What Are the Effects of Ischemic Conditioning and Low-Intensity Exercise?

What Are the Effects of Ischemic Conditioning and Low-Intensity Exercise?

Dr. GJohn Mullen Blog, Competition, Dryland, Training 1 Comment

Over the past five years of evidence regarding ischemic conditioning has exploded. This form of training has unique Implication for swimming by providing another modifiable parameter to dry-land. Moreover, these devices have application in swimming, as ischemic conditions could be used during swimming.

This form of training is still young, especially for prescribing parameters, but many researchers in Japan (where this type of training is called Kaatsu) are studying ischemic training.

Strength gains directly translate to improved sprint swimming and are believed to improve endurance swimming. However, high-intensity, heavy load training is essential for these adaptations. Ischemic conditioning theoretically allows a lower load, yielding similar results.

Previous studies suggest resistance training with ischemic conditioning causes an increased accumulation of hydrogen, inorganic phosphate, ADP, and an increase in fast-twitch fiber recruitment.

The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the effects of short-term resistance training with a fixed, very low-intensity mechanical load combined with circulatory occlusion, and to elucidate the causal relationship between training effects (hypertrophy, strength, fast- twitch muscle fiber recruitment, etc.)

What was done

Fourteen untrained healthy male participants performed unilateral plantar flexion (30 minutes/min) at 20% of one-repetition maximum (1-RM) with occlusion for two minutes. Occlusion was performed around the thigh with a pressure that was 1.3 times the systolic blood pressure.

Maximal muscle cross-sectional area (MCA) was taken via MRI at 3 days after the final training session. Metabolic markers were taken at rest and after the exercise program.


Increases in MCA and 1-RM were significant at two and four weeks after training. Baseline increases in Pi and intramuscular pH decreases during exercise after two and four weeks of training. This significant difference continued for two weeks, but not four weeks following training.

Pi peaks (representing fast-twitch fiber recruitment) were observed in 9 of the 14 cases.


Low load resistance training combined with circulatory occlusion yield significant muscular hypertrophy and strength enhancement. This appears due to elevated metabolic stress.

Practical Implication

Muscle mass and strength appear to improve with low load resistance training when combined with circulatory occlusion. This and the other studies have looked at untrained participants, therefore the correlation for elite athletes is questionable. Also, long-term safety has yet to be determined, but no current research suggests any adverse effects.

Related Reading

Ischemic Preconditioning


  1. Takada S, Okita K, Suga T, Omokawa M, Kadoguchi T, Sato T, Takahashi M, Yokota T, Hirabayashi K, Morita N, Horiuchi M, Kinugawa S, Tsutsui H. Low-Intensity Exercise Can Increase Muscle Mass and Strength Proportionally to Enhanced Metabolic Stress Under Ischemic Conditions. J Appl Physiol. 2012 May 24. [Epub ahead of print]

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