Let’s Get Pumped

a scientific, yet comprehensive, closer look at whether or not getting a pump aids in muscle growth.

The Austrian Oak, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is quoted saying, “The greatest feeling you can get in the gym, or the most satisfying feeling, is ‘the pump!’ Arnold had more to say in that quote but I will save it for the end of this article. For now, we are going to discuss whether or not it has any actual benefits to muscular hypertrophy. So let’s jump right into this.

First, let’s examine what “the pump” is and how it is stimulated. When lifting weights, muscle tension and contraction is created, blood flow increases to the working muscle filling it with nutrients needed for contractile force against the active resistance; simultaneously, muscle contraction occludes the veins of the working muscles, constricting the amount of blood and by-product being removed. The blood plasma concentration thereby increases filling the interstitial spaces around the muscle raising its extracellular pressure gradients. The increased gradient ultimately causes water to rush into the muscle cells causing a swelling effect and this, my friends, is what people feel when they say they have a “PUMP!” The scientific term is actually “hyperemia.” In short, hyperemia is keeping your muscles under resistance, tension and decreasing rest periods. This will create a situation where blood enters the muscle at a faster rate than it can leave it.

Now that we understand the nature of the pump, does chasing this pump actually lead to any hypertrophic benefits? Research so far is pointing to the direction of “Yes!” One theory put forth looks at osmotic changes in the muscle cell or increased muscle cell hydration. This can act as a regulator of protein accretion; meaning, with greater muscle hydration, muscle protein synthesis is stimulated while reducing muscle amino acid breakdown. Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers (Type II), in particular, are extremely sensitive to changes in muscle cell hydration and they also carry a much greater potential for growth, lending to the benefit of pump-induced muscular hypertrophy.

Another pump theory of muscle growth deals with the structure of the muscle cell itself. The increased muscle cell swelling causes the cell membrane to heavily expand, thereby, threatening the membranes integrity, thus threatening cell survival. In response, the muscle cell begins to reinforce its cellular structure and that activates anabolic pathways similar to that of mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR). Activating mTOR-like pathways directly translates to activating muscle growth. Along with this, studies also suggest that increased blood flow improves amino acid delivery to the targeted muscle, thereby, furthering the potential for growth. It is well known that the late great, Milos Sarcev, promoted force-feeding the muscle with muscle building vital nutrients by utilizing hyperemia during the workout and the results speak for themselves. On top of these theories, achieving a muscle pump is a direct indicator that you are engaging the working muscle. This is why I often go as far as saying, you cannot grow your muscles optimally without achieving a muscle pump. So research, and real world results, shows a bright future for “the pump” being a vital culprit of muscle growth.

Now, if achieving muscle growth through hyperemia is something you’re interested in, I suggest you continue reading. “The pump” is all about creating constant tension. It would be optimal to create muscular tension throughout the muscles full contractile range, but without a skilled trainer, that is extremely hard to do. Nevertheless, you want to maintain muscle blood accumulation to the point of excess swelling, which is achieved through increased time under tension with the proper load. You can manipulate time under tension in multiple ways, such as by actually avoiding something that, I, myself, and I know others have probably taught you to do, which is lifting throughout the full range of motion. In most of your basic lifts, both extremes of the range of motion will create opportunity for diminished tension. Take a “barbell standing bicep curl” for example: at the beginning and end of the movement, within a full range, there’s little to no tension. The greatest amount of tension is felt directly in the middle of the range. So, with this particular exercise, instead of going full range of motion, I advocate doing three (3) quarter reps or stopping right before you reach the top and the bottom of the rep. This will ensure that you maintain the maximum amount of tension. The type of exercises you choose matters as well, because some create tension throughout the entire range of motion, while others will have varying tension throughout. The nexus is sustaining tension long enough to achieve an effective pump and most schools of thought will agree that an 8-12 rep range is optimal for building muscle, considering you use sufficient load. In my personal training protocols, I think going as far as 15 reps is even better. 8 to 15 reps with a moderately heavy weight will elicit effective intensity and time under tension for pump promotion. Decreasing your rest periods between sets would be advantageous to maintain swelling; 30-60 seconds is sufficient. If you would like to get more advanced, you can utilize methods such as: drop sets, supersets, pyramids and giant sets to take your pump game to the next level.

In truth, there are many contributing factors to muscle growth, the pump is just one of them. Progressive overload and total volume are two other extremely vital, if not more important, factors. I will further explain what those two components are in a different article in the near future… For now, pump some reps out and see how you like it! The rest of Arnold’s quote is that he said the pump felt as good as ejaculation. Now, I don’t feel that way, but maybe that will inspire you to give it a try. Now get in the gym… take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours just don’t be late!

This is Derek Luther, Lead trainer at Self-Made Training Facility Corona- peace in and peace out


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