Even if today is your very first day at the gym, you've no doubt heard of "the pump." Every bodybuilder talks about it, how great it is and how it really makes you feel like you're accomplishing something. But what is it and what causes it? And most important-does it really make a difference? Let's take a look at the facts and see if we can separate myth from reality.
First of all, "the pump" is indeed a fact. It is a very real process that can occur during intense weight training. It is the result of an increase in the amount of blood flowing into the muscles. As a result, the muscles look bigger, feel tighter and we feel even stronger and more powerful than before. And there's no doubt that getting "pumped" also gives a huge boost in self-confidence.
For some bodybuilders, achieving the perfect state of pump can best be described as being what nirvana is to a Buddhist. It's everything they strive for when working out. So it's no wonder that some of the world's most famous bodybuilders-including Arnold Schwarzenegger-have described the pump as, "the greatest feeling you can get in the gym."
Depending on who you talk to, you're likely to get different opinions about the importance of the pump. For some guys, it's kind of the "holy grail" of bodybuilding, but there are plenty of other bodybuilders who don't pay much attention to it at all.
The guys on the "pro pump" side say that a good pump is what all bodybuilders should strive to achieve when they train. From their point of view, the pump signifies that you're training with sufficient intensity.
They also say that achieving a good pump during a workout means that the systems are functioning properly and that you are delivering lots of nutrient-rich blood to the muscles, which in turn indicates that they are primed for growth. Furthermore, they say that when a bodybuilder is able to achieve a good pump quickly, it is a clear signal that his body is in an anabolic state, ready to grow.
Without getting too deep into the whole science of things, the pump is the result of both sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial hypertrophy, both of which generally occur at the highest levels through workouts that focus on medium or high rep sets. These types of hypertrophy result in an increase in the volume of the muscle, which gives the appearance of the pump. The downside to this is that this type of growth is temporary-it only lasts a short while and there is also no real increase in strength gains here either. This type of training is sometimes referred to as "form over function," because while they may look good, the muscles are not nearly as strong as they appear.
Real muscle growth occurs through myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is the result of heavy training (heavy weight, lower reps). Myofibrillar hypertrophy is also the type of growth that brings about the big strength gains. The guys who focus on this type of hypertrophy are not only big, but they're strong too. This is where you really get the explosive strength, but this type of hypertrophy does not result in much of a "pump."
Which brings me to point of view of the guys who say that the pump isn't all that it's made out up to be. These are the guys who tend to focus not just on size but on strength as well. In other words, they don't want to just look powerful, they want to be powerful too. When training, these guys focus on progressive overload and intensity, doing fewer reps with maximum weight.
In the gym, you'll see them doing compound exercises like squats and deadlifts with heavy weight, not doing rep after rep of leg extensions with a light weight.
What you do is going to depend on what you want to achieve. One point of view isn't right and the other wrong-they each just lead to different results. The decision is going to come down to a personal preference on your part. I will give you a tip though-you can have the best of both worlds. One way is to mix up your workouts, initially focus on high weight/low reps to get the myofibrillar hypertrophy going, and then afterwards move on to lower weight/higher rep sets to give you the pump. This will ensure that not only are your muscles primed for growth but they'll get bigger and stronger too.
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