Why Some Olympic Athletes Are Sporting Tourniquets

Blood flow restriction is an in-vogue training technique, according to the 'NYT'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2021 11:10 AM CDT
Something You Might Spot at the Olympics: Tourniquets
Michael Andrew gets ready to compete in the men's 50-meter freestyle final during wave 2 of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials on Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Omaha, Neb.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Not a sentence you'd expect to read in relation to the Olympics: "This year, the hot thing appears to be tourniquets." But that's exactly what the New York Times proclaims in looking at the trendy training/recovery method some of this Games' athletes have adopted. The idea is fairly straightforward—temporarily cut off blood flow to certain muscles, the idea being that it tricks the brain into sending more "healing powers" to those muscles, which some research suggests allows muscle mass to build more quickly. The Times names two athletes, American swimmer Michael Andrew and marathoner Galen Rupp, who use the technique in training.

Andrew—who will wear the bands on his arms, sprint 25 yards, and then repeat with the bands on, trying to land the same time during both sprints—had this to say: "Obviously, it’s very difficult. But you are simulating a sensation of real pain that tricks the body into regrowth." In September, Men's Health reported on the technique, which it noted was also embraced by the likes of Hollywood bigwigs like Mark Wahlberg, and it's worth a read if you want to dive into the science behind it. It reports that while the first study on blood flow restriction was published in 1937, Japanese weightlifter Yoshiaki Sato dove deep into its uses for building muscle beginning in 1966 and has created a system that connects pneumatic bands to a digital control system (Andrew now has a business relationship with Sato). The article cautions against DIY-ing the bands. (More Olympics stories.)

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