Another BFR Success Story: A Power Lifter in Pain


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Another BFR Success Story: A Power Lifter in Pain
Nicholas M. Licameli, PT,DPT

It was just like any other training day for this 39-year-old professional natural bodybuilder, Olympic weight lifter, strongman, highland games competitor, and powerlifter.  It was three weeks out from his much anticipated powerlifting meet, when he felt it…a pop and pull in his hamstring/adductor during a deadlift.  While he was for sure discouraged, this veteran of the iron didn’t pack it up and go home, but rather moved onto the bench press.  While bench-pressing, to his unpleasant surprise, he felt a pop in is pec.  This was it…Not only did this steal the meet out of his hands, he thought, it also made his future demise in the iron game inevitable and long-term career impossible.  

He was three weeks out from a powerlifting meet, unable to squat, bench, or deadlift due to pain and fear of further joint and soft tissue damage.  Our athlete did what any responsible athlete would do and sought out a qualified healthcare provider.  Imaging was negative for red flags and he was cleared to resume exercise as tolerated.  Now what?  How could he possibly maintain the size and strength that he worked so hard to achieve without lifting heavy weights?  

Powerlifters and bodybuilders will all likely feel pain at some point.  In fact, it is hard to imagine an athlete going through a career and never experiencing some sort of pain.  After all, pain is a normal human sensation just like hunger or thirst.  We likely all know that blood flow restriction (BFR) training can act as a way to maintain a training effect using lighter loads, especially while working around injuries. 

First, let’s briefly talk about pain and injury.  For more on managing and reducing pain and injury, be sure to check out this previous article of mine titled, A Guide to Injury Reduction and Management, which can be accessed right here.

After ruling out red flags, we approach pain and injury by gradually exposing the body to the edge of discomfort to desensitize the system to the desired movements while maintaining a training effect.  It is here where BFR truly shines.  The goal is to find a pain-sensitizing variable such as load, volume, RPE, range of motion, exercise selection, sleep quality, stress management, hydration, recovery, etc., then offer modifications to keep the athlete training as close to the desired level as possible.  Once we load and train the system with the modifications in place, we slowly progress back to where we want to be, in a stepwise fashion.  As we modify training variables, we are likely forced to sacrifice adaptation to some degree.  However, BFR helps maintain a training effect while modifying around pain and injury!  Basically, it allows us to achieve a minimum effective dosage at volumes, loads, and intensities that would otherwise be insufficient.  

Our athlete performed light load squats and bench presses with BFR and pulled his deadlift from an elevated surface with lighter loads.  After a week, he noticed he was able to train with a bit more intensity and higher loads.  He progressed another week, which brought him into his pre competition taper.  On the day of the meet, our athlete was nervous, but also confident because he was able to continuously perform the competition lifts while recovering from his injuries.  He ended up hitting a PR on the deadlift as well as a career-high total on meet day.  He continued to use BFR following the meet until he felt he was able to lift heavier, at which point he put the BFR cuffs away in the toolbox to use in the future.  

Was BFR training the reason our athlete did so well on meet day despite having an injury?  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!

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?


Are you ready to meet the growing demand as a Confident BFR Provider?

Be sure to check out our engaging 4-hour On Demand On-Line BFR Training course right HERE

Our course is for both Rehab and Fitness professionals and will provide everything you will need to overcome the three hurdles for successful BFR Training and help guide you to become a Confident Successful BFR Provider.

****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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