Blood Flow Restriction Training for Arms (Complete Guide)

blood flow restriction training for arms

For athletes who train for powerlifting, CrossFit, or weightlifting, having strong arms helps improve stability and prevent upper body injuries. One way to strengthen the arms is to incorporate blood flow restriction training (BFR) into your routine.

So, does blood flow restriction training for the arms work? Yes, blood flow restriction training for arms works. Athletes who want to strengthen their arms or develop a well-rounded physique can incorporate BFR into their regular training routine. BFR training is effective on its own, but combining it with another resistance training program can enhance its benefits.

In this article, I’ll talk about how blood flow restriction works, dig into the research behind blood flow restriction, discuss who should and shouldn’t use BFR training, and provide some example BFR workouts for arms.

At the end, I’ve also included some BFR band recommendations for you to consider.

Check out my other blood flow restriction guides:

What Does Blood Flow Restriction Mean?

Blood flow restriction involves completely cutting off blood flow from the veins to the heart while partially cutting off blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. 

BFR was first discovered in the 1970s and 1980s and was traditionally used in physical therapy and rehab settings. It has become increasingly popular in professional sports and has been making its way into commercial gyms over the past few years.

Research shows that training at 60-80% of your 1RM is the most effective way to increase both strength and hypertrophy. With BFR, you can achieve the same stimulus by training at 20-30% of your 1RM.

This is because blood flow restriction limits the amount of oxygen the muscles receive. When this happens, the body activates fast-twitch type 2 muscle fibers and encourages protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle repair and muscle strength.

Does Blood Flow Restriction Work for Arms? (3 Benefits)

Three benefits of using BFR for arms are:

  1. Increased hypertrophy
  2. Increased muscular strength
  3. Improved recovery

In need of some BFR Bands? We tested the 6 most popular brands on the market. Check out our article on the Best Flood Flow Restriction Bands to find out the winner.

1. Increased hypertrophy

One study suggests that BFR induces arm hypertrophy due to increased muscle activation of the biceps and triceps.

Another study showed that biceps size increased in older women who performed low-intensity BFR training. They showed similar results to a group that performed high-intensity training without BFR.

It is important to note that the women in this study had no history of resistance training. They were likely able to gain new muscle mass more easily than trained individuals.

However, other studies such as this one have shown that BFR training can induce hypertrophy in trained individuals. It can be assumed that using BFR for arms can help increase muscle size of the biceps and triceps even in individuals who have been training for several years.

Related Article: Is it Better To Do Bicep Curls Standing or Sitting?

2. Increased muscular strength

A study that examined the effects of BFR training on 62 collegiate athletes showed that BFR training can result in significant strength increases when combined with another strength program.

The subjects in this study were divided into four groups. Three of the groups performed a high-intensity upper- and lower-body split routine.

Two of the three groups performed supplemental squat and bench press work at the end of their routines. One of the groups completed the supplemental work with BFR. They performed the movements at 20% of their 1RMs and performed one set of 30 reps and 3 sets of 20 reps.

The third group performed a modified version of the upper-lower split routine with supplemental BFR training at the end. A fourth group was used as a control group and did not perform any additional training.

After seven weeks, all four groups showed increases in both squat and bench press strength. However, the group that performed high-intensity training in addition to BFR training showed the greatest increases.

The group that followed a modified training routine with supplemental BFR training produced the lowest strength increases.

This suggests that combining BFR with another resistance training routine can yield the greatest increases in strength.

If you’re looking for recommendations on which powerlifting program is right for you, check out our reviews of some popular programs HERE.

Check out my article on How Do Powerlifters Train Arms

3. Improved recovery

Some studies such as this one show that using BFR as a post-training recovery tool has no significant impact on post-training recovery.

Another study examined whether resting BFR (wearing BFR wraps during rest periods only) can achieve similar results as continuous BFR. The resting BFR group reported lower perceived pain and exertion values compared to the continuous BFR group.

However, even though this study showed positive results, applying and removing BFR bands in between each set may be more time-consuming than wearing them continuously.

