Most serious gym enthusiasts have at least occasionally experienced a pump in their muscles during their work-outs, which can indeed be a quite gratifying and pleasurable experience. A good pump is said to provide us with a glimpse ahead on the future development of our muscles. And without doubt, pumped muscles look fuller, larger and better, even if just for a short while; a pump makes us feel strong and powerful, and most bodybuilders actually equate a good pump with having a great and effective work-out. For those, who have not yet had the pleasure to achieve a good pump, here is a short explanation of this phenomenon:

The pump refers to the occurrence of more blood flowing into a muscle than can leave and rejoin the general circulation; this leads to a muscle or muscle-group’s temporary engorgement with blood and results in a transient increase in muscle size. Such a pump is generally achieved by performing multiple high-rep sets (12-20+ reps/set) with low to moderate weight load, continuous tension and short rest periods between sets, but it also depends on a number of other factors mentioned underneath. The repeated subsequent muscular contractions lead to a temporary occlusion of the efferent veins of the working muscle, which restricts the amount of blood and metabolic waste products that can be removed. This causes blood to pool in the muscle, particularly in the interstitial areas between its muscle fibers, leading to swelling of the entire muscle belly and to pressure on the muscle’s fibers, accompanied by a tight feeling of the overlying skin. At the same time, plasma is being drawn into the muscle cells to neutralize the acidity of accumulated wastes, such as lactic acid, hydrogen, and other metabolic byproducts, causing the individual muscle fibers to swell.

The question arises, whether “chasing the pump” is something worthwhile to actively pursue: is it just a temporary satisfying and enjoyable effect, or does “a pump” actually contribute to muscle growth ?

Muscle-growth occurs via three different mechanisms: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and myofibrillar damage. Progressively overloading your various body-parts with heavy compound movements will ensure plenty of mechanical tension, usually also accompanied by some myofibrillar damage, to ensure significant muscle growth and increased strength, but such exercises are known NOT to bring about that most satisfying, near skin-bursting pump. This serves as proof that you can definitely grow plenty of muscle without ever achieving a pump; exclusively focusing on “chasing the pump” should therefore not be your predominant endeavor in the gym.

However, this does not mean that “a pump” is entirely useless; after all, training in a manner that elicits an appreciable pump generates “metabolic stress”, which is one of the mechanisms proven to help with muscle growth. It causes blood to flood a muscle and to get trapped in there, while metabolic waste products, including lactate, inorganic phosphate, and hydrogen accumulate in the muscle cells, draw in plasma and cause cellular swelling. One scientific theory holds that this cellular swelling stretches the muscle’s cell membranes, prompting increased protein synthesis and decreasing protein breakdown, particularly in the fast-twitch IIb muscle fibers. Another theory suggests that the pressure caused by the excessive inflow of plasma may cause muscle fibers to perceive a threat to their membranes’ integrity and to adapt by fortifying their cell wall structure to ensure survival. This will cause the muscle fibers’ cellular walls to grow slightly thicker, and when this happens to the millions of adjacent fibers composing a muscle, it may actually result in some muscle growth over time. In how far any of these theories may prove accurate, science will yet have to confirm by further research.

Whatever may occur on cellular level, fact is, a good pump will over time generate a larger number of capillaries, which will facilitate the muscles’ supply with more nutrients and oxygen and eventually result in larger pumps and more hypertrophy in the long term.

Another benefit of a decent pump with regard to muscle growth is that it can help to stretch the tight connective tissue sheath surrounding each muscle known as fascia. In pumped condition, muscles press against their enveloping fascia; squeezing the working muscles at the peak of each muscular contraction and further stretching them, when they are totally pumped and engorged with blood, can expand their fascia tissue and give the muscles more room to grow. The increased training motivation prompted by achieving an almost skin-bursting pump should also not be underestimated.

Without doubt, achieving a great pump always indicates proper muscle engagement and a good mind-muscle connection, which will definitely contribute to muscle growth. A good “mind-muscle connection” is accomplished by prioritizing how a movement feels, instead of moving as much weight as possible; it is also vital to focus on maximally squeezing a muscle at its point of peak contraction instead of just moving it from point A to point B.

Despite of its various benefits, don’t “chase the pump” at cost of neglecting to progressively overload your muscles with heavy compound movements; rather maintain an appropriate balance by spending at least 80 % of a body-part’s training on heavy compound exercises, while dedicating just about 20 % or less to lighter pump-training after all your heavier work has been completed. Most suitable to end any muscle’s work-out with a good pump are isolation exercises for that particular area, which allow to experience a peak contraction at some point, such as biceps curls, triceps extensions, pec-deck flyes or cable flyes, etc. Performing such exercises with fairly moderate weight and 12 to 20+ repetitions for several sets, keeping continuous tension on the respective muscle, and allowing for minimal rest between sets will be your best bet to get an amazing pump. Another option to produce a decent pump is to perform a few sets of an exercise movement starting with a weight that provides adequate overload, before dropping off weight to about 50% and carrying on these “drop-sets” until muscle failure occurs.

Factors that play an important role for achieving a great pump and should therefore be optimized are an effective warm-up, abundant hydration before, during and after work-outs, increased sodium intake, complete recovery from previous work-outs with muscles’ glycogen stores fully replenished, and a high-quality complex carbohydrate pre- work-out meal, consisting of taro, yams, pasta, whole grain bread, or similar.

Last, but not least, certain pre-work-out supplements containing L- Citrulline, L-Arginine, Potassium Nitrates, Creatine Monohydrate, and/or Glycerol, are also highly effective at producing incredible pumps during training and can even help to sustain this highly motivating pump experience up to several hours after your work-out .

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