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KAATSU Review: #1 BFR Machine Used By Pros, Military, Olympians & High-Achievers?

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KAATSU Machine BFR Training Bands Review
KAATSU Machine BFR Training Bands Review

Olympic Gold Medalists, professional athletes, military special forces, advanced doctors, and Fortune 100 businesspeople share a favorite technology.

One that transforms their body anytime, anywhere.

Keeping them in peak fitness. And it’s low-impact.

It’s called the KAATSU BFR system.

Although I’ve used it since about 2011, it was a Japanese secret from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Since then, this breakthrough technology has made waves among bodybuilders, health professionals, and everyday folks looking to get and stay fit.

In this post, I will cover the science of KAATSU, how it works, the benefits, my experience from near daily use, and how to design an optimal KAATSU workout plan.

Update: They recently released new models. I’m currently waiting to get my hands on the brand-new KAATSU B2 system. There’s also a new C4 KAATSU model.

What is The KAATSU Blood Flow Restriction Training System

KAATSU is the original and most powerful form of blood flow restriction training. Invented in 1966 by Dr. Yoshiaki Sato, KAATSU is a Japanese word and training style that translates to “additional pressure.” Dr. Sato credits his discovery to sitting on his heels during a Japanese ceremony and noticing how quickly his calves fatigued. From there, he began experimenting with band systems to incorporate this into his fitness programs. He used it successfully and personally to rapidly rehab a broken ankle in 1973. KAATSU became a popular Japanese secret.

Since Dr. Sato doesn’t speak English, it took decades to start receiving Western recognition. The first English articles were published just ~25 years ago, and the USA began receiving prototype models in the mid-2000s.

So what exactly is it?

KAATSU is the first BFR band system fitted with inflatable bladders. The pressures are controlled by palm-sized onboard compressors based on highly-precise patented algorithms. KAATSU safely inflates and deflates the Air Bands to optimize your BFR experience in the least amount of time possible.

Most BFR machines completely occlude (cut off) circulation and back off until they drop just below the dangerous level. KAATSU is the only one to take the opposite and safer approach. KAATSU starts from zero pressure and inflates just until it hits the beneficial and therapeutic pressure.

Several decades and many models later, KAATSU is still unparalleled among all BFR machines (and I’ve tried a bunch).

Nearly a decade ago, the military took notice of KAATSU. They were first in line for this biohacking fitness technology. U.S. Special Operations Command loves KAATSU and uses it with its top human performance experts. That same 2015 article elaborated,

“’It’s the real deal,’ says one top official with Exos, a fitness and performance company that staffs a broad swath of special-operations units with exercise physiologists, strength and conditioning coaches and other experts. “It’s controversial, because a lot of people just don’t believe it can work — but this stuff is legit.”

Next, KAATSU became a sensation among professional athletes and Olympians. The savvy consumer can spot them using KAATSU to amplify both their warm-up and cool-down routines, boost their workouts, and rehab injuries faster.

It has started catching on, with CNN covering it in a 2021 article titled, Why kaatsu, a fitness trend spotted at the Games, isn’t just for Olympians.

Today, KAATSU is popular among bodybuilders, affluent business people, and fitness enthusiasts looking to maximize the return on time spent exercising.

Better results in less time.

That and much more. Here’s how KAATSU works.

How it works

As with most fitness technologies, researchers are still uncovering all the modes of action behind KAATSU.

So far, these proposed mechanisms behind KAATSU stand out:

  • Metabolic byproduct accumulation
  • Pre-fatigued Type I muscle fibers
  • Intramuscular lactate buildup
  • Hypoxia in the muscles (via HIF-1a)
  • Reduced myostatin levels
  • Increased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
  • Increased insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)
  • Increased nitric oxide (NO)
  • Increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
  • Increased beta-endorphins, growth hormone, ceramides, plasmalogens, and possibly testosterone

Basically, bands at the right pressure reduce how much blood and metabolic byproducts leave the muscle. This is very different from a tourniquet (which is dangerous).

Exercising with KAATSU forces the body to use glucose as fuel. As a result, lactate, hypoxia (low tissue oxygen), and the buildup of metabolites dramatically increase muscular fatigue. The KAATSU cycle mode provides safe and beneficial intermittent hypoxia. All of this despite very low working loads.

KAATSU’s partial occlusion reduces the intensity required to recruit the Type IIA & Type IIB muscle fibers associated with high-intensity exercise. This breakthrough allows a user to actually build strength using little to no load.

For reference, conventional training requires lifting 70-85% of max weight to get these same results.

The buildup of lactate and protons are both potent stimulators of anabolic growth hormones as well as local IGF-1. While systemic IGF-1 is associated with increased levels of cancer, intra-muscular IGF-1 is phenomenal for getting fit, slowing biological aging, reducing frailty, and living a high quality of life.

