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Hytro BFR to be subject of exciting new research into recovery of top-flight rugby with James Morehen of Bristol Bears

Hytro are delighted to announce a new research project between Dr Warren Bradley, co-founder of Hytro, Dr James Morehen, author of The Performance Nutritionist, and Premiership Rugby side Bristol Bears.
Together, they will use Hytro BFR to carry out the first practical BFR study that’s ever been done in professional sport.

Background

This is not the first time that Dr Warren Bradley and Dr James Morehen will be working together. After meeting while studying for their PhDs at Liverpool John Moores University, the pair have conducted extensive research within the field of sports performance publishing numerous scientific papers, and have collectively accumulated two decades of experience working within elite professional sports teams, supporting hundreds of athletes with their physical development and nutritional strategies.

 

Their first collaborative research study centred around the Widnes Vikings Rugby League (RL) team. Leading a team of thirty practitioners and academics, the pair, supervised by the globally renowned academic Professor Graeme Close, examined the energy requirements of elite RL match play by taking muscle biopsies from players pre and post-match, in a ground breaking research study.   The study outcome has helped re-write the nutrition guidelines for professional rugby players across the globe.

 

 

A further study took place at Warrington Wolves, for whom Dr James Morehen was working as a Performance Nutritionist. Again, they used muscle biopsies as a method to determine the most optimal refuelling strategies after a simulated rugby league match. The results inspired a widespread adoption of the practical recommendations for carbohydrate replenishment post-match play. Such was the study’s success that a spin off study won silver at the European Congress of Sport Science.

 

Dr Warren Bradley and Dr James Morehen share a philosophy that marries academia and practice. While many practitioners read research as black and white, the pair seek solutions by using ecologically valid studies with results that can be practically applied. Given this, both believe that Hytro BFR presents the perfect opportunity for their next research project.

 

The importance of recovery

Bristol Bears play a minimum of 30 games each season. With fixtures across the Gallagher Premiership, Premiership Rugby Cup, European Challenge Cup, and friendlies, players must be at their best so they can perform consistently at the highest level. It is no wonder that a common saying in the changing room is ‘your best ability is your availability’.

To play at the highest level possible, it is important to conduct intense, game-realistic training sessions. Following a fixture on a Friday night, for example, Bristol Bears Head Coach Pat Lam needs as many players as possible fit and ready to go in their Monday morning training session. Having players missing through injury or muscle soreness compromises the squad and limits the benefits of training sessions.

It is for this reason that recovery is so important for elite athletes. That recovery begins the moment a game finishes. Modalities such as sleep and nutrition are vital to repair and refuel the body. Players will often be given protein shakes and compression garments, or take part in cold water immersion. Increasingly, players are choosing to wear Hytro BFR to supercharge their recovery.

 

 

The research

While BFR is extensively used within the rehabilitation and performance spaces, there is strong emerging research utilising BFR for recovery. While those studies have found a positive correlation, further research is needed to determine the most practical applications of this technique around elite sporting fixtures. As such, this will be the first-ever real world Recovery BFR study using a professional sports team.

Anecdotally, many dozens of elite clubs have embraced Hytro BFR for recovery. Players have recorded improvements in performance testing in the days after using Recovery BFR post-game, including countermovement jumps and sprints. They also report significant reductions in joint pain and muscle soreness and feeling better prepared to train. Now, Dr Warren Bradley and Dr James Morehen are seeking to validate this anecdotal evidence through their new research study, a study that will be led by Nathan Jones, MSci student from Chichester University working with the team, supervised by Dr Morehen.

“Subjective markers of wellness haven’t been used regularly at Bristol Bears,” Morehen commented. “Throughout the study, however, we’ll use such markers to collect data. We’ll also use objective markers, such as countermovement jumps, the NordBoard, and sprint time, momentum and power. For these, there is lots of historical data we’ve collected which can also be added in. We’ll assess whether Hytro BFR improves these scores.”

“We won’t just be doing passive BFR after a match,” added Bradley. “We’ll also be working with players on gameday +2, utilising a bike flush through Hytro BFR. The literature tells us that such work will modulate pain and improve mobility for the sessions ahead, but we need to validate this in an ecologically valid way, in a real world professional sports set up, not in a lab.”

 

 

Hytro BFR as a recovery modality

From the available literature, it is clear three physiological reactions occur when BFR is applied: 1, cell swelling through restricted blood flow will lock blood and metabolites in the muscle cells creating stress and stimulating muscle protein synthesis, the central regulatory pathway for muscle recovery. 2, once the BFR strap is removed, a powerful flush of blood will flushes waste products and inflammation from the muscles and joints while transferring recovery hormones systemically around the body. And 3, reperfusion of structural tissues will driving fresh nutrient-rich blood into the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Each of these physiological processes aids recovery, which is why an increasing number of elite sports clubs are choosing to use Hytro BFR for recovery.

“Our players can finish games as late as 10pm,” said Morehen. “Though they understand the importance of nutrition, they may not feel like eating. They could be sore, inflamed, and full of caffeine and fluid. We have cold water immersion, sauna blankets, masseurs, physiotherapists and nutritional interventions. However, Hytro BFR offers a very quick, easy and efficient means of recovery that can be applied in many situations. Players can sit on the coach after a match and strap in for three sets of five minutes of passive BFR, without the need for complex or time consuming equipment. From a mechanical point of view, that starts the recovery process. It’s for that exact reason that I’m excited about Hytro: it’s a genuine recovery modality.

“There are BFR alternatives to Hytro out there. However, they tend to be cumbersome. We have traditionally had to supervise an athlete using BFR to ensure it is first set up in the right position for safety, but second, to pump up the BFR device to a pre determined safe pressure. Furthermore, IF we decide to let a player use the device on his own accord, we must first upskill that athlete to administer BFR on themselves safely, while relying on them to perform the modality consistently with each and every use. It’s time-heavy. In contrast, Hytro BFR makes it as easy as possible for players to use, which is why we’ve seen such buy-in at Bristol Bears.”

“The most important factor for the study to be a success, is to attain player buy-in,” said Dr Warren Bradley. “If players don’t like something, they won’t do it. What we introduce needs to be easy for them to understand, easy to do, and accessible. We know from James’s work with the players that Hytro BFR ticks all three boxes.

“We’ve already done extensive testing to prove the safety of Hytro BFR, the safe proximal location is in-built within the Hytro prioducts, and the pressure levels attained are researched and understood – the products cannot occlude an artery, and are known to be sub-occlusive (Dhokia et al., 2022). Practitioners know that there’s science behind the product. Now, we’re taking the next step.”

 

The next step

Dr Warren Bradley and Dr James Morehen are finalising their research methods intending to begin imminently. In-season, with its focus on maintaining performance levels and competition, proves the ideal time to undertake research into recovery

“To have a club of such calibre working with us on this project is exciting,” said Dr Warren Bradley. “While there’s a body of literature behind the safety and efficacy of BFR, there’s very little ecologically valid data that can be used to inform real world practice, particularly in the recovery space. We’re seeking to change that.”

 

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