Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the pump is the greatest feeling you could experience in the gym, bodybuilders have been obsessed with this phenomenon. Essentially, “the pump” refers to the swelling of your muscles during a workout because of the increased blood volume. Some guys would even say that the pump is as addictive as a drug – once you accept it as a true measure of your effort and potential gains, you will always want your muscles to feel pumped up both during and after workouts and you’ll keep pushing until you get the desired sensation.
And why wouldn’t you? After all, the pump feels great and makes your muscles tight and mean, so it’s pretty convincing as the barometer for the quality of your workout. But is it, really? We have many strong reasons to doubt that. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the pump is one of the most overrated concepts in bodybuilding. Read the rest of this article to find out why and learn the truth about growing bigger!
Why is the pump so popular?
Without any further ado, let’s take a closer look at the two most important beliefs that maintain the status of the pump as an indicator of the quality of a workout:
#1. It makes you feel powerful
Just listen how The Austrian Oak described a good pump back in the day:
In the video, he says: “The greatest feeling that you can get in the gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym, is the pump. Let’s say you train your biceps – blood is rushing into your muscles, and that would be called a pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute, and it’s really tight, it’s like somebody blowing air into it, into your muscle. It just blows up, and it feels different, it feels fantastic.”
Although dramatic, his definition is pretty close to reality. When you train “for the pump” (usually done by performing a high number of reps with lighter weights), your muscles become engorged with blood, which supplies oxygen and nutrients and eliminates waste products from muscle tissue, and your muscles become visibly larger, tighter and more vascular, which feels great and makes you look big and powerful. And there’s no doubt that this gives a huge boost in self-confidence, so it’s no wonder that the ego-lifters love it so much. At least for a period of time. This kind of proves that many people would rather choose to work for a temporary benefit than focus on a routine that would bring them long term benefits.
#2. It stimulates muscle growth
The ability of the pump to facilitate better growth has also become an undisputable truth in the modern bodybuilding community. At almost every gym, you can find a flock of experienced lifters who claim that focusing on the pump will make you stronger and bigger and you spot the guys who leave the gym with a big frown on their faces because they feel like they’ve wasted their time because they didn’t get a good pump that day. For years now, guys have linked the pump with muscular hypertrophy and reasoned that the better the pump, the greater the gains. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is detrimental to making real gains because muscle pumps have nothing to do with the muscle build process. Your muscles don’t grow in the gym, remember? They grow when you’re resting. So regardless of how big of a muscle pump you get while training, it won’t affect your size gains at all. At some point it was argued that the increased blood flow had beneficial effect on muscle growth, mainly by increasing the amino-acid uptake of the muscles. However, this theory has never been conclusively confirmed by scientific studies.
The truth about the pump
People assume that just because the feeling of the pump gives you an impression that you’re muscles are properly exhausted and you’ve done a great job, it automatically guarantees getting superior gains. However, getting a good muscle pump doesn’t necessarily cause your muscles to grow – for example, doing 100 reps with a lighter weight will create a huge pump, but is this enough for growing big muscles? Of course it’s not. In the same way, getting that famous burning sensation in the muscles isn’t exactly the best indicator for the quality of the workout as well – the burning is caused by the build-up of lactic acid in the muscle tissue. Lactic acid is a waste product and doesn’t have a lot to do with muscle growth.
So here’s the truth: if you’re training for size and strength, the pump is completely unnecessary and you’re wasting your time pursuing it. The pump is the result of sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial hypertrophy, both of which occur during intense workouts that include medium or high rep ranges and both of which result with an increase in the volume of the muscle. The problem is that this “simulation” of growth is temporary and doesn’t cause a real increase in strength or size. In other words, you may feel and look great while your muscles are pumped up, but in reality, your muscles are nowhere near as strong or well-developed as they appear to be at that moment.
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