Nicholas M. Licameli, PT, DPT
Life has its ups, downs, and turn arounds…none of which quite compare to having a baby! In this anecdote, we will discuss how blood flow restriction training was used to allow a new father and professional natural bodybuilder to keep training despite developing significant elbow pain due to prolonged periods of lifting and carrying his newborn baby. Shhh, don’t let any moms out there here that a man is complaining about elbow pain postpartum when she pushed a bowling ball out of her…well you know…
This athlete was a 30 y/o male professional natural bodybuilder with 10+ years of training experience. His last competitive season was 2018 and he was in the midst of his offseason. After recovering both mentally and physically from contest prep, he had been making steady improvements in strength and hypertrophy while sticking to a strategic caloric surplus and intelligent training program.
For a natural bodybuilder, the offseason is absolutely crucial. Since natural bodybuilders do not take anabolic steroids, the process of dieting for a competition causes significant loss of muscle mass and strength, even with the most intelligent and genetically gifted individuals. Natural athletes get smaller and weaker during contest prep and bigger and stronger in the offseason. The offseason is a time for progression, adaptation, and building and missing out on that time could be career altering for a seasoned natural competitor. It is understandable then, that having an injury during an offseason would be problematic for a natural pro.
As previously mentioned, this individual just welcomed his first child into the world 4 months prior to the insidious onset of pain. Sleepless nights, stress, change of daily activities, and countless dirty diapers (so many dirty diapers) were now a regular part of his life. He managed to set up a modest yet comprehensive home gym prior to his child being born, which allowed him to maintain his training throughout. This was not only helpful for his bodybuilding goals, but also his physical and mental health.
It was at this point that he started noticing some nagging right elbow pain during curls and rows. He didn’t think anything of it at the time and kept training around the pain. He then started noticing pain during daily activities like opening doors, lifting grocery bags, and carrying/maneuvering his newborn. Training was one thing, but the fact that he couldn’t hold his child was devastating. In the most general sense, we can say that a decrease in capacity and an increase in novelty and load is what contributed the manifestation of these symptoms. But what should our guy do next? How could we modify training to reduce pain while maintaining a training effect?
Our athlete decided to give BFR training a whirl, along with several other training and lifestyle modifications. He used BFR training primarily on biceps and triceps movements, which allowed him to maintain a training effect with lighter loads. He also used hook grips on rowing movements and tried to consciously use his unaffected arm when pulling and carrying. Finally, he changed the way he was lifting and maneuvering his child, which helped tremendously. This last modification is akin to changing squat technique ever so slightly to alter the stress placed on sensitive joints and soft tissues. Over the next few weeks and months, he was able to gradually reduce the modifications and train without limitation. He still had to change dirty diapers though…
Was BFR training the reason our athlete did so well and recovered from nagging elbow pain? Of course not. Did BFR training play a key role in his ability to accelerate the healing process, maintain strength when heavy loading was not possible or safe, and increase confidence? You bet!
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