When it comes to hilariously real and endlessly relatable workout inspiration, it's hard to beat Tracee Ellis Ross and her epic Instagram videos. And recently, she showed off a new addition to her famously intense sessions: cuffs on her thighs that restrict blood flow.
In a clip posted Saturday to her Instagram page, Ellis Ross is seen working out at her go-to spot, Rise Movement Studio, in Los Angeles. Not only did she have a cheerleader in the form of an adorable pooch nearby, but the masked-up star, 48, crushed a sled push, as she pushed the weighted piece of equipment across the gym space.
Upping the ante on the Black-ish star's fierce, full-body move is the addition of Smart Tools Plus SmartCuffs (Buy It, $299, smarttoolsplus.com), which Ellis Ross gave a bit more info about in the caption of her Instagram post. "Explanation on the cuffs," began the actress. "BFR or blood flow restriction training allows you to get the same results with a lighter load as you would with a heavier load. I use these for the first 10 minutes of my workout. Thank you to the mad scientist[s] over at @smarttoolsusa for these."
If you've never heard about this technique, you're probably going to have a few questions about it (and wonder how restricting blood flow could be safe, let alone effective). For starters, these cuffs are often used by physical therapists as a way to intentionally decrease blood flow to your limbs — typically around the arms just under the shoulders or around the legs just below the hips, as Hannah Dove, D.P.T., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., a doctor of physical therapy at Providence Saint John's Health Center's Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, CA, previously explained to Shape. (While you're here, read more about blood flow restriction training.)
These cuffs work similarly to blood pressure cuffs that may have been used on you at a doctor's appointment. But for strength training, as Ellis Ross demonstrates on Instagram, the cuffs safely reduce blood flow which, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your muscles, ultimately mimicking what happens naturally when you lift heavy weights. By wearing the RBF cuffs, you'll reach fatigue and oxygen depletion faster without needing to push such a heavy load, efficiently stimulating muscle growth without requiring extra work. Sounds like a win-win, right?
The practice, which has been used since the 1960s in Japan and has become a go-to technique for weight lifters and Olympic athletes alike, is often used by people recovering from orthopedic injuries and/or procedures. In fact, Eric Bowman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Franklin, TN, previously told Shape that it "has the potential to be a major advancement in the way we rehabilitate patients with knee pain, ACL injuries, tendonitis, post-operative knee surgery, and more." (Related: How I Recovered After Tearing My ACL Five Times — Without Surgery)
Still, before you try it on your own, it's worth checking in with a sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist, since the technique is typically only done for a few minutes at a time, which is why Ellis Ross only wears hers for 10 minutes. If applied incorrectly (whether too tightly or in the wrong position), you risk potentially scary side effects such as nerve damage, muscle damage, and/or blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism).
And while it is used to help strengthen muscles in adults of all ages and those recovering from injury, there are some people who are definitely not candidates for RBF training. "Anyone with a history of blood clots should not participate in blood flow restriction training,'' explained Dr. Bowman. Others with significant heart disease, hypertension, vascular disease, poor blood flow, or anyone who is pregnant should also avoid BFR training as it may increase the risk of stroke. (Related: Why Active Women Are at Risk for Blood Clots)
But if you are looking to switch up your strength training and want to take a tip from the Girlfriends alum, check in with a trusted physical therapist, sports medicine pro, or certified trainer to see if RBF training is right for you. Of course, even sans cuffs, you can get a killer workout by using your gym's sled — although it might not be nearly as fun without Ellis Ross and a perfect gym pooch cheering you on. Now that cuffing season has arrived, it might be time for the term to take on a whole new meaning.