KAATSU also activates Type II stem (satellite) cells, key to growing muscle and strength.

But it also has cardiovascular benefits too.

Blood and nutrient flow are primary concerns with aging and also correlate well with biological age. Microcirculation describes the network of capillaries tasked with delivering nutrients and oxygens to tissues while simultaneously removing a wide variety of metabolic wastes.

Age increases the distance of muscle fibers from capillaries. Farther distance impairs their function. The increased levels of VEGF grow the tissue network to optimally support nutrient exchange and increase resilience against future damage. KAATSU’s beneficial impact of VEGF is hypothesized to occur due to intermittent hypoxia.

That’s just a simple breakdown of the currently understood mechanisms.

By now you may wonder how KAATSU compares to budget-friendly BFR bands. Planning to give this as a gift? Click this link for more discount and other discounted products to choose from.

KAATSU vs BFR Training

After losing access to KAATSU, I regularly used normal BFR bands for over a decade.

Since switching back to KAATSU, I’ve noticed a profound difference.

Actually, many.

I now understand why some of the literature shows inconclusive or negative effects of BFR training — they used the wrong gear.

The main advantages of KAATSU over other BFR systems include:

  • Safety
  • Effectiveness
  • Cycle Mode
  • Ease of use

The upside of BFRT is maximum results and an outstanding safety profile. Well, few systems definitively deliver that.

The vast majority of the research has taken place using KAATSU machines. KAATSU has a proven record of 20+ years of clinical usage. It was also shown safe by a 10-year University of Tokyo Hospital study of 7,000 cardiac rehab patients.

During BFR training, pressure is an important variable. Too little, and you don’t get the benefits. Too much and you risk damaging tissues.

With KAATSU, there’s no guessing whether you’re getting the pressure right. The algorithms do it for you automatically. Dialing into your unique pressure that’ll maximize your results.

As one study showed, your results depend on all kinds of factors. Most systems don’t set these parameters for you, or even account for them,

“Evaluation of dose-response relationship showed that the training load, mode, frequency, duration, and maximum cuff pressure affected the muscle function.”

KAATSU’s patented Cycle Mode is another key feature. This automatically inflates and deflates the air bands throughout your workout. Which is both a safety feature (provides intermittent hypoxia rather than prolonged hypoxia) and results in better, healthier muscle tissue. Muscle tissue from constant restriction (as with all other systems) isn’t as functional.

From the width of the bands to the precise software, to the unique modes and features… everything about the design and use of KAATSU has made it the gold-standard.

KAATSU is the only bioharmonous form of blood flow restriction training.

KAATSU Cycle Mode: The Game Changer

KAATSU modes

One of the most important features of KAATSU is its versatility.

KAATSU has two modes:

  • Constant Mode
  • Cycle Mode

No other system has Cycle Mode.

Cycle Mode is the patented and automatic compression and decompression of the KAATSU Air Bands. Every Cycle consists of eight steps of gradually increased pressure followed by deflation.

You can customize cycles to last 20-60 seconds of inflation, with a short pause, and then 5-20 seconds of deflation.

This oscillation of pressure maximizes safety and effectiveness while also making KAATSU a powerful recovery-enhancing tool.

KAATSU Cycle Mode is like a cellular massage for your cardiovascular system Share on X

It also increases neuromuscular activation, as the alternating pressure changes between limbs keep the brain guessing. Improving your balance and stability.

KAATSU Constant Mode (previously called Training Mode) keeps the Air Bands full with a specified fixed pressure for up to 15 minutes. It’s mainly used for intense workouts, aqua therapy, complex movements, and injury rehab. Personally, I rarely use Constant Mode.

Every BFR system uses Constant Mode, and it’s just not as good for most uses.

Since incorporating Cycle Mode, KAATSU is attracting even more big names.

Who uses KAATSU

People across all walks of life use KAATSU. Elite athletes, fitness enthusiasts, longevity scientists, and everyday folks alike.

KAATSU also lists an impressive array of other users on its website:

  • Global Olympic and Paralympic athletes
  • Professional athletes (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Soccer)
  • Collegiate athletes in over 70 universities
  • Military personnel and special operators (U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force)
  • Firefighters
  • Acrobats
  • Business executives
  • Professional motorcycle riders
  • Disabled veterans
  • Aquatic athletes (surfers, paddleboarders, kayakers, swimmers, and water polo players)
  • Extreme athletes (mountaineering, channel swimming)

That’s not all.

A few specific notable folks using these machines include:

  • Galen Rupp (long-distance runner)
  • Laura Wilkinson (diver)
  • Michael Andrew (swimmer)
  • Mikaela Shiffrin (alpine skier)
  • Carson Foster (Olympic swimmer)
  • Dr. Joe Mercola (alternative health expert)
  • Dr. Peter Attia (esteemed longevity scientist)
  • Ben Greenfield (popular trainer)

Predictably, the biggest KAATSU users are the Baby Boomers as this is a safe and effective alternative to heavy strength training.

