A new technique that aims to enhance athletic performance is being tested at the University of Guelph. It may also help with injury recovery and in treating chronic diseases.

Prof. Jamie Burr, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, is testing whether performance and recovery can be improved in athletes through a technique called external blood flow manipulation.

The process involves reducing blood flow to a muscle by applying a constrictive device that resembles a blood pressure cuff or tourniquet. This causes pooling in blood vessels below the location of the cuff. Previous research has shown that this action alone prevents loss in muscle strength and size, Burr said.

He is testing external blood flow manipulation in Guelph track athletes and recreationally fit individuals, as well as in elderly people and those who are infirm and unable to exercise.

“Our early work suggests that, through targeted training, we are able to alter the body’s adaptive response, bringing about changes in strength and muscle growth that might not otherwise be expected with relatively light-intensity exercise,” Burr said.

By manipulating blood flow and applying electrical impulses to achieve a muscle contraction, Burr says, some of the health benefits of exercise can be achieved. Users may see gains in muscle strength and size comparable to those achieved through more traditional resistance exercise, he said.

Burr believes this research could help with rehabilitation for bedridden patients, reducing their recovery times and improving their quality of life. Simply applying the device to a muscle group could result in exercise-induced benefits, without the associated risk of falling, he said.

External blood flow manipulation may also have a role in treating other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, Burr said, citing evidence that altering muscle and exercise-mediated hormones could help to regulate blood sugar levels.

“This could have a big impact for people at risk for diabetes or diabetes-related complications.”

Burr is working with graduate students Joshua Slysz and Kyle Thompson to test external blood flow manipulation at the new Human Performance and Health Research Lab.

The research is supported by Mitacs, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, SpringBoard Atlantic, Innovation PEI, and by the technology development offices at the University of Prince Edward Island and U of G.