How To Use BFR For Muscle Gain, Injury Recovery, and More!


Alright folks, this is it: The Official KAATSU Training Episode.

I’ve addressed blood flow restriction (BFR) training, KAATSU training, and occlusion training in other podcast episodes, including:

And in this recent Instagram post, I showed one creative way I’ve been weaving it into my weekly at-home “quarantine” workout routine:

However, I have yet to do a comprehensive podcast on the origins of this so-called KAATSU training out of Japan, nor have I taken as deep a dive as myself and my guests do on today’s show.

My first guest on this episode, John Doolittle, CAPT, USN (Ret), graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1992 and transferred to the US Navy. During his 25-year career in the Navy, he was deployed around the world as an officer in the SEAL Teams, conducting special operations around the globe, including Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. John retired as a Navy Captain after his last assignment as Director of the Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) Task Force at US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Headquarters—supporting 73,000 Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Berets, Night Stalkers, Air Force, and Marine Special Operators. John is a certified KAATSU Master Instructor, an NAUI Dive Instructor, and has an MS in Defense Analysis/Irregular Warfare/Special Operations from the Naval Postgraduate School.

My other guest, Steven Munatones studied under Dr. Sato, the Japanese inventor of KAATSU (pictured right), for 13 years before co-founding KAATSU Global with Dr. Sato. He translated much of the original KAATSU information from Japanese to English. Previously, he licensed high-tech Japanese sanitary ware technology at TOTO Frontier. At RealLiveSports, he designed the ESPN Play by Play, a 2006 Toy of the Year. He founded the World Open Water Swimming Association where he utilized 9 years of national team coaching and a 1982 world championship title to help promote the new Olympic sport of marathon swimming. The Harvard graduate has introduced KAATSU equipment and protocols to collegiate, professional, and Olympic athletes, military special operators, and thousands of aging baby boomers in 47 countries.

So what exactly is KAATSU?

KAATSU is a safe and effective form of exercise, rehabilitation, and recovery invented in Japan in 1966. Patented pneumatic equipment enables your arms and legs to modify venous flow which leads to a cascade of positive physiological effects. KAATSU is supported by decades of extensive research at top academic institutions with specific protocols proven by millions of users in 32 countries and patented procedures in sports, exercise, rehabilitation, and wellness activities—both in the water and on land. KAATSU is a Japanese word and trademarked term where KA (加) means “additional” and ATSU (圧) means “pressure.”

During today’s discussion, you’ll discover:

-How John and Steven got interested in KAATSU training…11:05

  • John:
    • Introduced to KAATSU while rehabbing an injury
    • A previous rotator cuff injury took ~11 months to fully recover
    • With KAATSU, he was at 95% recovery after 5 months
  • Steve
    • Saw a swimmer using them while coaching the US National Swim Team in Japan
    • He met Dr. Sato, founder of KAATSU, who doesn’t speak English nor travel outside Japan
    • Dr. Sato took Steven under his wing for 13 years, teaching him KAATSU to share with others

-KAATSU defined and what it does to the body…15:50

  • KA (加) means “additional” and ATSU (圧) means “pressure”
  • Increase pressure, thereby expanding and contracting the vascular system
  • The bands are not turnstiles; they are elastic with a bit of give
  • You never want to “occlude” or stop blood flow completely
  • The bands move with the muscles or limbs
  • The blood is always moving
  • Creating as much engorgement in the capillaries and veins as possible
  • Sends signals to pituitary glans
  • This releases growth hormone, IGF-1, adrenaline into the vascular system

-How KAATSU affects mood and alertness after using it…23:25

  • Endorphins and adrenaline
  • Athletes or executives will use it before a big performance
  • Ben refers to KAATSU as an “exercise smart drug”
  • Can see capillaries light up during brain scans while using KAATSU
  • You’re tricking the brain into thinking you’re working much harder than you are

-How KAATSU allows you to build muscle without the use of heavy weights…26:55

  • Improving blood flow by opening the capillaries
  • Greater mechanical tension in the muscle
  • Mitochondria respond by growing in density
  • tricking the muscle into a hypertrophic state
  • Dr. Sato’s typical KAATSU workout:
    • First set: 60-90 reps with 40 lbs. bar (priming the pump)
    • Second set: 20-30 reps
    • Third set: 4-8 reps
    • Rest 20 seconds between reps
    • Continue until exhaustion

-Should you use the bands on both arms and legs simultaneously…38:45

  • Not recommended for most users due to risk of passing out due to blood pressure dropping
  • High performing athletes may use both arms and legs in a very limited way (ex. 2-3 jump shots) then do the same motion without the bands
  • Many professional athletes are utilizing KAATSU bands, most notably Carmelo Anthony

-How KAATSU affects longevity…44:15

-Why KAATSU is not the same as BFR training…50:45

  • BFR is by definition occlusion training
  • KAATSU approach is completely different; gradual increase vs. a decrease
  • Much safer approach
  • Hypoxia element is critical; akin to running at sea level, then 500 ft., 1000 ft., etc. above sea level
  • Dr. Sato worked with 7,000 cardiology patients
    • Did not work them hard, put bands with light pressure
    • Learned how the body responds in a vulnerable state
    • Indicative of how elite athletes may use the bands
  • Maintain the pressure until one becomes 60-70 years old
  • It’s more of a vascular training than a muscular training

-Potential effects of KAATSU on the immune system…58:15

  • John uses cycle mode while walking at night
  • Many studies indicate nitric oxide synthase in the endothelial system
  • Dr. Sato encouraged KAATSU users to do it 3x per day because of its efficacy in promoting the immune system

-How KAATSU has helped service members with severe injuries…1:09:00

-How KAATSU is differentiated from BFR in the scientific community…1:11:45

-And much more…

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

– Podcasts:

– Books: KAATSU – The Pressure Training From Japan – New perspectives in sport, therapy and health promotion

– PDF: Effects of KAATSU Training on Human Mitochondria-related Factors and Comprehensive Effects on Cardiovascular System

– KAATSU device and bands (code BEN to save 5%) Here’s a tip for those outside the US: You may want to consider purchasing from a friend in the states as I’ve been hearing prices in other countries can be considerably higher.

– BFR bands (code BEN10 to save 10%)

– Vasper

– NatureBeat

Episode sponsors:

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Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback for John, Steven, or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!

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