Lessening the Load: Japanese Training System Inspires University of Oklahoma Exercise Professor's Research

Article excerpt

A University of Oklahoma exercise science professor's drive to help older populations has intersected with a Japanese man's business interests.

The result: ongoing research with a training system that could play a role in rehabilitation, physical therapy and bone health.

And it all began as something of a fluke.

A few years ago, when Dr. Michael Bemben took his first sabbatical since arriving at OU, he opted to study at Tokyo Metropolitan University and focus on a piece of ultrasound equipment that he already had in his lab at home. But he encountered a professor and a training system that captured his attention instead.

The KAATSU-Master Training System is a piece of equipment that features blood pressure-like cuffs inflated on the thighs or arms of a person while lifting weights. The traditional approach to lifting weights to build muscle has been to lift at 80 percent of a person's strength. But the KAATSU system, by restricting blood flow to its user, drops that load to 20 percent. Bemben's goal is to test its efficacy and safety in the United States, especially as it pertains to older generations.

"In Japan, this system has been common and has been used in thousands of training centers for years," Bemben said. "But it never made its way outside the country until recently."

Bemben's lab at OU is one of only four outside of Japan that have begun testing the KAATSU system, which roughly translates to vascular restriction in English, he said. The American work is taking place through a partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Sato Sports Plaza of Japan.

Japanese studies have shown the system to be effective and safe, Bemben said, and the American research is building on that. His excitement for the system is that it could make weightlifting possible for those who stand to benefit the most but are not able to do it.

"If someone can't lift heavy loads because of joint problems, arthritis or a knee or hip replacement, they can use this and still get the benefit of exercise," Bemben said. "It's still a very intense exercise; you're still fatiguing the muscle, but the equipment allows you to train at 20 percent."

When a person puts on the KAATSU cuffs - either high on the thighs or arms - they first acclimate to the pressure before lifting weights. The pressure begins at 40 to 60 millimeters of mercury, with a target of 180 millimeters, Bemben said. …