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Performance Enhancement for Female Footballers: A Pioneering Research Study into BFR for Recovery

Hytro continues its mission to establish the power of Blood Flow Restriction through collaborative research with Bristol City Women’s Football Club. In a move that consolidates its commitment to pushing the boundaries of BFR, the world’s first BFR wearable brand will conduct unprecedented research within women’s sport to ascertain if it is as effective as seen in previously carried out male-based studies.

Bristol City Women's Football player wearing Hytro BFR Performance Shorts whilst training

Overview of the research aims

Further to last month’s research partnership announcement, Hytro Founder, Dr Warren Bradley and Bristol City’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Jack Instrall, met to update us on how the study will be conducted and what they aim to achieve.

This collaboration will again enable Dr Warren to utilise his extensive pro sports industry experience within Rugby and Premier League Football to conduct this study with the specific aim of pioneering research within the field of female athletes. With a passion for addressing the lack of research in this area, driven by the recent increased prevalence of injuries, Dr Warren hypothesizes that BFR can play an important role in women’s sports moving forward.

 

Jack Instrall, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Bristol City Women's Football

 

Adding to this, Jack, who previously built his expertise in coaching at Bristol Bears Rugby Club, is now solely focused on working with female athletes utilising the proven philosophies and procedures from rugby with the women’s football team at Bristol City.

Jack advised: “We are laying the movement foundations first, and then developing the physical qualities on top of that to not only enhance our performance and physical outputs but to also minimise injury risk.”

The study will look to validate BFR as a recovery tool for female footballers and ascertain Hytro BFR wearables as a safe, effective, and feasible means to recover post-game. Previously proven through research conducted with male athletes, this project focuses on replicating such investigations within women’s sport to begin to address the lack of female-focused research and provide evidence-based understanding of how BFR can be utilised by female athletes.

 

Bristol City Women's Football player wearing Hytro BFR Performance Shorts whilst recovering

 

Challenges to recovery within football

Providing a suite of recovery options for female footballers, as seen in the men’s game, presents a significant challenge for coaching staff due to a lack of resources and funding. To optimise athlete recovery, it is important that players have access to recovery modalities immediately post-game, particularly when playing away from home. It’s equally important that the players understand and buy in to the option(s) presented to them to ensure they execute the protocol and begin the recovery process. Without buy-in, the science is meaningless.

Jack explained: “The lack of resources in academy settings historically, and still in some areas, is a possible factor contributing to the injury rates being seen within the current elite women’s game. This lack of resource delays the development of the movement foundations and physical qualities in academy players, whilst the demands of the sport continue to increase. This is why recovery is a big focus for us and implementing techniques such as BFR can become an important tool to support the athletic performance of our players.”

 

Hytro’s safety and simplicity enables squad-wide application

Hytro BFR wearables have been designed to ensure safety and simplicity. It is the only BFR product that can be used squad-wide, without one-on-one supervision and in any setting, making studies such as this with Bristol City possible.

Jack recognises the ease of use with the wearables, commenting: “We have immediately recognised the feasibility and applicability of this form of BFR. It has been implemented across the whole team as a recovery protocol. We have been able to provide players with a pair of the shorts each, making it so easy to implement, and critically, to deliver this study within a team setting.”

 

Hytro BFR Performance Shorts on bench in women's changing rooms

 

The study sets out to evidence the efficacy and feasibility of Recovery BFR through the Hytro BFR wearables and will use standardised protocols to ensure it is reproducible going forward. In addition, we will determine the practicality and feasibility of using the BFR shorts, by reviewing ease of use and buy-in from players.

Jack talked of this importance, stating: “Feasibility and being able to successfully implement BFR in a team setting is of high importance to us because there’s so much travel within the game of football. We aim to implement our recovery processes immediately post-match, whether we are home or away, which is achievable with Hytro.”

 

The safety of the study, in addition to the safety validation already in place from previous research studies for Hytro BFR wearables, has been assured due to all players undergoing medical screening, and consent for under 18s has been gained from parents and carers.

 

 

Protocols for recovery BFR, straight after the match, and on game day plus two

The research study will be conducted across four professional games, with interventions completed and data collected directly post-game and on game day plus two to ascertain its impact on performance enhancement.

