Relationship Between Blood Flow and Performance Recovery: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study

Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017 Feb;12(2):152-160. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0779. Epub 2016 Aug 24.


Purpose: To investigate the effect of different limb blood-flow levels on cycling-performance recovery, blood lactate concentration, and heart rate.

Methods: Thirty-three high-intensity intermittent-trained athletes completed two 30-s Wingate anaerobic test sessions, 3 × 30-s (WAnT 1-3) and 1 × 30-s (WAnT 4), on a cycling ergometer. WAnT 1-3 and WAnT 4 were separated by a randomly assigned 24-min recovery intervention selected from among blood-flow restriction, passive rest, placebo stimulation, or neuromuscular electrical-stimulation-induced blood flow. Calf arterial inflow was measured by venous occlusion plethysmography at regular intervals throughout the recovery period. Performance was measured in terms of peak and mean power output during WAnT 1 and WAnT 4.

Results: After the recovery interventions, a large (r = .68 [90% CL .42; .83]) and very large (r = .72 (90% CL .49; .86]) positive correlation were observed between the change in calf arterial inflow and the change in mean and peak power output, respectively. Calf arterial inflow was significantly higher during the neuromuscular-electrical-stimulation recovery intervention than with the blood-flow-restriction, passive-rest, and placebo-stimulation interventions (P < .001). This corresponds to the only intervention that allowed performance recovery (P > .05). No recovery effect was linked to heart rate or blood lactate concentration levels.

Conclusions: For the first time, these data support the existence of a positive correlation between an increase in blood flow and performance recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise. As a practical consideration, this effect can be obtained by using neuromuscular electrical stimulation-induced blood flow since this passive, simple strategy could be easily applied during short-term recovery.

Keywords: high-intensity exercise; limb blood flow level; neuromuscular electrical stimulation; short-term recovery.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / blood
  • Lower Extremity / blood supply*
  • Lower Extremity / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Lactic Acid