Side effects

For a modality appearing so impressive, you’d expect a long list of side effects.

Unfortunately, most research has wrongly lumped KAATSU in with other BFR systems. Nevertheless, when properly applied it appears very safe.

This mid-2022 study summarized the potential side effects,

“Adverse effects included bruising, lightheadedness, and cramping (n = 15, 21.4%). The devices have also been applied on those with pathology (n = 16, 22.9%)”

Yes, the sample size of this paper is quite small. Regardless, even when other BFR machines are inaccurately conflated with KAATSU, the side effect profile is impressive. Not just on healthy users, but also on those with pathologies.

Benefits of KAATSU Training

Benefits of KAATSU Training

Virtually all of the research conducted on BFR training has used KAATSU systems.

So far, I managed to find 173 studies performed on KAATSU specifically.

No other BFR machine comes close.

The health and performance benefits of KAATSU are pleiotropic and include:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cognitive health
  • Muscle & strength building
  • Bodybuild & hypertrophy
  • Anti-frailty
  • Biomarker improvement
  • Injury rehab
  • Workout recovery
  • Longevity & healthspan
  • Hormonal optimization

It even seems to reduce jet lag and facilitate adaptation to new time zones.

Now, let’s dig into some of the specific benefits.

Muscle & strength

Skeletal muscle is a major determinant of metabolism, brain function, circulation, healthspan, and quality of life. It also makes up approximately half of body mass. First and foremost, KAATSU is well-documented to increase muscle size and strength.

Both as a standalone treatment, or when incorporated into a resistance training program. Just walking with KAATSU works great (as we’ll cover next).

Lots of research has confirmed KAATSU’s beneficial effects on strength (emphasis mine),

Current evidence suggests that the addition of BFR to dynamic exercise training is effective for augmenting changes in both muscle strength and size. This effect was consistent for both resistance training and aerobically-based exercise, although the effect sizes varied. The magnitude of observed changes are noteworthy, particularly considering the relatively short duration of the average intervention.

In addition to the little time required to build muscle using KAATSU, it’s also more pleasant than many forms of training. Scientists note users experience only “moderate exertion ratings and low-pressure sensations”, making it a solid option for individuals without substantial training backgrounds.

Another group analyzing 19 papers on BFRT concluded that the lack of standardization between gear and protocols is a problem in the industry. They also addressed the issue of local vs systemic muscle growth. Can BFR applied to the arms and legs benefit other unbanded parts of the body? Here’s what they said,

“Some of the musculature in the upper body cannot be directly restricted by the application of BFR. Despite this, increases in muscle size and strength were observed in muscles placed under direct and indirect BFR.

A plethora of other research has shown that KAATSU improves muscle & strength in the healthy, sick, old, and young alike. It’s especially useful when unable to train conventionally, while traveling, or to actually build muscle just from walking.

Super walking

Constant low-level movement is a major factor shared by virtually every longevity hotspot worldwide.

Walking is among the easiest and most accessible movements and it requires zero training or specialized knowledge.

Even just simply slowly walking with KAATSU works, as implied by this paper titled Muscle size and strength are increased following walk training with restricted venous blood flow from the leg muscle, Kaatsu-walk training. Note that the normal walking control group did not experience these benefits.

This paper is especially fascinating, because it showed potent endocrine effects from only about ~15 minutes of walking with KAATSU, six days per week for three weeks.

Compared to the normal walk control, KAATSU hardly increased stress hormones while profoundly spiking the healthy and anabolic growth hormone.

All this just from a few minutes of walking. No gym or grueling exercise required. There’s literally no downside.

Park a few minutes farther from the office, and walk there with KAATSU. Benefits like a gym session but easier and taking no extra time.

Cardiovascular health & endurance

Cardiovascular conditioning is another factor correlated with quality of life and a better-functioning body. Long, steady-state endurance activities, however, trash the body with heavy levels of aging oxidative stress.

Most of us don’t recover adequately, which is one reason endurance exercise can be dangerous.

KAATSU lets us build aerobic endurance capacity without over-taxing the body.

A study of older adults found that this style of training reduced arterial stiffness.

Another 2021 study said this about KAATSU,

“We suggest that this has the potential to induce enhanced physiological adaptations, including increases in capillary supply and mitochondrial function, which can contribute to an improvement in performance of endurance exercise.”

KAATSU also improves various biomarkers associated with cardiometabolic health.

I found this study of young and healthy women especially interesting. Compared to the control group, the KAATSU users experienced greater blood flow and circulation to the forehead.

Since BFR only occludes the arms and legs, this shows that KAATSU sessions improve systemic, full-body circulation.

I personally notice that my heart rate stays elevated during KAATSU workouts. During these sessions, I hover between 130-165 BPM, which mirrors my heart rate while running.