Dr Warren shared the key principles of the protocols being used, stating: “The Post-game Recovery BFR intervention will consist of three times five minutes of Hytro BFR applied at either its maximum strap setting (group 1), or at its minimum setting (group 2), with two minutes unstrapped rest to allow reperfusion (flushing) to take place. The groups will swap each week so that every athlete is exposed to both conditions on two occasions allowing us to compare their data both individually and as a group. The intervention will be performed <1hrs post-game either in the changing room or on the bus when travelling home. In addition, for the first time, we will implement an active Recovery BFR protocol on game day plus two. We will assess the effects of a bike flush protocol using three times three minutes cycling at a low cadence (approximately 80watts at 70rpm) with one minute rest between rounds, comparing Hytro at setting 1 (group 1) versus Hytro at max setting (group 2) and swapping groups over the 4 game study intervention. Our aim here is to validate the Recovery benefits of the Hytro BFR Performance Shorts and their impact on subsequent exercise performance on game day plus two.”

 

Bristol City Women's Football player kicking ball

 

The general objective of this study is to enhance player recovery and their ability to train in subsequent exercise sessions by applying Recovery BFR post-game, and on game day plus two. This should enhance player availability, reduce injury incidence, and improve exercise performance.

Jack stated: “In the morning on game day plus two we collect a wellness questionnaire from players, then combine that with heart rate variability. Collecting this data weekly provides a longitudinal picture of recovery throughout the season.

In addition to those two measures, we also use Countermovement Jump (CMJ) to assess readiness to perform. We use normative scores to assess the fatigue status of each player and inform decisions to modify their training that day if necessary.”

Dr Warren added: “We generally expect to see a decrement in CMJ measures on a game day plus two versus pre-game. What we also expect is that the use of Hytro BFR will be effective in mitigating these losses, minimising the need to reduce the intensity of the training session on that day.”

 

Bristol City Women's Football player wearing Hytro BFR Performance Shorts whilst recovering

 

Jack advised: “We collectively hypothesise that Hytro may provide an effective and safe strategy to improve our recovery. If that is the case, then we will implement this recovery strategy throughout the whole season due to the efficiency and effectiveness Hytro offers.

Due to the young training age of the squad, Bristol City are keen to utilise BFR to support training adaptations and manage the demands of the Women’s Super League.

Jack commented: “Any marginal gains or performance enhancements we can deliver are of real benefit to us. So, in the future, we will explore how we can efficiently utilise BFR in other areas of our programme to improve performance and recovery.”

 

Partnership with Bristol City Women

Hytro is delighted to partner with Bristol City Women and work alongside Jack who heads up this applied research opportunity. The Robins High Performance Centre is a recently developed state-of-the-art facility, offering a wide range of gold-standard equipment and opportunities to collect robust data.

Dr Warren comments: “Collaborating on this integral research piece with a club like Bristol City and a Strength and Conditioning Coach of Jack’s ability, makes this even more exciting. Not only are we pioneering female athlete research, but we are doing so with a partner who embodies the same core values and is as passionate about progressing women’s sport as we are.”

 

 

Athlete buy-in so far

As already discussed, player buy-in for recovery is crucial and therefore, as with all research studies, Dr Warren and the Hytro experts presented BFR and the Hytro BFR wearables to the players showcasing the current evidence that details BFR’s effectiveness as a recovery tool. This interactive session offered the players the chance to understand the science and ask questions about the products.

Jack shared that player buy-in has been positive: “We had an immediate interest in this project due to the fact that all the existing research has been conducted using male athletes, so there was genuine excitement about being the first cohort to represent female athletes, and specifically footballers. There was some expected anticipation around how it would feel, so we ran a familiarisation week prior to the first game using the lowest setting on the shorts to get the players used to the feeling of BFR. This has meant the players are now fully engaged and straight after the game know how to operate the shorts independently.”

 

Hytro extends its research efforts to include female athletes as part of its mission to bring the power of BFR to all. Alongside a recently completed Recovery study with Bristol Bears Rugby Union, studies are ongoing with Gloucester Rugby, Wales Rugby Union Women’s team, Oxford United, and Grimsby Town, with more to be announced. Dr Warren welcomes enquiries from clubs, coaches, and athletes who would also like to collaborate on future research opportunities and can be contacted at warren@hytro.com.

 

You can learn more about how BFR can be applied within football or join our pro sports community to receive our monthly coaches newsletter with the latest on BFR and performance, sign up on our pro sports area.

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