Is Kaatsu a Great Fitness Trend or Dangerous?

Kaatsu has been getting a lot of attention during the Olympics. It’s not a new fitness trend, but it’s not often spoken about outside extreme fitness circles. It’s the practice of restricting blood flow to your muscles while exercising, it’s gaining traction among ordinary people exercising, but the question is, is it safe.

There is science behind restricting the flow of blood. It uses cuffs to cut off blood supply, causing the body to release nitric oxide, endorphins, growth hormones and other chemicals that improve blood flow, aid tissue healing, grow muscle and soothe pain. The muscle has to work harder, and you get a better workout in the same amount of time.  

Individuals exercise during the application of BFR [blood flow restriction] to improve muscle mass, muscle strength, reduce pain, improve recovery, increase cardiovascular capacity and augment sports performance,” said physical therapist Nicholas Rolnick.

There are more and more brands of BFR products hitting the market all the time. As we researched this blog, we saw a lot of it. A lot of the praise we saw for the technique was on those sites, which makes us hesitant to endorse it. While it can be beneficial, bad equipment can make it dangerous, and it’s not suitable for everyone. If you have hypertension, heart disease, anemia, circulatory problems, are at risk for clots, have kidney disease, have certain blood sugar concerns, a broken bone or cancer, you need to speak to a doctor. It can cause lightheadedness, bruising, nerve damage and worse.

We wouldn’t suggest undertaking this without being told to by a doctor and supervised by someone who knows what they are doing. There have been many blogs in the past where we have said you had nothing to lose by trying it out if you watched a few videos on YouTube. This isn’t a situation where you can watch a video on YouTube and try it at home.

Even doctors who like it are quick to preach caution. Dr. Philippa Bennett, Consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine, said, “I would promote its use, but it should be supervised by a physiotherapist or strength and conditioning coach who has used this type of resistance training. It is particularly useful in rehabilitation from injuries where we are unable to load through a joint but want to minimize atrophy of muscles around the injured joint.”

It has been getting a lot of attention in coverage of the Olympic athletes. While we find their feats inspiring, what is good for them doesn’t always translate into being good for the rest of us. While superficial web surfing might make you feel gung-ho about trying BFR, you should first speak to a professional who knows your medical history.

Banner image: Ryunosuke Kikuno via Unsplash

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