Why You Really Want to Focus on Your Muscle Pump
There’s nothing better than feeling your shirtsleeves stretch after a hard workout. Arnold Schwarzenegger once commented that the sensation was even better than sex. But the benefits of getting all pumped-up go beyond mere vanity—research suggests that the process can also hit the accelerator on muscle growth.
That swollen feeling happens when your muscles become engorged with blood—a result of the veins that carry blood away from the muscles being compressed during high-volume lifting. As blood pools in your muscles, plasma is drawn into the fibers, causing those fibers to expand and stretch like overfilled water balloons.
Bodybuilders often “chase the pump” before competitions to temporarily increase muscle size and vascularity, but research shows that you can also enhance long-term muscle growth by getting all pumped up. The increase in cellular pressure caused by the swelling triggers an uptick in protein synthesis by stimulating muscle fibers to reinforce their walls. It also reduces protein breakdown. The net effect is bigger, stronger muscles—if you go about the practice correctly.
Your move: You can optimize your pump by performing 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps of your preferred isolation movement (like biceps curls) with 60 seconds of rest between sets, or 5 to 10 sets of 8 to 12 reps with short, 30-second rest periods (spider curls are great for this protocol). Either way, it’s important to keep your lifting tempo slow and controlled, and really focus on feeling your muscle contract and relax through a full range of motion. Your goal is to increase the target muscle’s time under tension, which is why “pump training” also tends to work best with isolation exercises that hammer individual muscles rather than compound exercises that distribute the workload to multiple muscle groups. Looking to pump your legs? That’s where exercises like leg extensions will come in handy.
Don’t follow this training protocol for every exercise in your workouts. Research shows that adding “pump training” to the end of a strength-training session is the way to go. In short, cap off heavy lifting with some high-volume work to maximize your muscle building results and you’ll be walking out of the gym with a glorious, t-shirt-tearing pump.
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