The Monaghan physio whose training tool has reached the stars
SITTING at work one afternoon, Lorcan McGee stumbled upon a news report on ESPN.
A physio with experience at the head of his fields in football, rugby, ballet and boxing, the Monaghan native had long been exploring the potentials of blood flow restriction [BFR] training.
Ever since he’d worked in ballet in Birmingham and found it the answer to a lingering problem with one of the dancers at his disposal, it had intrigued him.
“We could not get him back on stage. We’d get him about 80 per cent right all the time, and he’d keep breaking down at the last bit,” says McGee.
“We were getting frustrated, wondering what we could do. Basically he had an osteochondral defect [a focal area of damage that involves both the cartilage and a piece of underlying bone].
“Ledley King [former Tottenham defender] had the same thing - he swam, did bike work but rarely trained.”
Out of it he delved into Kaatsu training. The name is derived from Japanese, meaning ‘added pressure’ and involved applying compression that ‘mildly’ restricts blood flow while performing low-load exercise.
“There was very little science around it but it looked really promising,” says McGee.
“We had a go with it and didn’t we get your fella better? He was back on stage and we were managing him with light loads.
“To get strong, you need to be able to lift 70-80 per cent of your one-rep max. When we were trying to get him strong, his knee kept swelling up. You start to get into the really heavy stuff and he’d swell up.
“With the Kaatsu training, we started looking into it and they were able to show that exercising with lighter weights but some sort of torniquete or strap around a leg or arm could allow you to gain similar benefits as from high-strength training.
“There was very little evidence but we had a go and realised it works.”
From there, McGee, who played club football for Emyvale in his younger days, decided to invest some of his time and money in developing a product that would act as the torniquete for athletes.
That’s when he saw the ESPN report.
Walter Lowe, the team doctor at NFL side Houston Texans, had brought blood flow restriction training to light in America through his work in 2014 with linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
A No1 draft pick, Clowney’s career was in jeopardy after suffering a knee injury in the first game of the season.
The idea has first largely come about through the US military, which used BFR not only for physical gain among soldiers, but also for the rehabilitation of those that had been wounded.
McGee saw the report and thought he had missed the boat.
But the technology being used by NFL clubs was top-of-the-range, costing upwards of $6,000.
Your average athlete doesn’t buy those, and so McGee, who lectures on Ulster University’s masters physiotherapy course, continued at his work. In the end, he settled on a design and started to sell his product, simply called Occlusion Cuff.
Placed around the arm or leg and inflated to a specific pressure, the device restricts some of the blood from returning from the muscle for a short period of time.
“As a result it reduces the oxygen going to the muscle and causes a build-up of metabolites such as lactate and testosterone in the muscle which are involved in making a muscle stronger.
“Basically, the device tricks your body into thinking it has been working at a much heavier training load.”
While often used as a post-surgery rehabilitation tool, it has been used in the NBA and by the Irish rugby team to enable them to maintain muscle mass during hectic periods when games are flying at them and time is short.
It caught on quickly. Team Sky were among the first to use it, and in the few years since, the Monaghan man’s design has found its way into the dressing rooms of Manchester City, New Zealand rugby, the Chicago Bulls, British Athletics, etc.
Increasingly, it is infiltrating the world of GAA.
Chrissy McKaigue swears by it.
The Derry captain has struggled with acute tendonitis of the hamstring for almost nine months. Scans have shown a partial tear in one of the hamstring tendons.
The Occlusion Cuff has enabled him to work at the leg in spite of the injury.
His brother Karl, a qualified physio, believes the science behind the idea is strengthening and expects that the cuff will be embraced by the GAA the way it has been in medicine throughout the professional sporting world.
McGee’s phone was flooded with messages recently when World Cup winning French international and Manchester United star Paul Pogba posted a picture to his Instagram of himself rehabbing from injury while wearing the Occlusion Cuff.
In creating an affordable product, McGee believes the idea of blood flow restriction training is open far beyond the world of sports.
“It could be huge for elderly people. You have an older man or woman saying they can’t do things, their knees are giving them gip.
“They’re not able to get strong because their knees are sore, they try to do something and they can’t. There’s a massive body of evidence that says to use bloodflow restriction training in the elderly population, even middle-aged.
“It’s changing people’s lives because they’re able to use it to get strong. They can use it as a bridging gap to get strong, and then get rid of the cuff.
“Now you’re strong you might be able to do weights without a cuff.
“You give someone a crutch to get them walking, but once they can walk, you take it away and they can start to walk, jog, run.”