Altogether, making KAATSU an excellent tool to build cardiovascular health without grueling, long, and unnecessary steady-state exercise.

Bodybuilding & hypertrophy

KAATSU is well suited to bodybuilding and increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). Indeed, I found a program around 2015 that implemented BFR training.

Most KAATSU protocols recommend low weight, high reps, and several sets. This closely matches traditional bodybuilding approaches, but also simultaneously activates both Type IIA & Type IIB muscle fibers.

Bodybuilders even use KAATSU at the end of their workout to add additional metabolic stress and thus greater adaptation.

Emerging research supports KAATSU for bodybuilding and growing larger muscles.

One of the ways KAATSU is hypothesized to work is by inhibiting a protein called myostatin. Myostatin is what limits muscle growth, so by inhibiting it, muscle growth should increase. An extreme example of disabling myostatin…

Injury recovery

Over time, most competitive athletes get injured. In fact, there’s a well-known axiom of long-term progress.

Avoid injury and the accompanying weeks or months of the resulting downtime.

KAATSU has two-pronged benefits for injury.

First, the minimal weight lifted makes injury easier to prevent.

Second, advanced rehab specialists are using this technology to help patients recover quickly. Not only speed, but the quality of every day leading up to full recovery,

“Compared with standard quadriceps strengthening, low load with BFR produced greater reduction in pain with daily living at 8 weeks in people with PFP. Improvements were similar between groups in worst pain and Kujala score. The subgroup with painful resisted knee extension had larger improvements in quadriceps strength from BFR.”

Meta-analyses also find that KAATSU benefits injury rehab. One concluded, “Compared with low-load training, low-load BFR training is more effective, tolerable and therefore a potential clinical rehabilitation tool.”.

Real-world experience with Olympians and professional athletes confirms that KAATSU does accelerate and enhance recovery from injury.

Speed & power output

Power, the measure of force generation over time, is another main biomotor ability required by many athletes.

Research into the effects of KAATSU on power output is certainly not exhaustive. Preliminary findings, however, suggest some benefits.

This 2020 paper remarked,

“After training, only LL-BFR improved the average power output throughout the midportion of a voluntary muscle endurance task. Specifically, LL-BFR training sustained an 18% greater power output from baseline and resulted in a greater change from baseline than LL-RE (19 ± 3 vs. 3 ± 4 W, P = 0.008)”

Increasing power output by 18 percent over baseline is quite impressive!

Another trial of occlusion training in semiprofessional rugby athletes found significant improvements in max sprint time and leg power.

Still, KAATSU is not the best tool to improve athletic power output.

Hormone optimization

Hormones are the chemical dictators of your life. These tiny messages have profound impacts on every facet of our electromagnetobiochemistry and ultimately our quality of life.

One of the key benefits of exercise is the re-regulation of the endocrine system. Shifting from break down into a more life-building.

Most of us live in a chronic sympathetic “fight-or-flight”, high-cortisol state. Over time, degrading and destroying tissues while also increasing inflammation and senescent cell burden.

To top it off, we’re in an era of low testosterone which is correlated with all kinds of disease and reduced vitality.

Growth hormone is considered a “fountain of youth” and is often prescribed by longevity doctors. Yet the higher stress goes, the less growth hormone we have available.

KAATSU helps with each.

Compared to traditional training, KAATSU improves the endocrine system by minimizing stress hormones (ie cortisol), while also boosting the post-exercise anabolic response of hormones like IGF-1, growth hormone, and even testosterone.

Rather than relying on expensive and side-effect-prone exogenous hormone therapy, why not improve your body’s ability to create and use these anti-aging & peak performance hormones naturally using KAATSU?

Longevity & healthspan

Longevity science has grown exponentially in the last few years. Consumers are no longer interested in just extending lifespan, but the quality of those final years too (healthspan).

While modern research is focused on the latest designer longevity molecules, many of these scientists are missing some of the highest-impact therapies.

“Exercise is likely the most powerful anti-aging strategy available” — Dr. Mercola

Not all exercise is equal either. Resistance training is especially important. Particularly because it’s difficult to maintain muscle mass with age. A phenomenon called anabolic resistance. It’s hypothesized to occur mainly because muscles receive less blood flow and thus less nutrient exchange with age.

Yet around 75% of older folks (age 65+) don’t regularly exercise (in any form) enough to stay healthy.

Is it too much time? The Inconvenience of going to the gym? Expense? Discomfort? Lack of knowledge? Prior injury?

Over time, most people exercising regularly will develop injuries. Injuries that either slow their progress or debilitate them entirely.

KAATSU is incredibly potent because it’s accessible and highly effective for adults entering the latter stages of life.

One meta-analysis concluded,

“Available evidence suggests BFR may demonstrate utility in aiding rehabilitation efforts in adults older than 50 years of age, especially for inducing muscle hypertrophy, combating muscle atrophy, increasing muscle strength, and improving muscle function.”

