If you’ve read anything about bodybuilding, you’ve probably heard about something called “the pump.”
In a nutshell, this refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights.
Bodybuilders have been strangely obsessed with this phenomenon since people started lifting weights, and according to many, it’s the cheat code for unlocking rapid muscle growth.
George Butler and Charles Gaines, authors of Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding, claimed getting a muscle pump, “feels like one of those fast-frame films of flowers blooming or seeds ripening; the muscles seem actually to go from pod to blossom in seconds under the skin.”
This explanation reveals one of the main reasons weightlifters like getting a pump: it’s a visible sign your efforts in the gym are paying off. Your muscles are getting bigger before your eyes!
This preoccupation with the pump hasn’t waned, either.
You’ll still find articles touting the benefits of “chasing the pump”—bodybuilder lingo for doing lots of reps with short rest periods until your muscles are swollen and sore.
Others counter that chasing the pump is a fool’s errand. Temporary muscle swelling has nothing to do with muscle growth, and your time is better spent getting as strong as possible, they say.
So, who’s right?
In this podcast, you’re going to learn what the pump is, what causes it, why people think it’s important, why it isn’t essential for muscle growth, and why it’s still worth doing some “pump” training in your workouts to get the best results.
Let’s get started!
6:20 – What is the pump?
8:23 – What is pump training and is it good for building muscle and strength?
17:31 – How can I program pump training?
Mentioned on the show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello, my favorite people in quarantine, the dedicated Muscle For Life listeners who are still tuning in despite not having a gym to go to. But hey, things are on the up and up, right? States are opening back up, gyms are going to be opening back up and we will be able to return to our beloved soon enough.
And I hope you have been staying on top of your home workouts if you have been. Good on you because you’re gonna find that when you do get back in the gym, if you have been doing good home workouts, making them hard, and I understand that can be hard. Like if you only have your body weight, for example, you’re gonna be limited.
If you are an experienced weightlifter, if you have some bands, you are less limited if you have some dumbbells. Like I do, so I have dumbbells and bands. That’s what I’ve been using for the last two months. Then you are even less limited, and it’s not the same of course as being in the gym, but with some bands and dumbbells, you can do plenty.
I have not lost any muscle in the last couple of months. Probably have lost a bit of strength. And that brings you back to what I was gonna say is when we get back in the gym, what most of us are gonna find is if we’ve been pretty consistent with our home workouts, we probably haven’t lost any muscle to speak of, but we will have lost a little bit of strength.
However, that’s just gonna be mostly due to skill degradation, right? We haven’t been under a bar over a bar. We haven’t squatted or pulled or pressed in a couple of months. And while those are not highly technical activities, they do have a bit of skill. There is a skill component, and so if you don’t do something that does require a whole body coordination and balance and power production in a little bit, you’d expect to be a little bit worse at it, right?
So what I think is that for those of us who have been pretty good with our home workouts and maintained our physiques pretty well, we’re gonna be right back to our pre virus training numbers within, I mean, I think three or four weeks. That’s what I expect. Like one mesocycle of my current training, four week mesocycle, I think I’ll be right back to where I was.
And so that’s pretty cool and I hope the same for you. And if you haven’t been. Doing much in the way of home training, and you have definitely lost some muscle. Don’t worry because you have muscle memory on your side. Muscle memory is very real, and what it means is when you do get back to it, your body is going to respond like you’re a newbie again.
You’re gonna have a, a new wave of newbie gains. So when you consider that, along with the fact that when you look at the research on d training, that you really don’t start losing muscle tissue until maybe three-ish weeks of no training, maybe a little bit sooner if you have restrict your calories and you don’t eat enough protein.
But assuming that you weren’t doing that, you’re not gonna lose any muscle really, until. The first month or so until the second month or so, so you, you’re gonna make it through that first month with essentially no muscle loss. Now, you might lose some muscle size because if you’re not training, your muscles are going to hold less water and less glycogen, so they’re gonna look smaller.
But that doesn’t mean you’ve lost muscle tissue. Muscle tissue takes longer to lose. So let’s say. That you have been slowly losing muscle for about a month or so. Let’s say that comes out to a couple of pounds of muscle loss. You’re gonna gain that back, that couple of pounds within your first month back in the gym.
So while you might have been harsh on yourself for not staying on top of your workouts and not doing everything you can to maintain your muscle, and now you’ve lost muscle and all seems lost, no. Not at all. You’re gonna get back in the gym and you’re gonna be very happy to be there, and your muscles are gonna get SW fast, bro.
