As Arnold so eloquently put it, there’s no better feeling for a bodybuilder than getting a PUMP.
A pump is a bodybuilder’s ecstasy, with endorphins rushing through your brain and blood filling up your muscles; creating that tight/swole feeling.
The pump is so coveted, that it’s actually the sole objective of the workout for many gym rats.
But, is a good pump needed to build muscle?
The short answer is no – you don’t need to achieve a pump to build muscle.
How do I know this? Because there are some exercises where I don’t actually get a good pump in the muscles being worked. One example is my lats during deadlifts. Also my traps during farmers walks.
However, as soon as I take deadlifts out of my workout routine, you can bet that my lats shrink in size or lose some level of thickness. And the same applies to my traps when I take farmers walks out.
Here’s where it gets confusing…a pump is NOT needed to build muscle, but it CAN increase muscle gains.
Thus you’d be silly not to want to get a pump (if you want to build muscle), because it’s anabolic.
Advantages of Getting a Pump
- Sign of damage to the muscle tissue
- Stretches the muscle fascia
- Sign of optimal volume/rest/time under tension
In order for you to get bigger, you must cause microscopic tears to the muscle cells. Thus, when they grow back they will be bigger and stronger than before. Getting a pump is a sign of adequate trauma to the muscle tissue. Hence why the body sends significant volumes of blood straight to the area to kickstart the recovery process.
Another benefit to getting a pump is it stretches the muscle fascia. Fascia is a tough connective tissue that surrounds the muscles. The annoying thing about this fascia tissue, is it’s very tough and can act as friction to your muscles trying to grow bigger.
However, if you were to stretch this fascia and make it more flexible (by getting a pump), you can expect less resistance; making it easier for your muscles to grow. This is especially true in the calves where the muscle fascia is particularly tight; making it a stubborn muscle to develop.
Thus the bigger the pump, the more anabolic you will be, in regards to making the fascia less resilient (and increasingly stretchy).
Sign of good volume/rest/time under tension
Do you think you’ll get a pump if you just do 3 sets x 3 reps of squats, with a 5 minute rest inbetween, then finish.
Of course not.
Thus when you get a pump, it’s a sign that you’re doing sufficient amounts of volume during your workouts. Many people fail to get huge pumps because they rest for too long; this is especially true among powerlifters, who mostly only want to start their set when their muscles are fresh (resting for several minutes inbetween sets).
Thus by getting a pump it’s proof that the muscle is becoming fatigued. The more fatigued your muscles become, the greater the need for your body to adapt (AKA grow bigger).
Proof That a Pump isn’t Essential
So, we know that getting a pump IS beneficial for building muscle, directly and indirectly.
However, here’s some proofs that you don’t NEED a pump to grow bigger.
Simply taking steroids, without going to the gym, will cause you to build a significant amounts of muscle. In fact, you will build more muscle on steroids doing absolutely no exercise whatsoever, than a natural bodybuilder who’s getting humungus pumps 6 times a week. Don’t believe me? Check this study, which was conducted on guys who took testosterone and didn’t even lift a dumbbell.
This isn’t to encourage steroid-use, but just to make a point that you can build muscle without getting Arnold-esque pumps.
You can build muscle simply from overeating. Again you don’t even need to go to the gym, the body is automatically programmed to add muscle if you hit a calorie surplus. However, if you go to the gym, a higher percentage of this weight gain will be muscle. But nonetheless, this is another example of where a pump isn’t compulsory.
Strongmen train a lot differently to bodybuilders. They take much longer rests inbetween workouts (several minutes longer); as a result they don’t always achieve a pump. Getting a pump isn’t important to them; what’s important is that they’re fresh and fully rested before they start their next set. Because their ultimate goal isn’t to build muscle – but to get stronger.
So, strongmen don’t rely on getting pumps, yet they have absolutely no problem building muscle. Sure, they may take steroids and are eating a tonne of calories every day – but this is further proof that if you don’t get a pump, it’s not the end of the world for your gains.
Tips for Maximizing your Pump
If you want to get as big a pump as possible, here’s a few tips:
- Less rest (supersets, tri-sets)
- N.O supplements
- More carbs (calories)
- More reps
- More time under tension
One of the most important things that will affect the size of your pump is the amount of rest you take inbetween sets. Personally I like to take very little rest, being 20 seconds max. This way, not only are you cranking out more reps during your workout, but your fitness is also improving (my brain tells me it counts as cardio). Supersets, tri-sets and ‘surfing the rack’ (on arm day), are also great strategies for mind-blowing pumps.
Nitric oxide supplements, which include the amino acid l-arginine, increase blood flow. Thus when it’s time to smash your workout, you’ll notice bigger pumps than usual. This won’t be anything extraordinary, but some users do notice a difference. A fun supplement, but not an essential one.
If you’re dieting and not eating many carbs or calories, you may become glycogen depleted. Consequently, your muscles may look a little flat and you’ll struggle to get mammoth pumps like you did on your bulk.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements around, due to its ability to cause intracellular water retention (sending water inside the muscle cell). As a result your muscles will become bigger and fuller. ‘Creatine pumps’ are the best kind of pumps you can expect (without taking steroids). For best results use monohydrate and implement a loading phase of 20g for 5 days, then go down to a maintenance dose of 5-10 grams for the next 5 weeks.
You could be doing everything right, but if you’re not doing enough reps, you won’t get a pump. I personally find that I get the best pumps when I do higher reps (15+). But it’s perfectly possible to get a good pump doing 6-8 reps too.
You’ll also want to make sure that your workouts are designed to allow for enough TUT (time under tension). A 10 minute workout may result in somewhat of a pump, but a 30 minute one will be superior, assuming the intensity is maintained throughout.
If you want to build muscle, getting a pump is certainly beneficial and a positive sign.
Equally, if you want to follow a program which involves lifting very heavy (and doing few reps), don’t have a panic attack if you don’t get a pump. It’s very possible to build muscle without your muscles ballooning up during your workout.
…But it does feel pretty awesome though, right?
Do you think a pump is a MUST to build muscle? Have your say in the comments below.