lifestyle

Fitness regime makes light weights heavy

27 Comments
By Rebecca Milner

To the uninitiated, a Kaatsu training session probably looks like a gym workout for sissies. Look closer, though, and you’ll notice that the participants have constrictive cuffs strapped around their arms and legs. “Kaatsu” literally means “adding pressure” in Japanese, and the bands are designed to restrict blood flow. This can produce a number of advantages, not least increasing the amount of growth hormones that the body releases during exercise.

Originally designed as an efficient way to increase muscle mass, Kaatsu has recently seen its popularity increase dramatically—thanks in part to endorsements by celebrity fans like actress Aya Sugimoto. As interest in the regime has grown, so too has its scope, and it is now used for weight loss, anti-aging, rehabilitation and general fitness training.

The story of Kaatsu’s origins is, in itself, strangely poetic. While attending a Buddhist memorial service in 1966, high school student Yoshiaki Sato noted the tenderness in his legs that resulted from kneeling throughout the lengthy ceremony. The sensation reminded him of the one he got doing calf exercises, which led him to believe that both were linked to a reduction in blood flow.

In the decades that followed, Sato rigorously tested this hypothesis on himself—continuing, in more recent years, as a member of an NPO affiliated with the Tokyo University Research Center for Total Life Health and Sports Science. The refined formula that he produced is now patented in Japan, the U.S. and several European countries. It is also being considered for use in space travel as a means of preventing muscle atrophy in astronauts.

According to Tokyo-based personal trainer Masahiko Tanaka, Kaatsu works by stimulating high amounts of growth hormones through low-resistance training—attaining levels usually only seen in heavy weight training. “If you normally do ten reps of 10kg, with Kaatsu that becomes roughly similar to doing 30 regular reps of 30 kgs,” he explains. “You get the results of doing heavy exercise without the strain, so there is actually less risk of injury. What’s more, people with injuries can do this for rehabilitation.”

Tanaka’s springy step, compact frame and easy smile make him an excellent advertisement for the training he advocates. So does his impressive client list, which includes NBA and PGA players. However, he emphasizes that Kaatsu training is not just for professional athletes: “It’s for everyone. But I particularly recommend it for the elderly, in order to improve mobility, and for busy people who need a time-efficient training plan.”

It’s the low-intensity aspect that has made Kaatsu a popular method for women looking to slim down and tone up. At the two Kubira training studios that Tanaka runs—a private one in Ginza and a public one in Korakuen—over 80% of the regular members are female. “We have clients who are here to step up their routine, but we also see a number who are training for the first time,” he says.

At Kubira, a typical 90-minute training session with a licensed personal instructor includes stretches and warm-up exercises, followed by an hour of free weights, machines, and floor exercises. Not one to pass up a new experience, I agree to have my arms and legs strapped up for a short trial.

With a few measured tugs, Tanaka cinches my upper arms, creating a sensation not unlike having your blood pressure taken. We begin with a few simple exercises, like opening and clenching the fists, which cause blood to collect in the capillaries. This is another interesting benefit: blood is directed into long-unused capillaries, making them active and turning the arms a shocking pink.

After this warm-up, Tanaka walks me through a series of very low-resistance free weight exercises, such as 1kg bicep curls. Though they involve no more weight than a frying pan—and certainly less than my handbag—these seemingly easy lifts leave my arm muscles burning as if I’d been struggling with something much heavier.

And that’s the crux of Kaatsu training. As Tanaka reiterates, and my tender arms help confirm, it stimulates hard training through lighter, strain- and stress-free exercises. He recommends two sessions a week, noting that results should be apparent within the first month.

2F, 2-25-12 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-6801-8293. Open daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (reservation necessary). Nearest station: Korakuen.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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27 Comments
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First "Billy's Boot Camp" then this. Give it a few months and it will be forgotten, too.

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The Kaatsu "boom" was actually several years ago- it's not the latest fad, it's been around a while, and seems to have picked up a dedicated following- I saw a Kaatsu training studio just recently.

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doesn't cutting off blood flow seem a bit dangerous? I can see someone having a stroke from this.