You’re gonna gain whatever you’ve lost back very quickly. And if you have gained weight as well, I see jokes online of the Covid 19, or maybe the covid 20 or 21 or the quarantine as someone else put it, that made me laugh. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself a break. Treat yourself like you might treat a good friend and have a bit of understanding.
I mean, this has been a once in a lifetime event, a once in a lifetime catastrophe and disruption of everything. And so if you’ve been a bit stressed and you have been eating a bit too much food, Well, at least you had a good excuse, right? And soon you’ll be able to change that. Soon you’ll be able to easily lose whatever fat you’ve gained and get right back into the routine that you had previously and the habits that you had previously.
If you did it once, you can do it again. Right. Alright, so that’s it for today’s pep talk. Let’s now talk about muscle pumps. Let’s talk about the pump and building muscle. This is a question I often get. How important is getting a pump for building muscle? Now, before we get to the show, If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you wanna help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider supporting my sports at Nutrition Company Legion Athletics, which produces 100% natural evidence-based health and fitness supplements, including protein powders and protein bars, pre-workouts and post-workout supplements, fat burners, multivitamins, joint support, and more.
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Use the coupon code MFL at checkout and you will save 20% on your entire order if it is your first purchase with us. And if it is not your first purchase, then you’ll get double reward points on your entire order, which is essentially getting 10% cash back in rewards points. So again, that URL is legion athletics.com.
And if you appreciate my work and if you’ll wanna see more of it, please do consider supporting me so I can keep doing what I love, like producing podcasts like this. So first let’s talk about what is the pump, right? So this is a temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights, and especially when you’re using higher reps in shorter rest periods.
And the reason for that is what happens is when you contract your muscles, you have different metabolic byproducts like lactic acid, for example, that build up in the muscle cells and around the muscle cells, and then your heart, Pumps more blood into your muscles to carry those waste products away and get them outta the body, and that makes your muscles swell.
Now, these compounds also pull water into the cells, and that makes the cells even larger. And as the cells expand, they. Reduce the amount of blood that is able to escape the muscle. So more blood gets trapped in the muscle cells and your muscles, right? Because normally blood can pass between muscle fibers, but when those fibers expand, when they swell, they pinch off the veins that are trying to carry blood back to the heart.
The deoxygenated blood back to the heart. And the net effect of that is your muscles get pumped, they get blood that gets. Pumped into them faster than it can pump out. And that blood, that pools in your muscles gives you a pump. Now to get a really big pump, you can do more reps in a set so your muscles produce more and more of these metabolic byproducts and produce them faster.
And then your body’s trying to get them out even more aggressively, right? So the pump gets bigger, you can rest less. Right than you normally do In between sets, if you follow any of my programming or my advice, you’re probably resting a couple of minutes, two to four minutes in between your hard sets. If you cut that in half, that’s gonna make it harder for your body to remove the metabolic byproducts because it’s working to do it while you’re resting.
And if you. Cut that rest period short and start training again, then of course your body can no longer remove those metabolic byproducts. You can also do more sets. So if you do more work in a workout, you’re gonna experience a bigger pump up until a point, of course there is diminishing returns with all of these things, but if you do more work in your workouts, that’s gonna mean more blood flow to your muscles, and that’s going to mean more metabolic byproducts.
And so then pump training, training that. Emphasizes getting a pump usually involves higher reps, so you’re usually doing sets of like 12 to 15 reps. And it also usually involves short rest periods in between sets, anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds of rest in between each set. And you also usually do quite a large number of sets, at least as many as you need to get a really big pump.
But again, pump workouts generally are higher volume workouts, and while you can certainly gain muscle. With that type of training, you can gain muscle with many types of training. It’s not optimal. So for example, there was a study that was conducted by scientists at the University of Central Florida and they took resistance trained men and they split ’em into two groups and they had one do pump style training.
So 10, 12 reps per set, 70% of one rep max, one minute of rest in between sets. And then the other group did a a more of a strength style workout, three to five rep. Range, 90% of one rep max, three minutes between each set. And by the end of the study, both groups gained about the same amount of muscle. But there was a small trend for greater gains in the group that used the heavy weights.
And there are other studies that echo those findings. And then the, there’s also the strength component too. We know that training in the three to five rep range is more effective for gaining strength in the 10 to 12 rep range. And we also know that as you become more experienced, as you become a more.
Advanced weightlifter. Once you are, let’s say, solidly into your intermediate phase as a weightlifter, your newbie gains are behind you. The correlation between strength and size becomes stronger, meaning that when you’re a newbie, you can gain a fair amount of strength without gaining. That much muscle without gaining maybe as much muscle as you’d expect given how much you are progressing in your strength.