KAATSU also has impressive anti-frailty benefits and rat studies show that it enhances mTOR signaling pathways in skeletal muscle, diminishing age-related muscle breakdown (atrophy).

It also improves muscular size, strength, and “functional ability of active older men and women”.

Finally, a longevity benefit I rarely see discussed. BFR naturally increases NAD+ levels by activating the rate-limiting enzyme called NAMPT.

Blood sugar control

Controlling blood sugar spikes (glycemic variability) along with reducing consumption of inflammatory foods (especially industrial seed oils) are considered two of the most important dietary principles for overall health.

Both of these are vital not only for health but also performance. One company that makes the best continuous glucose monitor for athletes has repeatedly shown that controlling blood sugar is key to athletic excellence. In fact, that’s the entire business of the company.

For longevity, blood sugar matters too. Instead of popping blood sugar medications like metformin, smart BFR usage can yield far better results. In fact, my personal testing with the Nutrisense CGM showed that even just a walk improved post-meal blood sugar better than any molecule.

Yet the primary way the body disposes of blood sugar is through muscle. As much as 80 percent of the glucose we consume gets shuttled into skeletal muscle tissue. Sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle tissue, is also one of the core causes of insulin resistance.

A quick BFR walk or workout can help the muscles pull sugar out of the blood and prevent the glycemic roller coaster throughout the day. Reducing the spikes and troughs of energy and then brain fog.

As well as protecting the brain.

Brain health

I am a huge advocate of safe and effective brain supplements (called nootropics). These can artificially build willpower, motivation, and all the desired effects of high performance until they become engrained as second-nature habits.

Exercise is also one of the best-documented strategies to improve mental health and cognitive performance. As anyone that’s taken a quick 30-second micro-workout break can attest.

KAATSU also has cognitive and mental health effects. While exercise scientists considered lactic acid (lactate) an inevitable metabolic “waste” generated by exercise, it’s also profoundly beneficial for the brain and body. Lactate is responsible for many of the adaptations and growth caused by exercise.

Although it’s produced in muscle tissue, lactate diffuses into the bloodstream and eventually crosses through the blood-brain barrier into the brain.

It’s a super fuel for the brain, supplying up to 60 percent of the brain’s energetic needs (along with ketones).

BFR stimulates neurogenesis (BDNF) and puts the brain into a hyper-learning (neurogenic) state.

Combined with the increased systemic blood flow (better nutrient delivery), and increased oxygenation, the brain has everything it needs to thrive.

Metabolic health

No discussion of exercise is complete without addressing metabolic health.

The metabolism is the body’s system used to convert substrates (foods, drinks, etc) into cellular energy. Ideally, with the least cellular “exhaust” waste products.

Metabolic issues underlie virtually all diseases.

As previously discussed, KAATSU improves blood sugar, leading to less oxidative stress.

This study showed improvements to all kinds of measures of metabolic health in the majority of participants:

  • Systolic blood pressure dropped from an average of 166 mmHg to 146 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure also dropped from an average of 96 mmHg to 86 mmHg
  • HbA1c dropped from an average of 6.8% to 6.12%
  • LDL-c decreased from an average of 158 mg/dl to 136 mg/dl
  • Reduction in weight from an average of 67 kg to 59 kg

Another paper mentioned how KAATSU improves the function of mitochondrial and capillaries, both important to overall metabolism.

Strategic BFR use can dramatically help improve metabolic health and boost mitochondrial function.

Portability & versatility

Most of the top fitness tools are prohibitively heavy or large. I’m often asked about my favorite portable fitness gear for travel, and BFR certainly makes the list.

All the BFR systems I’ve tried easily fit into even the smallest of carry-on bags, and weigh very little.

Although the newer KAATSU models are slightly larger and bulkier than cheap pairs of Amazon BFR Bands, they’re even more versatile.

You can use KAATSU to amplify just about any activity (or even lack thereof).

From getting a cardiovascular workout while just watching TV to boosting the gains made from a tough traditional strength training session to building muscle from a simple walk.

I even managed to find an article explaining how Olympians use KAATSU to overcome jet lag.

This is as close as it gets to an all-in-one physical health tool. Improve recovery, rehab injuries, build strength, boost healthy hormone levels, and stay fit anywhere.

How to use KAATSU

There aren’t many wrong ways to use KAATSU. That’s one consideration that sets the brands apart.

They design each system with safety first.

These machines apply the minimal amount of pressure necessary for maximum results.

KAATSU made their Air Bands out of neoprene so these systems are even used by aquatic athletes.

The main uses are:

  • Athletic performance ergogenic aid
  • Better and faster injury rehabilitation
  • Accelerated recovery from workouts and surgeries
  • Walking and everyday task enhancement

Regardless of your use case, you have to first put the BFR bands on…

Step 0: Applying KAATSU bands

Learning to properly put on KAATSU bands can be daunting at first, but it’s simple and easy after you’ve done it a time or two. Here’s the exact process.

