Occlusion / Kaatsu Training: The easiest and fastest way to build muscle mass OR health club kink?

You gotta love the Japanese.

They start with a little of this:

arnold bicep curl arm blaster

Add in a little of this:

image credit: Roger Hargreaves
image credit: Roger Hargreaves

And end up with this:

kaatsu biceps

Occlusion or Kaatsu training.

What is Occlusion or Kaatsu Training?

In a nutshell, Occlusion Training involves applying a tourniquet of some sort (Researchers use a pneumatic tourniquets similar to a blood pressure cuff) to the proximal portion of one of your limbs to restrict blood flow (partially or fully) while you perform low intensity exercise.

And why would you do that?

According to this recent study:

Low intensity occlusion (50-100 mm Hg) training provides a unique beneficial training mode for promoting muscle hypertrophy.

Training at intensities as low as 20% of 1 rep maximum with moderate vascular occlusion results in muscle hypertrophy in as little as 3 weeks.

A typical exercise prescription calls for 3 to 5 sets to volitional fatigue with short rest periods.

The metabolic buildup causes positive phsiologic reactions, specifically a rise in growth hormone that is higher than levels found with higher intensities.

Occlusion training is applicable for those who are unable to sustain high loads due to joint pain, postoperative patients, cardiac rehabilitation, athletes who are unloading, and astronauts.

In fact, during the study, test subjects saw some pretty startling results:

  • Lactate increased
  • Growth Hormone increased
  • Norepinephrine increased
  • IGF-1 increased
  • Noradrenaline increased
  • Myostatin decreased
  • One rep maximum strength increased
  • Isometric strength & torque increased
  • Isokinetic strength & torque increased
  • Muscular endurance increased
  • Cross-sectional area of the muscle increased
  • Slow twitch fibers changed into Fast twitch fibers

And all you need to turn yourself into a muscle-building Kaatsu warrior is some bondage gear and the ability to ignore the stares and giggles of your fellow health club members.

occlusion training - leg extension

So, what do you think of that?

I may come back and expand this post with more data in the next few days. I just received a full copy of this latest study and I am poring over the details. But, I couldn’t wait to share this with you.

Looking forward to the comments.


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  • Thanks for posting this and please do keep us further informed. It’s very interesting to me, not because of lazy ba*starditis, but because I broke my neck age 19 while playing rugby. With most muscles bar biceps and shoulders paralysed it’s hard to lift heavy weights – so if I can boost results using this then great. Still, don’t know how I’d occlude the shoulder area, which would be a general problem I guess for anyone working their core muscles. Now if only I could afford Mechano GF as well I could soon have shoulders and biceps like a linebacker and look like some weird kind of lollipop.

  • I had heard about this before but I always wondered if it was more for hypertrophy rather than strength/density because my encounter with this was from bodybuilding literature. I prefer strength/density over hypertrophy for my martial arts training, but according to this study it helped basically every aspect…I am especially interested in the GH increase because the more I look into fat loss the more I keep coming back to GH. Very interesting, thanks for the post!

  • Originally when the question was posted of gaining muscle with 20% 1RM, you said you’d answer in a week. I’ve been waiting for this article!

    Anyway, it seems pretty interesting, and something worth giving a shot if its practical. Can’t wait for some more information.

    One of the questions I’d have is, what are the major benefits to training normally with higher loads for a healthy athlete? [as opposed to those with joint pain, etc as stated] It seems logical that even if there were strength or hypertrophy benefits, the neurological side of strength would be neglected, as well as the fact that actually training with heavy loads prepares the body for other types of athletic exertion. For example, occlusion in the knee extensors like above will work on a machine, but it won’t beat the full body versatility of heavy squats.

