Small and unobtrusive
Easy to inflate and apply
Sizing isn't totally inclusive
The feel takes some getting used to
It can interfere with heart rate monitors worn on your arm
B Strong Training System
We put the B Strong Blood Flow Restriction Bands to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.
Like many people, my body has been choosy about how it lets the world know I work out a lot. In the past year, I've developed enviable abs and sculpted shoulders, but my arms for some reason refuse to join the visible-muscle party. Due to numerous injuries that center around a one-inch chunk of my scapula being surgically removed two decades ago, I'm confined to using only very light dumbbells for weights. And while I spent a full season doing Tracy Anderson's "Tiny Arms" workouts, the results were so minimal you'd never have known I exercised my arms at all.
Because of this incongruity in visible musculature, when I heard about B Strong blood flow restriction bands and their bold claim to improve muscle tone quickly, I was eager to try them. Read on to find out if using them for strength training and spin for several weeks has gotten me any closer to sculpting the biceps I've dreamed about.
BEST FOR: Building muscle bulk and enhancing muscle tone
USES: Can be worn for any exercise, but are most useful with weight training
SIZE RANGE: One size
ABOUT THE BRAND: B Strong was founded by an MD, with the goal of bringing an Olympic athlete training method to home exercisers. Though priced at several hundred dollars, B Strong is one of the least expensive options for inflatable blood flow restriction bands. They have conducted two peer-reviewed studies on their product's effectiveness.
What Are B Strong Bands?
These don't look like your typical workout equipment! B Strong bands are inflatable bands with velcro closures that you wrap around your upper arms and legs. The velcro closure is adjustable, so that you get the tightness needed for your size.
The bands function off the premise of blood flow restriction training. That's a practice in which, by limiting the amount of blood flow to a body part, you trick your muscles into thinking they are exhausted much more quickly than they actually are. In turn, your muscles are put into hypertrophy (AKA growth) with less work. BFR training involves wearing the bands while performing exercises for a duration of time. B Strong bands can be used for both muscle bulking and muscle toning.
Asked how these came about, Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen told me: "I saw the tremendous benefits, BFR had on the Olympians I train and the normal populations I worked with on a daily basis. My partner and I wanted all populations, at all levels of fitness to read those benefits and developed B Strong BFR Bands in response to the many problems with other BFR bands that came before us."
How To Use B Strong Bands
To wear these bands, you first inflate them to a pressure that is appropriate for your size. To find this number, you enter your physical information into their website, and it calculates a pressure number for you to start at. You then use the pump to inflate the bands. Then, you fasten the bands onto your limbs and exercise. The site also offers visual guidance for wear to place them, and sample workouts you can do to help you understand how to use the bands most effectively.
Just like normal weight training, for muscle toning you'll focus on smaller weights, and for muscle growth you'll focus on larger ones. Even if your goal is muscle growth, though, you'll use lower weights than one would normally choose for bulking, and for more repetitions than is standard. By improving your metabolic response, you get more benefits from the smaller weights than you would from larger ones. The usage of lighter weights no matter what your fitness goals reduces your risk of injury, and puts less wear and tear on your muscles. Because of that, these can be worn by people who are recovering from injuries, or are beginners with weights.
The guide that comes with the bands has suggestions for how to alter the pressure after your first session. That's based on how fatigued your muscles became with your first workout. The bands deflate a bit from sitting, so you should plan to re-pump them at least a little bit each time you use them. Because the pump and bands are both housed in the carrying case, this isn't an inconvenience.
One study about the effectiveness of the bands concluded, "BFR resulted in similar muscular performance (strength and endurance) and vascular improvements at a lower exercise intensity, suggesting BFR is an effective alternative to high load resistance training."
The Design: Simple And Straightforward
These bands are fairly small and unobtrusive, so they don't get in the way while you're exercising. To pump them, you just snap the hose into a nozzle on the band, then release it once pumped. To wear them, you tighten them as much as needed so that they fit snugly in your upper arms and/or legs.
One thing of note is that while the design is adjustable, the idea of "one size fits all" is fairly limited. I have definitely grown larger arms in my time spent working out than I had prior, and I still have to place these as tight as they can go with all velcro touching. If I were any smaller, the velcro would be overlapping, and less secure. Bc I'm not the smallest person I know, this is concerning. And on the other hand, there is only so large one's arms or legs could be to still have enough velcro overlap to be secure, as well.
The Feel: Mostly Comfortable
When wearing these bands, everything feels a little bit strange. While they're pretty comfortable overall, you're literally cutting off a bit of circulation to your body parts, and that feels strange. It's good to try these for short periods of time to get used to that feeling. Despite knowing they're safe, the first times I used them I worried I was doing damage by cutting off my circulation too much, because they felt so weird. Once I got used to them, this stopped being an issue, but it's still best to start slow, especially if you're someone who is hyper-aware of your body and gets discomfited by unusual sensations.
The Workout: Using B Strong Bands During HIIT Training And Spin
I've used BFR bands for both of my normal workouts: HIIT strength training, and bike riding.
When I use my MYX bike, I always do arm exercises with light weights during the parts where we're in the seat. I figured I might as well make those mini workouts more effective by wearing the bands while I did those. It went smoothly in all ways but one: the MYX bike gathers your heart rate info from a heart monitor you wear on your arm. When wearing the bands, my heart rate isn't accurate. As someone with a heart condition, the sudden drops and spikes had me worried until I realized that the problem was the bands, not my heart. I solved this by switching the monitor to my ankle. It doesn't read as perfectly as it did before, but it's functional enough. Of course, it wouldn't work properly if I wore the leg bands, but I think those plus biking would be too intense for me anyway, so that isn't an issue.
For my HIIT workouts, I already only use three pound weights for all activities. I put the bands one before an upper body video, and use them for about twenty minutes of it. I go off-book if there aren't enough reps and continue through breaks or into sets or other exercises to make sure I get enough reps in with the bands. B Strong encourages you to press extra into the parts of a move where you feel the extension the most, and I've found this to be very effective.
When I asked the doctor what kind of results someone can expect from the bands, he told me, "generally, one can expect ~10% increase in strength and a 5% reduction in body fat from 15 sessions of B Strong BFR training, which can be done in 3-5 weeks." I've been using them for three weeks or so, and I'd say there is a definite small reduction in fat in my arms. My biceps aren't are clearly demarcated as I hope they'll continue to work towards, but there is a small amount of definition there that wasn't there before. I also can do far more reps before getting fatigued, both while wearing the bands and not. Notably, the largest visible effect is in my neck, which looks more muscular than I ever had any interest in. My shoulders are also a touch more defined.
Delfi PTS II Tourniquet System: The Delfi system costs a whopping $6799, which is its sale price. The regular price is $7000.
SmartCuffs: SmartCuffs offer a similarly priced set, at $399 for four cuffs and the pump.
BFR Bands: Though neither as safe or as effective, non-inflatable bands are available for as little as $12.99.
If you've hit a workout plateau, or even if you just want more bang for your lifting buck, blood flow restriction bands offer you the ability to trast track your progress. By limiting your blood flow, they trick your body into hypertrophy. This leads to more muscle growth and/or more muscle tone, depending how you use them.
- Product Name Training System
- Product Brand B Strong
- Price $430
- Package Includes Two arm bands, two leg bands, one hand pump, a carrying case, and a license for the guidance app