First, only apply KAATSU to one set of limbs at a time. Either arms or legs. Though usually unimportant, this is for added safety.

Push the KAATSU Air Bands as high up your chosen limb as possible:

  • Legs — as close to the groin as possible, and positioned at a slight angle matching your bikini/brief line
  • Arms — near your armpit, above your biceps and triceps but below your delts (shoulder muscles)

In both cases, you’re applying the bands as close to your core as possible. Never put the bands elsewhere.

Then, tighten them down until you can barely fit one finger comfortably between the bands and your skin.

Now, you’re ready to go!

If your feet/hands become clammy or look white/gray/blue you’ve tightened KAATSU too much and should immediately remove the bands. Note that it’s normal and safe for the skin of your feet and/or arms to turn a slight red or pink color. That effect will go away after you remove the bands.

Use #1: Warm-up & cooldown

One of the more common KAATSU uses is a workout warm-up or cooldown.

Cycle mode allows us to begin prepping our muscles to work while we’re doing other activities (like driving to the gym). So that you can make the most of your time spent exercising.

You just put the bands on, select the “low” pressure setting, and do some easy movements. Or just relax.

KAATSU is a simple, low-impact, dynamic, and time-efficient warm-up.

Use #2: Recovery

After a tough athletic session, all kinds of metabolic waste flood muscles. Inflammation, sometimes pain, and extreme soreness ensue. Sometimes, debilitating soreness (DOMS). The kind that knocks you on your butt for the better part of a week.

KAATSU is like metabolic CPR, helping your body clear these waste products so that you can return to feeling great and performing at your peak.

I’ll sometimes use it immediately post extreme exertion, or even the next day once the soreness has started setting in. The difference is significant.

Best of all, it helps improve recovery from other taxing things too. So significant, that the International Olympic Committee Sports Medicine Commission declared KAATSU an effective tool to help mitigate jet lag.

Use #3: Injury rehab

Rehabilitation from injuries of any kind is a long, painful, frustrating, and expensive process. KAATSU can help. Athletic injuries, physical disabilities, surgical procedures, and major and minor injuries alike.

Two main factors make injuries terrible for health:

  1. Rampant inflammation and other direct consequences
  2. Muscle loss from long stretches of inactivity

The body relies on movement and activity to flush metabolic debris, deliver nutrients, and oxygenate tissues. Lean body tissue also acts as a glucose sink and secretes beneficial myochemicals to support optimal full-body health.

Advanced knowledgeable physical therapists successfully use blood flow restriction therapy with their patients.

KAATSU can improve strength, mobility, range of motion, and promote rapid tissue healing. All while reducing pain levels.

Best of all, since the effects are systemic (full-body), you can improve the injury while leaving it completely stationary. No need to exercise that body part.

Although research is slow to validate the benefits of this therapy on injury recovery, real-world anecdotes have been telling the full story for a while.

Use #4: Athletic performance

Athletes of all levels use KAATSU to improve their sports and game.

It’s being used across virtually all physical biomotor abilities. Speed, power, strength, endurance, and mobility. Emerging research is confirming the wide-ranging athletic performance-enhancing effects.

One of the main draws is that KAATSU causes the same beneficial adaptations as traditional training but with little impact on the body. Allowing athletes to train more often and hone their skills. Safely. Efficiently.

Comparatively leading to:

  • Increased muscle protein synthesis
  • Increased growth hormone
  • Increased intra-muscular IGF-1
  • Decreased myostatin
  • Decreased cortisol
  • Stronger immunity

It also improves the mental game of sports too. Learning to tolerate extreme levels of lactate buildup helps athletes make smart decisions while heavily fatigued and under stress.

After warming up with low pressure, athletes prefer KAATSU Constant Mode during workouts, or the Cycle Mode set to high pressure.

Use #5: KAATSU walking

KAATSU Super Walks is the game-changing use case and my personal favorite.

The existing research on KAATSU walks is mind-blowing by itself.

Both KAATSU and normal walking are profoundly beneficial. Each can transform health. Stacking the two, however, is biosynergistic. Leading to dramatically improved results.

Yet for those able, I recommend adding a third component. The rucksack. Rucking is often described as “cardio for those that hate running, and the gym for those that hate lifting”.

Wearing 30-50 pounds on your back while KAATSUing makes for quite the workout.

The KAATSU Super Walk is my favorite, simple, travel-friendly, full-body workout to stay fit in no time flat.

I warm up with low pressure, then go straight into multiple sets at high pressure.

KAATSU Workout Program

There are hundreds if not thousands of different KAATSU programs and protocols.

It’s actually easier to specify what NOT to do with KAATSU than list all the different potential programs.

The major “KAATSU no-no” is to use heavy weights. There’s just no point and it’s dangerous.

