Blood Flow Restriction Training In Practice: Isolation vs. Multi-Joint Exercises

Like normal exercise, blood flow restriction training can be performed in a variety of ways – either isolated (i.e. bicep curls) or multi-joint (i.e. rows). However, unique to BFR training is the differences in fatigue that can influence performance of the exercise or even long-term hypertrophic outcomes.

Isolation exercises are great to use as an intro to BFR training and as bodybuilding specific exercises because there aren’t a lot of ways to cheat the movement and compensate with other muscles. This makes it a great choice to drive high levels of fatigue to the targeted muscle. Isolation exercises constrain degrees of freedom, limiting rep-to-rep variation.

Multi-joint exercises are sometimes used as progressions from single-joint exercises due to the involvement of other muscles both proximal and distal to the cuff and its “functional” nature. However, there are some issues with using multi-joint exercises when hypertrophy is the goal. Fatigue accumulates much quicker in the muscles distal to the cuff, leading to a varied fatigue profile that is exercise- dependent. This ultimately results in earlier failure of the muscles distal to the cuff than the muscles proximal to the cuff. This is thought to lead to the proximal hypertrophy phenomena observed with chronic BFR training, but I would argue it is largely pointless outside of a rehabilitation setting. That is to say, why choose an exercise with more ways to “fail” and a larger cardiovascular and hemodynamic response when the muscles distal to the cuff can be highly stimulated with minimal degrees of freedom (ways to cheat/compensate)?

Do you use isolation or multi-joint exercises? A combination of both? Why do you choose one or the other? Comment below!

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