However, once you progress into your intermediate phase, so if you’re a guy, let’s say after your first 20 ish, 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, you’re no longer a newbie for women, about half that you’re no longer a newbie at that point. A lot of the muscle. That you’re going to gain from that point on is going to come from gaining strength.
Again, that relationship becomes much stronger. The most reliable way to continue gaining muscle as an intermediate, plus as an intermediate and beyond weightlifter is to increase your whole body’s strength and the best way to judge your whole body’s strength. Is your estimated one rep max is on your squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
So the reason why I bring that up is when you look at a study that goes for eight weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, that’s useful information, but that’s not a, a large period of time, especially for an intermediate to advanced weightlifter. You don’t expect to see much of a change in that short period of time.
And we know that if you zoom out and you start stretching that timeline out to something a bit more appropriate, like let’s say a year. That the intermediate weightlifter who gains the most whole body strength over a year is almost certainly gonna be the one who’s gonna gain the most muscle. And there are genetic factors to take into account here, and that won’t necessarily be true.
So you could have somebody who. Let’s say gained the most, let’s say a group of trainees that were all more or less at the same point in their journeys, then they all have decent genetics. Nobody’s an outlier in that regard. You might have someone who gained the most whole body strength being beat out in muscle gain by the number two or maybe the number three, but not by the number 10.
That’s not how it works, and so just keep that in mind when you are reading about or listening. To discussions about rep ranges and muscle building. As an intermediate weightlifter, the best thing you can do is to periodize your training to continue doing the heavy stuff and to work in some lighter, not light, but lighter stuff.
So to work in a rep range, anywhere from, let’s say, two to 12 reps, depending on the exercise and depending on where you’re at in a training cycle or a training block. Or a mesocycle different terminology for the same thing. A period of training. And that’s something I’m gonna be talking a lot about in the book that I’m currently wrapping up, which is a new really just overhaul, rewritten from scratch version of Beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger.
This is gonna be the second edition, and it’s a brand new book. I’m very happy with how it’s come together. And if you are an intermediate male or an advanced male weightlifter, I think you’re gonna be very pleased with it. It’s gonna be out this summer, I think, August, and yes, I will do a version for women as well.
I didn’t do one previously because I wasn’t sure what to put in it. Honestly, I hadn’t worked with enough intermediate and advanced women to know what that book should be like. When I wrote the first edition of Beyond Bigger, the or Stronger, I did feel like I knew enough. To do the subject justice, to do a good job with it and provide something valuable.
This new second edition, I think is far better, but that’s what I would expect. That’s a good thing. I think that means that I have learned a lot in the last five years, and I’m gonna update that knowledge and pass it on. And now though I have worked with enough experienced women to know what that female book should be like, so I’m looking forward to doing that as well.
Okay, so let’s get back on topic here. So we have this downside to pump training in, in that it is not great for building muscle and gaining strength, especially if you are an intermediate or an advanced weightlifter. If you’re a newbie, you can do it, but you are gonna have to start lifting heavy weights eventually.
So you might as well start early. That’s my theory. Because you are going to get more acquainted with that style of training. You’re gonna get used to squatting heavy weights and pulling heavy weights and benching heavy weights. There’s gonna be less of a, an awkward transition from a lot of pump style training to a lot of heavy style of training.
And for your newbie gains, you’re gonna do just as well in your first year, lifting a lot of heavy weights as you will, lifting a lot of lighter weights. But if you lift a lot of lighter weights, again, you’re gonna have. A jarring transition that you’re gonna have to make and you can do it. It’s not dangerous and it’s not grueling.
But again, having worked with a lot of people over the years and having heard from a lot of people who were used to doing a lot of pump training and then started doing a lot of heavier strength training, it was a bit uncomfortable at first and it was a bit awkward, and they had to adjust their weights.
Down. They weren’t able to handle the loads that were being calculated by calculators, for example. So they would put in their numbers for, oh, well this is what I can squat for 12 reps. And then the, the rep calculator says, oh, well you should be able to do this for four or five reps. And because they were really not used to training like that, they couldn’t, they couldn’t, they had to sometimes use 60, 70, 80% of their.
Calculated numbers, which again, is not a huge issue, it’s just kind of obnoxious. It’s easier to just start with your heavy lifting as early as possible and get used to that style of training, and then add in some pump related stuff when you need to add more volume to continue making progress. And that, for example, is a good use of pump style training.
I do, I guess you could call it pump style training. On isolation exercises. In the beginning of my training blocks, I’m doing sets of 10 to 12 reps on certain isolation exercises, for example, not on my compounds. I start with sets of 10 in a four month training block on my compounds. The first week are sets of 10, and then I’m doing sets of eight and sets of six.