You always want to start with minimal pressure and low weight (preferably body weight).

For your first working set, something you can do for 30 reps.

One popular KAATSU program is to step the reps down each set as you increase the weight. This is a simple bodybuilding KAATSU protocol:

  • Reps: 30, 25, 20, 15, 10
  • Sets: 2-5
  • Weight: 20-40% of your 1-rep maximum
  • Rest: 15-45 seconds
  • Frequency: 2-21 sessions per week

For most people, two KAATSU sessions weekly are plenty. Some elite athletes do 2-3 sessions per day for up to three weeks straight.

Of course, the frequency depends on the intensity of the program you follow. The more intense and difficult, the less frequent your sessions.

Another approach, the one used in a lot of the research, is to just focus on the total time your muscles stay under tension (TuT).

One of the beautiful things about KAATSU is that it’s incredibly versatile and hard to do wrong.

My Experience Using The KAATSU B1 Bands

After discovering KAATSU at the old boutique gym I frequented, I switched to normal BFR Bands for over a decade.

I totally forgot my original experience.

I was happy with those pairs of cheap Amazon BFR Bands and used them regularly. Many hundreds of times, and especially while traveling.

At the back of my mind, I always wondered about the tightness. I knew how to check it wasn’t dangerously tight but was it enough for me to get the benefits I read about?

Then I interviewed Chris Morgan of KAATSU Global in 2022, and I remembered the difference.

In 2023, I picked up my pair of KAATSU B1 Bands. I got the model with two compressors and one pair of Air Bands for both my arms and legs.

I hate reading instructions, so I’m a solid barometer of ease of setup/use. From unboxing to running my first Cycle took me just over five minutes. That included downloading the KAATSU app, creating an account, pairing the two compressors to my phone, attaching them to the Air Bands, and tightening them down on my legs.

The app’s UI was quite easy to navigate and I was up and running quickly. The team also constantly pushes updates behind the scenes, which I appreciate.

I’ve barely played around with the advanced modes and features, simply because the normal settings are so effective and easy to use.

If you’re a pro, the B1 app has you covered. You can customize just about every part of the program should you desire.

I immediately noticed these things are a much better build quality than any of the previous systems I’ve tested. They should last.

Low pressure felt good and already more powerful than my Amazon bands. Once I kicked it up to medium and high-pressure, however, I haven’t looked back. These things are in a league of their own.

I decided to follow a typical high-rep, full-body bodybuilding style workout and see how it went. Just over ten minutes of lower body giant sets and I could hardly stand. Wow. Then I switched to upper body and had a similar experience.

The only other time I’ve felt fried from a 24-minute full-body workout was using ARX machines. But these are 1/10 the price, portable, and have more uses.

The B1 device has a solid battery life. Even after I got the low battery warning, I completed an entire workout with it before recharging. I get about 1.5 hours of continuous high-pressure Cycle Mode use out of a single charge.

I’d get an even better battery if I used Constant Mode or lower pressure.

I’m actually passively using it right now on my legs as I write this post. Cycle Mode promotes blood flow & nutrient exchange and naturally boosts the effects of my brain performance-enhancing nootropic supplements.

I’ve noticed some minor annoyances with KAATSU, particularly the B1 model. While the bands themselves are far more comfy than the previous ones I’ve used, they seem to add a little more bulk to my arms/legs than my previous pair.

Though the app is sleek and works great, it requires me to carry my phone and requires a BlueTooth connection to operate. I work to minimize my exposure to non-native EMFs, so I put my phone on airplane mode when it’s directly touching my body. I cannot do that while using the B1.

A few times, the compressors stopped communicating with the app. After a few confused minutes, I easily fixed the problem by restarting both compressors and the app.

Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed by KAATSU and wish I upgraded sooner. Feeling is believing and had I met a local practitioner earlier, I would have sprung for the B1 when it dropped.

There’s just one glaring downside I haven’t mentioned…

KAATSU Systems Pricing

KAATSU is an expensive system. They don’t have any cheap machines. You’re certainly paying for quality here.

Since it’s so expensive, I suggest using their directory of hundreds of global KAATSU Specialists to find one near you. Test it out a few times first to make sure it’s right for you.