  • Sorry for the delay Yash – life gets in the way sometimes

    About the training, I also have a ton of questions/concerns/criticisms

    neurological benefits to training with heavier loads
    is occlusion training limited to the limbs
    chance of stroke/other general health concerns…

    Re your question about leg extension / squats, I think I will try it out today at the gym with some front squats. 2 tensor bandages up high on the thigh – 20% 1RM (145lbs). I will use front squats out of the rack in case I need to dump the bar quickly. I will follow it up with some leg extensions to see how that compares

  • Matt – I agree with you that hypertrophy would probably hurt your martial arts performance – pound for pound strength is the way to go

    BTW, did you read my post on Mechano Growth Factor? I am going to do an experiment with Resistance Stretching techniques in the near future. I won’t be able to measure GH levels or anything like that, but I will be measuring performance levels to see if we can manipulate MGF & GH levels naturally with specific training protocols

    I am also going to consult with the MGF researchers on this topic

  • Darren,

    I just emailed the researchers about your questions. I will update this comment when I hear from them

  • The one area I would be interested in trying Occlusion training out is forearms, if it really does increase strength and size that is one place I would not mind trying it out. I’ve worked my grip and forearms in the past some and while my grip got stronger my forearms didn’t grow at all. I don’t want massive forearms but bigger forearms should equate to more grip strength and also more surface area for deflecting and spreading out impacts (such as blocking).

    On your MGF and GH tests I’d be very interested in hearing about your results. I have a friend that told me today he had done the resistance stretching before and he claimed it was very good. If it truly does work as well as it sounds it fits in with the functional utility type of workouts direction that I think I want to start going personally. I am starting to think I would like to be doing those type of workouts (resistance stretching and bodyweight exercises) as it should make you more “functionally fit” (working with full range of motion, sometimes more stabilizer muscle and core engagement, etc…). Not that weights can’t do similar items when the plan is fully planned out, it is just a different type of working out. I would also like to develop a plan that I could do anywhere, for example I will be in Colorado next weekend in a hotel and I can’t really bring my dumbbells and bowflex :P


  • I’ve been trying to find out more information on this technique. Specifically, where we can find a certified trainer and if we can get some training in this technique. I’m also interested in how safe this is. I’m a little concerned about the BP effects and the potential for a DVT. Anybody have any of this info?

  • Hi Marc,

    I have forwarded on your questions to the authors of the study I referenced.

    I will contact you when I hear back.

    BTW, would you be willing to participate in a research study on occlusion training?

  • Very interesting. I think the issue of existing blood pressure levels and the level/duration of occlusion are important. Are they aiming at venous congestion or arterial occlusion?
    Whatever, it seems to be aiming at sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, what Pavel calls the useless accumulation of fluids and capillaries in muscle.
    Let us hear more about it, though!

  • I would. I’m actually a physician and an avid physical fitness fanatic. I can actually see where this makes sense and may have other applications. I just haven’t found anyone in this country that knows much about it or has any training in the technique. Let me know if you can think of something I can help with.

  • Nice summary. Does anyone know where to get the Kaatsu bands?

  • Japan

    Nothing in the West as far as I can see. In the US study, they used tensor bandages – the pics of the guy wrapping his legs was one of the researchers from the study prior to doing his kaatsu/occlusion leg extensions

  • I’m wondering how this concept might work with wound healing, etc. I’m a physician and this concept has more potential than just physical fitness. It’s got me intrigued and I think it deserves more attention through studies, etc. I’ll keep looking into this, and I think I’ll give this a try for about six weeks to see how my body responds. Stay tuned.

  • Is this darren hackleton that was in the Navy in 1986? Trying to find folk for a reunion…it mus be you


    Scott Cairns

  • Dealing with a couple clients with idiopathic neuropathies. Trying to keep muscle mass up in areas with nerve damage. You’ve inspired me to research how occlusion training might help maintain or improve muscle mass for these folks.

  • @Scott Cairns
    Don’t know if you’ll see this after all this time but yes it is me. Was having some health problems at the time so never responded then forgot about it. Someone else recently contacted me via facebook and it jogged my memory. Anyway if you do see it then contact me dlhackleton at gmail or see if you can find me on facebook. I had a look there but couldn’t find you.


  • I know that one of the strength and conditioning coaches working for English Institute of Sport during the training up the olympics used this method with the physiotherapist for helping improve injury rehabilitation time and found a lot of success

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