue resistance in trained athletes, possibly allowing greater gains from lower loading that could be of benefit during high training loads, in competitive seasons, or in a rehabilitative setting. The clear improvement in bench-press strength resulting from lower-body occlusion suggests a systemic effect of BFR training.