Currently, KAATSU sells three primary models:

  • C3 — tried and true, less expensive, no phone required, has less granular customization options
  • C4 — long-awaited update to the C-line which has been ruggedized to withstand the elements, and features convenient presets for greater customization.
  • B1 — great model that uses BlueTooth, logs real-time data, allows complete freedom of movement, has Cycle & Constant Modes
  • B2 — newest KAATSU system with significant durability and usability upgrades over the B1
  • M3 — designed for KAATSU Specialists to use with multiple clients, clinical, considerably more expensive

Each system has several customization features:

  • Extra year of warranty on device for +$80
  • Air Bands for either arms, legs, or both


The price ranges for each KAATSU BFR package:

  • C3 — $699.95 (no bands) up to $999.95 (four bands and four compressors)
  • C4 — $849.95 (no bands) up to $1,199.95 (four bands and four compressors)
  • B1 — $1,299.95 (arm bands and two compressors) up to $1,999.95 (four bands and four compressors)
  • B2 — $2,399.95 (four bands and four compressors)
  • M3 — $5,499.95 +$25.00 per month after 25 months up to $7,499.95 +$50.00 per month after 25 months

I prefer the B1 or B2 because it has a highly customizable, Cycle Mode. You probably don’t need the expensive Quad Model. The Dual Model is just fine.

Whatever model you choose, click here to unlock the discount: KAATSU is giving Outliyrs an exclusive discount. The code URBAN saves you 5%.

KAATSU Questions & Answers

Does KAATSU work?

KAATSU works great for all kinds of uses. From building muscle, to workout recovery, to injury rehab. That’s why it’s a top tool of elite trainers, professional athletes, and multiple Olympians.

Is KAATSU the same as BFR?

KAATSU is the original, safest, and most effective form of BFR training, used in 177+ published clinical trials. Other BFR Band systems are trying to replicate KAATSU but fall short due to multiple patents and an incomplete understanding of the science.

KAATSU BFR Review: Final Verdict

KAATSU is the product of over 50 years of research, development, and technological advancement.

It’s also been the subject of 173+ peer-reviewed research papers in English alone. Far more in Japan.

No other BFR system has even half of the accolades or proven efficacy.

Although I first used KAATSU over a decade ago, when I moved away from the KAATSU gym, I eventually made the switch to a cheaper BFR system. It had been a year or so since my last KAATSU session. So comparison became tough, but I liked those budget bands.

I tried some of the other popular brands, and they were considerably better. But I couldn’t justify the cost.

I used my cheap bands regularly for over a decade. Then I got another taste of KAATSU, this time the B1 model.

Mere minutes into my first session, I was sold. There’s no comparison. No going back.

Only problem?


KAATSU is expensive. So I recommend finding a local KAATSU Specialist and doing a few sessions with them. Go ahead and try their competitors too.

You’ll feel the difference. When you’re ready to upgrade to the #1 top BFR band system, the folks at KAATSU Global are hooking you up.

Just click the button below and claim your discount.

Get Limited-Time KAATSU Deal

Use the exclusive KAATSU coupon code URBAN for 5% off

Do you use KAATSU or train with other BFR bands? Let me know your experience in the comments below!

KAATSU Machine BFR Training Bands Review

KAATSU is the #1 best BFR band system. A top fitness biohack. This KAATSU review explains the science, benefits, how it works, ideal workout plans & a special discount

Product Brand: Kaatsu


  • Safe & effective
  • Used in real clinical research
  • Great customer support
  • Practitioners worldwide
  • Countless use cases
  • Largest global network of specialists
  • Great build quality
  • Most customization options of any BFR band machine


  • Expensive
  • Requires BlueTooth connection to phone
  • Short warranty
  • Models constantly upgrading
  • Bulkier than cheap bands
  • Cannot inflate both arm & leg bands at the same time with 2 compressors
  • Compressors are loud while using high pressure

Post Tags: Biohacking, Fitness, Gear, Hacks, Lifestyle, Movement, Recovery & Resilience, Review

5 thoughts on “KAATSU Review: #1 BFR Machine Used By Pros, Military, Olympians & High-Achievers?”

  1. I’ve been using BStrong bfr bands and switching to KAATSU, but don’t know whether to go with C3 or B1 Dual. I don’t want addt’l EMF exposure & worry about sketchy internet connection while traveling (B1), but I’m also not keen on the tubing (C3). If I went with the B1 but never used the bluetooth features, is the unit still fully functional (aside from data collection)? Any other downsides/upsides either direction? Thanks

    • Hi! I totally get what you mean. You don’t need WiFi/internet for the B1. But it does require BlueTooth to function, unfortunately. All the controls are done via the app, and it needs some kind of signal to communicate from the phone to the device.

  2. Nick,
    Appreciate this article… you are thorough and articulate. After 25 years in the SEAL Teams and 13 Orthopedic surgeries, I needed some way to keep exercising my body without straining my back, knees, hips, shoulders & neck (yes… ALL hurt… hahaha). During the rehab from my last two ortho surgeries, the USSOCOM PTs used KAATSU on me; I was HOOKED. I retired from the Teams in 2017, traveled to Tokyo, and trained under Dr. Sato, and I’ve been with the company ever since. Your readers are more than welcome to use me as a sounding board for questions, etc. Take care.
    V/r, John Doolittle, CAPT, USN (Ret)

  3. Very good article. One minor correction: you state that the KAATSU C3 only has Constant mode. This is incorrect. The C3 has both Cycle and Constant modes.


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