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