Another BFR Success Story: Chris Hemsworth Revisited

 

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Another BFR Success Story: Chris Hemsworth Revisited
Nicholas M. Licameli, PT,DPT

 

 

Some time ago, we featured the thunder god himself, Chris Hemsworth.  I want to start by saying that I have a lot of respect for any actor that puts in the work to build a physique to match the role.  With the help of CGI and skillful editing, many actors and actresses are able to play larger than life characters with less than larger than life physiques of their own.  There are, however, some who have embraced the Iron Game and take pride in bringing the best physique possible to the big screen. Over the course of his career, it is hard to argue the fact that Chris Hemsworth has built an awe-inspiring physique worthy of portraying one of the most iconic superheroes of all time.  Much like Hugh Jackman and Dwayne Johnson, Chris Hemsworth has become known for his impressive physical presence in all of his roles.

On September 2nd, 2021, Hemsworth made an IG post that showed him using BFR during an arm training session.  In the video, Hemsworth’s trainer explains that BFR training, “targets fast twitch muscle fibers and trains the body’s ability to tolerate the build up of lactic acid.”  Hemsworth explains that his history of tennis elbow limits his ability to lift heavy loads.  To that, his trainer explains that with BFR, “you don’t even have to go heavy.”  In the video, Hemsworth struggles and fights through four grueling sets of a dumbbell hammer curl (4×10) and isometric rope hang (5 seconds each side) superset.

As they say, all good things come to an end.  No, Chris Hemsworth has not let himself go, but he has let BFR training go, according to an article on Insider.com.  While there isn’t a specific reason given as to why Hemsworth stopped using BFR training, here are four possible reasons why.

  1. Hemsworth and his trainer could have stopped using BFR simply to change things up.  That’s right folks, there could have been no actual reason for stopping BFR training.  As we know, BFR should be used as an adjunct to traditional training and as a bridge to heavy training in those who are load compromised.  Chris Hemsworth is a relatively healthy athletic person, so cycling on and off BFR is a perfectly viable option.
  1. As previously mentioned, Hemsworth’s history of tennis elbow was limiting his ability to lift heavy loads back in September 2021.  Perhaps the pain subsided and he chose to transition away from BFR and back to traditional training.  It’s possible that BFR allowed Hemsworth to maintain a training effect while desensitizing the pain response. Again, excellent usage of BFR.
  1. Maybe his goals changed.  It’s possible that for Thor and Extraction, Hemsworth’s goal was strictly hypertrophy.  For Extraction 2, his goals may have been focused on athleticism and overall physical fortitude (plyometrics, lifting, carrying, jumping, bounding, throwing, endurance, etc.).  While BFR can definitely assist in those physical adaptations, dropping the BFR training could improve specificity to task.  When considering using BFR, always remember the patient/client’s goals.  Another possible goal adjustment could have been a shift to focus on heavy load training for a mesocycle or two.  BFR would not be a good tool in this instance due to the light loads associated with BFR training.  
  1. The last reason I could think of as to why Chris Hemsworth stopped using BFR training is that he and his trainer were a bit too ambitious out of the gates with some of the BFR parameters used in the original IG post: a familiarization session, proximity to failure, exercise selection, and pressure.  I could be wrong, but there was no mention of a familiarization session for Hemsworth.  We at the BFR Pros recommend a familiarization session, which could include passive BFR, submaximal isometrics, and possibly some single joint movements.  The familiarization session likely blunts many of the responses associated with increasing the intensity of BFR exercise, including delayed onset muscle soreness, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and greater perceptual responses. In effect, the familiarization session allows the individual to experience BFR but at a lesser intensity despite exercising to exhaustion.  In his IG post, the actor performs 4 sets of a superset of hammer curls and suspended rope hangs, both to failure.  That’s pretty much the most intense version of BFR one could do!  It may have been better to start off with a non-failure protocol and just 3 sets of hammer curls.  From there, we could progress volume, load, or proximity to failure through graded exposure as well as introduce some multi-joint exercises like the suspended hang from the original post.

Before we wrap up, the Insider article offers some information about BFR and states, 

“The technique, also used by athletes in the Tokyo Olympics, involved wrapping rubber bands around his arms before a weight-lifting session — typically dumbbell curls. The device caused the veins in his arms to noticeably protrude. It’s well-known among trainers as a tactic to trap blood in the arm, causing lactic acid to build up, triggering the release of a growth hormone.”

While I think we all joined in together for a collective face palm after that explanation (smack!), the article also states that BFR, “pumps’ up the muscle, really stretching it — this sensation is incredibly painful and may stimulate muscular hypertrophy because of this swelling effect.”  The article also says that other than the severe discomfort, BFR is relatively safe, however shouldn’t be used by people with high blood pressure, varicose veins, or deep-vein thrombosis.  While definitely not face palm worthy and is overall decent advice for those new to BFR, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.  For specifics on the safety of BFR, be sure to check out Dr. Rolnick’s landmark paper titled, Perceived Barriers to Blood Flow Restriction Training right here

So there you have it!  That’s my take on why Chris Hemsworth may have stopped BFR training.  Either way, the man has built a great physique and he clearly has a love for physical fitness and muscle building.  

Sometimes this type of BFR publicity is good, but it could also be bad.  It’s good because it gets the word out, but it can be bad if those new to BFR use the protocol seen in Hemsworth’s IG post.  I’m actually quite optimistic.  I think this type of publicity is good. My fear is that mainstream media coverage of BFR training will cause people to focus on methods rather foundational principles of exercise and muscular adaptation such as adherence, progressive overload, sleep, nutrition, hydration, stress management, etc.  It will no doubt help introduce people to BFR training, which will spark an interest.  In 2022, once an interest is sparked, the searching starts…Google, social media, Facebook groups, forums…you name it!  Why is that a good thing?  BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE BFR PROS COME IN!  With the support of our growing community and devotion to consistently producing authentic evidence-based content, WE CAN BE THAT LANDING PLACE!  Imagine a young trainee watching Chris Hemsworth’s Instagram video, then after a quick search, stumbling on our Facebook group , Instagram page, or BFR course!  What an impactful time in a person’s lifting journey to be exposed to quality resources like that!  

We can make a difference and we can be leaders in our field, but we need your help!  Spread the word!  We’re here and won’t stop until our job is done.  Who’s with us?

Link to Chris Hemsworth’s Instagram post:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTVjeZjBLHs/

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****Remember, the use of BFR training should not be based solely on a success story.  The decision to use BFR, or any treatment for that matter, should be based on the pillars of evidence-based practice.

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