What Are the Risks of Using BFR for Arms?

what are the risks of using blood flow restriction for arms

When BFR training is done correctly, there are very few risks. Studies show that it is a safe training method for healthy individuals.

With that said, some complications from BFR training can occur, including:

  • Rhabdomyolysis, which occurs when damaged muscle tissue enters the bloodstream
  • Damage to the veins or arteries
  • Numbness or tingling in the affected arm
  • Dizziness and fainting

Over the past couple of years, concerns have been raised about BFR causing blood clots. However, research has shown that there is a less than 0.06% chance of this happening in healthy individuals when BFR bands are used correctly.

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

Who Should Do Blood Flow Restriction for Arms?

Powerlifters and CrossFitters who have muscle weaknesses can use blood flow restriction to help strengthen the arms.

For example, powerlifters with a weak bench press lockout or CrossFitters with weak overhead strength can benefit from adding 2 sessions per week of BFR training for the triceps. This can help improve pressing strength.

For CrossFitters, BFR training for arms can also improve muscular endurance, which can help when doing high reps of movements such as push presses, push jerks, and muscle-ups.

BFR training for arms is a good option for bodybuilders who want to add more volume to their current routine without overtraining. BFR can also be done by anyone who is training for both strength and aesthetics.

Injured individuals or anyone who is unable to lift heavy weight can also benefit from BFR training for arms.

Are isolation exercises necessary for powerlifters? The answer is yes. Check out our article, Do Powerlifters Do Isolation Exercises? (Yes, Here’s How), to find out more.

Who Shouldn’t Do Blood Flow Restriction for Arms?

Anyone who has been diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure should avoid BFR training.

Pregnant women and individuals who have a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or cancer should also not use blood flow restriction.

Additionally, while several research studies have shown the effectiveness of BFR on untrained individuals, I don’t recommend it for new lifters. If you’re new to training, it’s more important to build consistency and get used to regular resistance training first.

If you have one arm bigger than the other, check out my article How To Even Out Your Bicep.

How Do You Use BFR for Arms?

how do you use blood flow restriction for arms

When using BFR training for the arms, the bands are wrapped at the top of the shoulders, just below the armpit. They should be layered and should not cover a large surface area because it increases the risk of completely occluding the arteries.

The bands should be tight but they shouldn’t be uncomfortable. For the arms, they should fit at around 4-6 on a scale of 1-10.

Research shows that BFR bands have the same effects whether they are wrapped at 40% tightness or 80%. It’s better to have them too loose than too tight. You should err on the side of caution, especially when you’re just starting with BFR training.

You’ll know the bands are tight enough if your skin becomes darker and redder. The vascularity in your forearms and hands will become more noticeable. You should still be able to feel your pulse at the wrist.

Most arm exercises that you use to build strength and hypertrophy can be used with BFR training. This includes tricep extensions, close-grip bench press, any variation of bicep curls, and bodyweight exercises such as chin ups and dips.

You can also incorporate tempo work or pauses with BFR training.

Check out our guide on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises To Increase Bench Press

How Do You Program BFR Training for Arms?

how do you program blood flow restriction training for arms

BFR training for arms is most effective when it’s done with high reps, light weights, and short rest periods. It is recommended to only do 2-4 movements at a time.

A common rep scheme for BFR training is 1 set of 30 followed by 3 sets of 15, with 30 seconds of rest in between each set. The amount of rest in between sets can be longer depending on the movement, but it should be no longer than 2 minutes.

If you’re combining multiple movements, you should rest for 1-2 minutes in between each one. But if you’re supersetting exercises for the biceps and triceps, you can transition from one movement to the other with minimal rest in between.

BFR training for arms works well as a finisher at the end of your bench press or upper body days. Low-intensity BFR training doesn’t cause muscle damage, so you can also use it on a rest day or during a deload week.

Wondering if it’s better to do bicep curls one at a time or together, check out my article Is It Better To Do Bicep Curls One At A Time?

