If you want to know how the pump helps build muscle, you want to read this article.
These are the hallmark signs of a serious muscle pump.
The Pump -- a phenomenon popularized by the great Arnold in Pumping Iron. Over 40 years later, the pump still remains one of the most satisfying feelings one gets from a hard training session.
But, when it comes to building muscle, and not just looking swole, the pump is somewhat of a controversial topic. On one side, you have those who swear by the pump for building muscle -- the more reps, the more blood and the more nutrients you can cram into the muscle during a workout, the more muscle building you achieve.
On the other side, you have the lifters who think chasing the pump is unnecessary and frivolous, only serving to temporarily inflate one’s muscles and their ego.
So, what’s the truth?
Does getting a pump help you build muscle in any way?
The truth is, pump training does have a time and place in your program, and even better, it can and will help you build muscle.
Ahead, we’ll discuss what a muscle pump actually is, what causes it, and, most importantly, how the pump helps build muscle.
Let’s start with the basics of what a muscle pump is.
What is The Pump?
You what the pump feels like, what it looks like, and how great it makes you feel.
But, what actually happens inside the muscle when you get a pump?
To understand that, let’s take a deep dive into the muscle to see what happens.
Under normal non-exercising conditions, blood can freely flow between your muscle fibers. As they contract repeatedly during the course, the veins shuttling blood out of your muscles are pinched by the muscular contractions.
However, the arteries delivering blood to your muscles continue driving blood into them, creating an elevated amount of intramuscular blood plasma. As a result, plasma seeps out of the capillaries and into the interstitial spaces between the blood vessels and muscle cells.
This buildup of fluid along with the accumulation of lactate increases extracellular pressure, which causes a flood of plasma into the muscle cells.
The end result is blood pooling in your muscles, resulting in cellular swelling. You and I more commonly refer to this “cellular swelling” as “the pump.”
Right now, you’re probably think, “that’s great and all, but does any of this actually help build muscle?”
Indeed it does, as we’re about to explain.
How the Pump Helps Build Muscle
When muscles contract, metabolic byproducts, including lactate and hydrogen (H+) ions, accumulate in and around muscle cells. As these by-products accumulate, your body pumps more blood into your muscles to shuttle these compounds away, which, as we just explained above, causes your muscles swell.
Additionally, these metabolites also draw water into skeletal muscle cells, making them larger.
As your muscle cells expand, blood flow out of the muscle is restricted. However, if you rest too long, cellular swelling decreases and your body is able to flush the metabolites away. This is one of the reasons pump workouts have short rest periods.
Researchers have noted that these compounds both support the pump and muscle building.[1,2] And, other studies have noted that hydration-mediated cell swelling leads to increased muscle protein synthesis and decreased protein breakdown.
FYI, this is a huge plus for pump training if you’re looking to build muscle.
Researchers theorize that cell swelling (the pump) may even trigger an increase in satellite cells and support their fusion to hypertrophying muscle cells, providing yet another means to ensure muscle building over the long term.
More on How Muscle Pumps Support Hypertrophy
As you’ve no doubt experienced first-hand when getting a savage pump, your muscles bulge and your skin tightens. This is a result of fluid accumulation in the muscle fibers, which places a stretch on the muscle cell membranes.
Your muscles perceive this stretch as a threat to its survival and trigger its “defensive forces” by igniting a torrent of anabolic signaling that leads to a “battening down of the hatches” and a stronger, sturdier cell.
As we explained above, the pump supports muscle growth in a number of ways, but perhaps the most intriguing is the increased satellite cell activity. In case you weren’t aware, satellite cells are precursors to skeletal muscle cells. They have the ability to provide additional myonuclei to a muscle fiber, which enhances the muscle cell's ability to continue expanding and growing.
Additionally, satellite cells express several regulatory factors (including Myf5, MyoD, myogenin, and MRF4) that support muscle recovery, repair and growth.
In other words, pump training can and should have a place in any proper muscle building program, but, just because pump training does work for building muscle doesn’t mean it’s the only form of weight lifting you should be performing in your workouts.
Pump training addresses only two of the three mechanisms that drive muscle growth.
Mechanisms of Hypertrophy
Exercise researchers have identified three primary drivers of muscle growth:
Mechanical tension (a.k.a. progressive overload) -- exposing your muscles to continually increasing levels of tension over time. The easiest way to do this is by adding weight to the bar over time.