Then I’m de-loading, and then I’m doing sets of 8, 6 4 de-load, 4 6 2 de-load, and that’s all gonna be explained and beyond, bigger than or stronger 2.0 and, but on my isolation exercises, I am doing sets of 10 to 12 and. That does help bring up lagging muscle groups cuz it just helps add volume to them because of course when you bench press, you’re not just accumulating volume in your chest, you’re also accumulating volume in your shoulders and in your triceps.
And to some degree, even your lats, that indirect volume does quote unquote count. But with smaller, more stubborn muscle groups like the shoulders for example, pretty much everybody has to do more than just pressing a barbell to get the shoulders they want. And. Pump training, higher rep training. Higher volume training is great for that because you can add that volume selectively.
Instead of trying to do a bunch more bench pressing to bring your shoulders up, you can add side raises maybe in the rep range of 10 to 12 or eight to 10, or even six to eight. You can do rear raises. If you want to do more anterior delts, you could do front raises, although I would say. That means you’re probably not doing enough pressing you.
You probably shouldn’t be doing front raises unless you can’t press as much as you should be, which really just comes to the flat barbell bench. Press the incline barbell bench. Press the flat dumbbell. Press the incline dumbbell press. The overhead press. Whether it’s barbell or dumbbell, your anterior delts should get all the work they need.
With those exercises. But if you can’t do that and you have to work around an injury or some sort of restriction, then something like a front race can make sense as well. And so I’m gonna wrap this up with a simple rule of thumb. The Pareto principle, we’re gonna apply it to this and that is that you should be spending a.
About 80% of your time in the gym doing heavy compound training. Those multi-joint, multi muscle group exercises, you should be using loads that are, let’s say at least, let’s just say in the range of 80 to 95% of your one rep max. And so that’s in the rep range of like two to eight and the remaining 20%.
Of your training time though of your volume of the work that you’re doing can be lighter stuff, where it does give you a bigger pump and a lot of that, if not all of it, is gonna be with isolation exercises again. So you can strategically increase your volume where it needs to be increased. And so you can look at your weekly volume, for example, per major muscle group, and make sure it’s where you want it to be.
If you’re new, something around nine or 10 hard sets per major muscle group per week is plenty. And remember, you can count the indirect volume. So if you’re doing three sets of bench pressing, that’s volume, that’s three sets of volume for your chest, your tries and your shoulders maybe exclude lats from that.
Um, and of course then your. Direct volume. So whatever extra volume you’re doing, then in side raises or rear raise is cool. That’s more shoulder volume if you’re doing some triceps press downs or some overhead triceps presses or whatever, extra triceps volume. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced weightlifter, you could expect to have to do anywhere from 15 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week.
And the only way to do that is to include isolation, work in your workouts, isolation exercises, and. Really the only way to do that effectively is to include some pump style training, some higher rep training. Because if you try to do all of your work in, let’s say the four to six rep range, yes, that’s fine.
You can gain muscle, you can gain strength with some exercises. It’s gonna be pretty awkward to maintain proper form, like a side, side raise and a rear raise, for example. But it can be done. However, what you’ll find is your joints are gonna take a beating it. It is nice to work with some lighter weights for.
Portions of your training blocks and then get into the heavier stuff. And so when you are including pump training, just make sure that you are using some sort of progression model just as you would with your compound exercises. You don’t want to only progress on your compounds and not progress at all.
On your accessories. If you do that, you will see changes in your physique, but you will do better if you push to progress in both your primary work and your accessory work. And you can also experiment with different types of training too, that I guess could qualify as pump training, like rest pause training or blood flow restriction training.
And if you wanna learn about. Those things. I’ve recorded podcasts on both I believe. So you can find them by searching in the feed or my YouTube channel. And if you’d rather read about those things, just go over to leisure athletics.com and search for rest. Pause, and you might have to put a hyphen in there, rest hyphen pause, and then search for blood flow restriction.
And you’ll find articles that I wrote on both.
All right. Well, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from? Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibility.
And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast, and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using. To listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming.
And last, if you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for life.com and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback. All right, thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
+ Scientific References
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- Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015;3(8). doi:10.14814/phy2.12472
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low- vs. High-load resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(12):3508-3523. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200
- Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B. The muscle pump: Potential mechanisms and applications for enhancing hypertrophic adaptations. Strength Cond J. 2014;36(3):21-25. doi:10.1097/SSC.0000000000000021
- Vianna JM, Lima JP, Saavedra FJ, Reis VM. Aerobic and Anaerobic Energy During Resistance Exercise at 80% 1RM. J Hum Kinet. 2011;(Special Issue):69-74. doi:10.2478/v10078-011-0061-6