2 BFR for Arms Workout Examples

These BFR workouts for arms can be done on their own if you’re short on time, or you can use them as a finisher at the end of your regular lifting routine.

If you want to train biceps and triceps in the same workout, you can superset movements from each workout. Just be sure to keep the total workout session to less than 20 minutes in order to avoid overexerting yourself.

Many lifters like to combine BFR training with specialized equipment, such as using arm blasters. We tested and reviewed the 7 Best Arm Blasters – click to check out our results.

1. BFR Workout for Biceps

  • Warm-up
  • Dumbbell bicep curls, 1×30
  • Dumbbell bicep curls, 3×15

Rest for 30 seconds in between each set. Rest for one minute at the end of the last set, then perform:

  • Dumbbell hammer curls, 1×30
  • Dumbbell hammer curls, 3×15

Rest for 30 seconds in between each set. Rest for 1-2 minutes at the end of the last set, then perform:

  • Chinups, 4xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)

Rest for 1-2 minutes in between each set.

2. BFR Workout for Triceps

  • Warm-up
  • Close-grip bench press, 1×30
  • Close-grip bench press, 3×15

Rest for 30 seconds in between each set. Rest for 1-2 minutes at the end of the last set, then perform:

  • Overhead tricep extensions, 1×30
  • Overhead tricep extensions, 3×15

Rest for 30 seconds in between each set. Rest for 1-2 minutes at the end of the last set, then perform:

  • Dips, 4xAMRAP

Looking for more ideas on how to train the arms? Check out our guide on how powerlifters train arms.

Frequently Asked Questions: BFR Training for Arms

1. How Often Should I Do BFR Training for Arms?

BFR training for arms can be done anywhere between 2-4 days per week. If you’re new to BFR training, start with 2 days per week and work your way up.

Related Articles: Is It Okay To Do Bicep Curls Every Day?

2. Is BFR for Arms Dangerous?

No. As long as you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, BFR training for arms is safe. However, care should always be taken to ensure your BFR bands aren’t wrapped too tight.

3. Does BFR for Arms Increase Size?

Yes, BFR training for arms can increase muscle size. For best results, BFR training should be incorporated with another progressive overload program in order to induce hypertrophy.

Product Recommendations: BFR Bands

BFR bands are available in a variety of sizes and materials. They can also vary widely in price.

I just reviewed a new BFR band to hit the market, which I actually think beats most of these other products that I cover below. Read more about this new type of BFR band in my other article: SAGA BFR Band Cuffs Review

Below are two BFR bands that I recommend for training arms.

1. Gymreapers Occlusion Straps

These straps come in a pack of four: two bands for the legs and two bands for the arms.

They are made from a smooth elastic and nylon material that won’t irritate your skin or stretch out, even after multiple wears.

All of the bands have size indicators, so once you’ve found the ideal level of tightness for you, you can easily replicate the same amount of pressure on both arms for every workout.

The Gymreapers bands have a hook-and-loop fastener, which makes it easy for you to adjust them by yourself. They also have an extra loop that allows you to secure excess material.

Check to see whether the occlusion straps are cheaper on Amazon or direct from Gymreapers. If there are no price differences, I recommend ordering direct from Gymreapers to get better customer service.

2. BFR Bands: Occlusion Training Bands, PRO Slim Model

The slim design of these bands makes them an ideal choice for training the smaller muscle groups of the arms.

These bands are numbered as well, which allows you to achieve the same amount of pressure from workout to workout. They also have a patent-pending buckle that will keep them secure, so you don’t have to worry about them becoming loose during your workout.

Included with these bands is an instructional ebook that teaches you how to use the bands properly.

Final Thoughts

BFR training for arms is an effective method of strengthening the triceps and biceps. If you want to continue training while recovering from an injury, work on weaknesses in your pressing strength, or you just want to develop a well-rounded physique, BFR training can help you achieve your goals.

Because BFR training is done with light weights, it can be added to your powerlifting, bodybuilding, or CrossFit training routine without negatively impacting recovery. And while BFR training does come with some risks, the chances of causing severe damage are low if you do it correctly.

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About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.