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I'm happy enough with my weight training program, but I'm always open to new things (too many on the market nowadays though). As Osakadaz said, it does sound a little scary though

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I'll be signing up just as soon as a I become an astronaut.

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Cutting off bloodflow is extremely dangerous. Isn't that a CON?

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Cutting off blood flow is dangerous, restricting it a little apparently not.

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I met somebody, who had trained with this system. Her arms got a lot of muscle in 2 weeks!

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The inventor caused his own pulmonary embolism while trying to develop the method, resulting in hospitalization. So there are risks.

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My wife does this reguarly at the gym. Seems to work well for her. Helps her get a lot of workout into a short session.

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I wonder about parallels. In the movie "night life in tokyo", a scene is shown, where a man is almost choked to get a stronger sensation. At the same time he is choking, also the blood flow to his brain is reduced. In this case, it is not so healthy.

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Several trainers at the Gold's I go to use this method. Based on the results I've seen from their clients -- mostly ladies as the article indicates -- it seems to work. Maybe so much at adding mass/bulk, but definitely in adding strength and tone. And, the trainers are continually monitoring their clients through out the workout on some kind of computer to maximize the work out and reduce the potential risk.

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This technique has been used for centuries to increase performance and stamina...albeit on a much smaller scale.

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Huh! I wonder what kind of strenght gains people are actually experiencing from this. What good are aesthetics if they aren’t functional? This sounds like a gimmick to me. Anyways, if any of you want to try something that works, try CrossFit. It's not for everybody because it's tough. People are inherently lazy and are always looking for an easy (lazy) way to fitness.

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People are not inherently lazy but stupid to believe all that is advertized.

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betcha if you take those S&M straps off, and do regular weight training, you'll see exactly the same results

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Isn't one of the basic ideas of exercise to increase the size of blood vessels and increasing blood flow? I think generally God did a pretty good job of making our bodies work as they do so why mess around with whats already good by stopping it do what its supposed to..

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@insearchofbushido: LOL!

@scoobydoo: Emphasis there on "pretty good". For instance our wounds close as fast as possible to avoid infection, producing undesirable scarring. You can keep that, if you like, or alternatively use science to prevent infection, slow the growth and reduce scarring.

Also, our bodies have evolved to adapt to the demands we place on them, and sitting in an office is not very (physically) demanding.

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This technique is dangerous and leads to thousands of deaths each year. I don't understand why it's being promoted here.

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People are not inherently lazy but stupid to believe all that is advertized.

I agree, many things that are advertised are complete BS. But in the case of Kaatsu, a friend of mine who had used it introduced me to it, and I found it quite effective. I will certainly use it again.

It is also useful for people who want to build or maintain muscle strength without putting too much stress on the joints (e.g., older people, or those with certain injuries).

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"...a friend of mine...." This is called anecdotal evidence. Personally, I wouldn't be inclined to reduce my circulation and then exercise, based on the story of a friend of a friend. Why not just get off your butt and do the exercise properly? There are no shortcuts to having a fit, strong, healthy body.

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And take a look at the photo: The girl is exercising her deltoids, which are well above the point where her armbands are reducing the bloodflow. It doesn't even make sense.

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Yeah yeah yeah, it also leads to premature varicose veins. No thanks, arm bany bandits!

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"...a friend of mine...." This is called anecdotal evidence.

Yes, a friend introduced the system to me. But I did try it several times myself, and based on my direct experience with it I concluded that it was quite effective. I also checked out the scientific literature; just do a PubMed search if you're not convinced.

It doesn't lead to varicose veins, you tighten the straps for only a very short period. For those who feel this is not natural, consider that exercising with heavy weights is also not natural. With Kaatsu, you build muscle strength without placing excessive stress on your joints.

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Another website is http://kaatsu.jp/english/index.html

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Some actual science on the method if you are interested: http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/106/4/1119

Standard resistance training isn't unnatural. Its a replacement for the work we'd be doing if we didn't lead sedentary lives. Its ironic that people want to find a shortcut even during exercise. Why not just take some steroids?

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This technique is dangerous and leads to thousands of deaths each year. I don't understand why it's being promoted here.

Proof?

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