Muscle damage -- stretching and tearing (breaking down) of muscle fibers forces them to repair, recover, and grow stronger
Metabolic stress -- accumulation of metabolites resulting from repeated muscle contractions. These metabolites include lactate, hydrogen ion, inorganic phosphate, creatine, and others
Pump training address items #2 and #3 on this list, but doesn’t focus so much on #1 (mechanical tension), which is still regarded by most sports scientists and hypertrophy specialists as the primary driver of muscle growth.
As such, if you’re looking to accomplish the most muscle building possible, you should include both heavy strength training, which emphasizes progressive overload, along with higher rep, shorter rest pump work. This allows you to cover all the bases of muscle building and hypertrophy, and ensure a lifetime of gains.
Ways to Achieve a Pump
We’ve spent the majority of this article discussing what the pump is and how it can help you build muscle. Now, let’s discuss what you can do to ensure a truly savage muscle pump during your workouts.
High Reps + Short Rest
When you’re training for the pump, don’t go for low-rep strength training protocols.
Getting a pump is all about forcing as much blood into the muscle as possible, while limiting blood flow out of the muscle. You can do this with occlusion training (which we’ll get into in another article), or the easier, less tedious method for chasing the pump involves training with higher repetitions and shorter rest periods.
Typically with pump workouts, you’re performing anywhere from 10-20 reps per set with 60 seconds at most between efforts. Remember, the goal is to maximize blood flow into the muscle, cellular swelling, and metabolite accumulation, while limiting clearance of those metabolites and blood flow away from the muscle. Resting too long between sets allows your muscles more time to recover and decreases cellular swelling.
Consuming carbohydrates in the hours leading up to your workout can enhance your ability to get a pump going and give you that swole look. Carbs are converted to glucose, which is then stored as glycogen in your muscles.
When your body stores glycogen, it also stores some water along with it. In fact, for every gram of glycogen stored, your body also stores three grams of water as well. This, in turn, enhances muscle fullness, giving you a more shapely look, and helping boost your mid-workout pumps and performance as well.
Sodium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body responsible for muscle contraction, hydration, and nerve function. It also plays a key role in generating a skin-bursting pump.
Consuming sodium (i.e. salt) pre workout will cause your cells to retain more water, thereby driving more fluid into your blood system, yielding bigger muscle pumps.
If you’re really serious about getting a savage pump during your workout, then you no doubt will look for a pre workout specifically designed to enhance muscle pumps.
Pump pre workouts operate via a few different mechanisms, but the most well known mechanism is by increasing nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide is a powerful cell signaling molecule that induces vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), which increases blood flow and nutrient delivery to skeletal muscle cells. This in turn leads to elevated protein synthesis rates, which is a huge plus for building muscle.
But, boosting nitric oxide is only one means for enhancing muscle pumps during a workout. Other elements that need to be considered are cellular hydration and protecting against vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels).
Far too often, pump pre workouts only address nitric oxide without providing supplements to enhance cellular hydration or offset vasoconstriction. This is what makes Primeval Labs pre workouts the best pump boosters on the market. We've taken a holistic, all-encompassing approach to give you the muscle pumps best ever with our diverse array of pump pre workouts, led off by none other than...
When looking for the #1 pump pre workout on the market, you won't find anything better than Mega Pre.
Not only does Mega Pre provide effective ingredients for increasing nitric oxide production in L-Citrulline and L-Norvaline. It also provides 2 grams of GlycerPump for increased cellular hydration and the full clinical dose of VasoDrive-AP to limit angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) expression and combat vasoconstriction.
But that’s not all.
Mega Pre isn’t just about pumps, it’s also about performance too.
WIth the added hydration and nitric oxide production, comes increased stamina, endurance, and “staying power”. Plus, with the inclusion of elevATP and Betaine, your muscles can reap the benefits of improved ATP stores, leading to greater power, strength, and overall performance.
Suffice it to say that Mega Pre is the consummate pre workout, and if you’re looking to maximize pumps and performance, the choice is clear.
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Schoenfeld, B. J., & Contreras, B. (2014). The Muscle Pump: Potential Mechanisms and Applications for Enhancing Hypertrophic Adaptations. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(3).
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports Medicine, 43(3), 179–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0017-1
Lang F, Busch GL, Ritter M, et al. Functional significance of cell volume regulatory mechanisms. Physiol Rev. 1998;78(1): 247–306
Dangott B, Schultz E, Mozdziak PE. Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy. Int J Sports Med. 2000;21(1): 13–6
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res, 24. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3
Biolo, G., Maggi, S. P., Williams, B. D., Tipton, K. D., & Wolfe, R. R. (1995). Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. The American Journal of Physiology, 268(3 Pt 1), E514-20. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.1995.268.3.E514