Who could ever forget that famous line from Pumping Iron where Arnold said that getting a good pump was better than sex?
We all laughed, although some of us harder than others, because deep down we agreed with what he said. But after all these years, the question still remains- is a good pump a defining component of a productive muscle building workout. Is it really that important?
Some people emphatically state that getting a good pump is necessary if you want to build muscle. There are no studies that show this to be true, but real world evidence shows that there is something to getting a good pump. First of all, the ability to easily obtain a good pump is a sign that your body is in an anabolic state and ready to train. It shows us that the body and the cells are well hydrated and ready to grow.
Some days, you go to the gym and can’t get a pump no matter what you do. Those are days that you probably shouldn’t even be training. Your body is telling you something, and that something is that you are not in an anabolic state, probably not fully recovered, and you are not ready to train. In other words you will not be building muscle on that day.
As far as the pump having an anabolic effect, this is debatable, but most bodybuilders swear that there is something to it. When you get a good pump, you are delivering tons of nutrient-rich blood to the muscles that will greatly increase amino-acid uptake. Theoretically, this should result in a greater anabolic effect.
The kind of training that stimulates a good pump causes sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial hypertrophy. This is the kind of hypertrophy which is lost very quickly when you stop training. It is completely different from myofibrillar hypertrophy, which comes from heavy training and lasts much longer. However, sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial hypertrophy is necessary if you want to be as big as humanly possible.
So, while it isn’t proven by science, there is probably something to gain from getting a good pump. Having said that, I definitely wouldn’t make it the focus of your workout. Chasing the pump and disregarding all of the principles of effective training is one of the biggest mistakes you can make and will do nothing to help you build lean muscle.
You can get a great pump from doing 50 pushups but everyone knows that’s not going to build muscle. Just mindlessly pursuing a pump will get you nowhere and may even cause losses in size and strength. However, after you have done the bulk of your workout you can always finish with a backoff set, a rest/pause set or even an occasional drop set to maximize your pump and thus maximize your body’s muscle building potential.
For example, on your chest workout you could do a couple heavy sets on the bench press for 5-6 reps and then finish with one higher rep set of 8-12 on dips to get a great pump. If you do this you hit a variety of muscle fibers and target both types of hypertrophy. That way you get the best of both worlds.
Remember, it isn’t necessary and should never be the focus of your workouts (heavy training should) but getting a good pump tells you that you’re ready to build muscle and can even maximize your potential to do so.