PURPOSE: To determine the acute cardiovascular and perceptual responses of low-load exercise with or without blood flow restriction and compare those responses to that of moderately heavy exercise.
METHODS: Twenty-two participants completed unilateral elbow flexion exercise with a moderately heavy-load- [70% one-repetition maximum (1RM); 70/0] and with three low-load conditions (15% 1RM) in combination with 0% (15/0), 40%, (15/40) and 80% (15/80) arterial occlusion pressure. Participants exercised until failure (or until 90 repetitions per set). The cardiovascular response (arterial occlusion) was measured pre and post exercise and the perceptual responses [ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and discomfort] were determined before and after each set of exercise.
RESULTS: For arterial occlusion pressure, the lower-load conditions had greater change from pre to post compared to 70/00 (e.g., 15/80: 44 vs. 70/0: 34 mmHg). RPE was highest across the sets for the 15/80 condition with the other conditions having similar RPE (e.g., set 4: median rating of 17.2 for 15/80 vs. ~ 15.5 for other conditions). Ratings of discomfort were also greatest for the 15/80 condition (15/80 > 15/40 > 15/0 > 70/0). Exercise volume within the 15/0 and 15/40 conditions were similar but were significantly greater than that observed with the 15/80 and 70/0 conditions.
CONCLUSION: Low-load exercise to volitional failure results in a greater cardiovascular response to that of moderately heavy-load exercise. When high pressure is applied to low load exercise, there is a reduction in exercise volume but an elevated perceptual response that may be an important consideration when applying this stimulus in practice.