The effect of blood flow occlusion during acute low-intensity isometric elbow flexion exercise

  • David B. CopithorneEmail author
  • Charles L. Rice
Invited Review



Blood flow restriction (BFR) with low-intensity (< 30% of 1 repetition maximum strength) muscle contraction has been used chronically (> 4 weeks) to enhance resistance training. However, mechanisms underlying muscle adaptations following BFR are not well understood. To explore changes related to chronic BFR adaptations, the current study used blood flow occlusion (BFO) during an acute bout of low-intensity isometric fatiguing contractions to assess peripheral (muscle) factors affected.


Ten males completed separate fatiguing elbow flexor protocols to failure; one with BFO and one with un-restricted blood flow (FF). Baseline, post-task failure, and 30 min of recovery measures of voluntary and involuntary contractile properties were compared.


BFO had greater impairment of intrinsic measures compared with FF, despite FF lasting 80% longer. Following task failure, maximal voluntary contraction and 50 Hz torque decreased in both protocols (~ 60% from baseline). Voluntary activation decreased ~ 11% from baseline at failure following both protocols, but recovered at a faster rate following BFO, whereas MVC recovered to ~ 90% of baseline in both protocols. The 10/50 Hz torque ratio was decreased by ~ 68% and ~ 21% from baseline, for BFO and FF, respectively (P < 0.01). 50 Hz half-relaxation-time (HRT) was significantly longer immediately following BFO (~ 107% greater than baseline), with no change following FF.


Thus, greater peripheral fatigue that recovers at a similar rate compared to conventional exercise is likely driving muscle adaptations observed with chronic BFR exercise. Likely BFO alters energy demand and supply of working muscle similar to chronic BFR, but is exaggerated in this paradigm.


Blood flow restriction Elbow flexion Fatigue Intrinsic muscle properties Low-frequency fatigue Peripheral fatigue 


Author contributions

DB Copithorne: experimental design, data collection and analysis, all manuscript revisions and edits. CL Rice: all manuscript revisions and edits.


This research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) as well as Ontario Graduate Scholarships (OGS).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

DB Copithorne and CL Rice have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health SciencesThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and DentistryThe University of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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