Many bodybuilders and folks who are just interested building some muscle on to their frame, often times ponder with the same old question of is the pump necessary for muscle growth.
Every single guy or girl who has been hitting the gym for awhile knows the feeling of the muscle pump.
And to be honest I’ve never met a person who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of blood rushing into their muscles and on top of that their muscles suddenly look like they’ve grown one size in a matter of minutes.
A lot of people actually determine the success of their workouts by the level of muscle pump they could achieve.
But how would you feel if I’d tell you that the pump actually doesn’t mean a thing in the big picture?
I understand it might be a bit rough pill to swallow. After all even Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, praised how good the pump feels and how important it is for muscle growth.
Well let me back my stuff up a bit now so this isn’t just some mumbo-jumbo coming from a guy that knows nothing about building muscle.
The Muscle Pump Vs. Training Intensity
To give you an idea of why the pump is not a good indicator of successful workout let me present two different scenarios for you:
- 1st scenario: The guy is working out his chest and he tries to achieve maximum muscle pump by performing dumbbell bench press with 10lbs dumbbell in each hand (obviously). He does his 1st set of 100 repetitions and achieves crazy pump in his chest and triceps. 2nd set the reps drop down to 70 repetitions. The pump is real right now. The 3rd set he can crank out just 50 repetitions before the muscles give out. The pump is excruciating at this point.
- 2nd scenario: The guy this time decides to put in the maximum intensity and doesn’t focus on the pump. This time he tries to move as much weight as he can with good form for 5-10 repetitions. He picks up 70lbs dumbbell in each hand and completes the first set with 7 solid repetitions. 2nd set he goes for the same weight and does again 7 repetitions but now it felt a bit heavier. The last set again same weight but he managed to crank 1 rep less. There is only a minimal pump going on after these heavy sets.
So anyone who knows anything about weight training can pick out that the 2nd scene is way more effective at building muscle and strength.
Because you will recruit the whole spectrum of muscle fibers when training in this 70-85% workload like the guy did in the 2nd scenario. This way you will not only build muscle but strength aswell.
While certainly there is a place for pumping style workouts in your whole exercise regimen, they should not be the primary focus if you want to build muscle.
The Pump Is Just A By-product
The muscle pumping is made famous mostly by advanced bodybuilders. And advanced bodybuilders need advanced training methods (and advanced drugs!).
The thing that they usually do not tell you is that they’ve build their foundation with basic compound exercises. Heavy squats, deadlifts, rows, chin-ups, bench pressess, overhead pressess, etc. have been the staple for them for the first 5 years of lifting.
After building the foundation of muscle mass all over their body, they get into the next phase of their career and this is the moment where they really start to mold their body using pump work.
The reason for using pump work is that they can isolate their muscles and try to create more symmetrical look in order to excell at bodybuilding competitions where they are judged by the symmetry of their body and not just the sheer muscle mass.
This is the reason why average Joes like me and you should not put the cart before the horse and end up chasing the pump!
The pump is just a by-product which may or may not come from lifting heavy weights and focusing on progressive overload over time.
As a natural lifter if you want to build muscle you have to focus on getting stronger, not achieving maximal pump.
No Maximum Pump, No Problem!
Often times even when you really try to achieve maximum pump for a reason or another it’s not happening.
I’ve personally found that the more you try to chase the pump the harder it is to get.
While a pump does feel extremely satisfying, just remember that it means very little in terms of muscle stimulation and growth.
Achieving a strong muscle pump does not mean that you’ve successfully stimulated muscle growth. Conversely, the lack of a significant muscle pump does not mean you’ve failed to stimulate muscle growth.
The Science Of The Pump – Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy & Myofribrillar Hypertrophy
So the most exercise physiologists and bodybuilders would say that workouts that poruduce awesome muscle pumps can swell up the muscle up to 25% of the original size.
The thing is that this comes from sarcoplasmic and mitochondrial hypertrophy & increased amount of capillarization within the muscle.
While sarcoplasmic hypertrophy looks really good and it’s helpful to bodybuilders, it tends to lose very quickly after you stop working out.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy generally occurs in the high rep ranges of more than 12 repetitions per set.
The interesting thing to mention is that the pump has almost nothing to do with increased myofibrillar hypertrophy of a muscle.
What myofibrillar hypertrophy brings to the table is the actual fiber growth of the muscle which is responsible to 80% of the increase in actual muscle size. This type of fiber growth can only occur from training wight heavy weights what I’ve mentioned before and usually it doesn’t produce that significant pump.
Myofibrillar hypertophy generally occurs between 4-10 repetitions per set.
This is an interesting fact and if you’re interested I’ve got a bit more indepth article on different hypertrophy types here.
But as you see the pump is more of an bodybuilding ego boost rather than actual growth of your muscles!
Although it is important to mention that eventhough these two different kinds of hypertrophy responses are generally associated with different rep ranges, it doesn’t mean that if you do only 5 repetitions per set you’re not getting any sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Also it doesn’t mean that once you hit that magical 12th rep and up you suddenly tap into the sarcoplasmic hypertophy.
It’s more of a wide spectrum that the higher reps you go the more sarcoplasmic hypertophy you’ll induce and the more you stay in the low rep range the more you’ll end up stimulating the myofibrillar hypertophy response.
The Best Of Both Worlds – Heavy Training & Pump Work
Personally I’ve gotten the best results by combining heavy lifting and pump work together.
As the main focus of your workout regimen should be getting your whole body stronger with 5-8 rep range, the pump work can be a great tool to assists your overall gains.
Eventhough I’ve made the pump seem like a quite secondary thing, it still has value!
All the powerlifters that try to just move as lot of weight as possible are including strict pump work to their regimens to make sure they will not miss out on any gains that they are possible to make.
Ontop of that Arnold himself said that the pump can be a great motivator. If you’re stepping into the gym without energy and in a miserable state, after you start pumping your muscle start to swell up quickly and you look yourself in the mirror and you will start to feel stronger.
So there is definately some physiological benefits also with the pump training.
Conclusion On Is The Pump Necesary For Muscle Growth
When it all comes down to it, the pump itself is not necessary for building muscle mass. You shouldn’t train just to achieve maximal pump. Sometimes you get crazy pumps, sometimes you won’t feel a thing. It’s all part of the process of getting bigger and stronger.
As a beginner or intermediate lifter, your primary focus should always be getting stronger on compound lifts using moderate rep range and on top of that incorporate some pump work to enjoy the best of both worlds like I mentioned earlier.
Remember that the pump is just a by-product of your training, not something that you should strive for!
I sincerely hope that you’ve found this article helpful and got something out from it!
Remember to train hard and train SMART!