A good muscle pump is something all bodybuilders should aim for, as it signals effectiveness of training and ultimately, muscle hypertrophy (growth). But what exactly is a pump, and how can this crucial component of muscle-growth be achieved?
As with most profound physiological processes, the pump results from the complex interplay of a number of related functions. In bodybuilding terms, the required stimulus for an effective pump is, of course, proper weight training. As bodybuilders, we train with weights for the sole purpose of stimulating muscle growth, and the pump indicates we are heading in the right direction as far as this aim is concerned.
Sometimes, however, we fall short of achieving a sufficient pump and feel dissatisfied with our training efforts. This psychological process of dissatisfaction is not the only thing we should be concerned about when the muscle pump fails to occur.
Inability to achieve a pump also means the conditions necessary for muscle growth are not in place. A pump or lack thereof, is usually a good barometer of future muscle growth, as it suggests all the muscle-building processes are functioning as they should.
What Is A Pump, & Why Is It Needed?
To achieve maximum muscular growth a pump (scientific name, hyperemia) is essential, and the only way this can be achieved is to train correctly with the right energy intake, to allow sufficient blood flow to the working muscles. Working muscles need blood to supply them with oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products (namely, lactic acid and carbon dioxide).
When a muscle is trained, blood flow is diverted from many other bodily processes, to supply this muscle with what it needs to perform maximally. The blood first needs to become oxygenated (which is done through gaseous exchange in the alveoli of the lungs) before it is pumped to the working muscles, where it is pooled, thus resulting in the tight feeling we call the pump.
It is thought that during training, a muscle can receive up to four times the amount of blood it would ordinarily get. Why exactly do the muscles need all this blood? As mentioned, the muscles require sufficient oxygen and nutrients to continue the sustained contracting that results in a pump.
Waste products also require removal, for the muscles to continue their work. Ultimately, muscles need blood to work effectively and recover quickly after exertion. If the muscles are working effectively, muscle growth will result.
Muscle growth will also result from the fascial stretching that occurs when the muscle is pumped beyond its normal size. When this fascial layer (which can be found between the skin and the muscle) is stretched, room for continued muscle growth is made available.
Over time, the pump will also create a greater number of capillaries (tiny blood vessels), which will, in turn, provide the muscles with more nutrients and oxygen and allow for larger pumps and more growth in the long term.
How Is The Pump Achieved?
As mentioned, a number of interrelated factors are required for a muscle to pump with blood. The first of these serves a protective function. When we begin training, the nervous and endocrine systems signal the heart to pump more blood. This blood, made available through an increase in cardiac output and blood pressure, pools in its intended muscle, thereby helping to create the pump.
The fight or flight survival mechanism underlies this process, because the muscles are preparing for vigorous work. Whenever we engage in any form of vigorous activity, blood is diverted from unessential bodily processes (such as the urinary or digestive systems), to be used by muscles relevant to the task at hand.
Sprinters, for example, experience an amazing pump in their thighs after a 100-meter all-out-effort. The sprinter needs an adequate supply of energy to continue the repetitive muscular contractions needed to complete 100 meters in the fastest time possible.
Given this activity, like weight training, which is anaerobic by nature, the muscles need an immediately available energy source. Adenosine phosphate (ATP), creatine and muscle glycogen are three already situated in the muscle, and are pulled out to feed the muscle, which allows for continued work while further assisting with the pump.
A muscle that does not receive adequate oxygen will fail to continue contracting over a longer term, thereby limiting the intensity of an exercise, which, in turn, stifles the muscles efforts to pump up sufficiently. Lactic acid (a by product of high intensity work) will also congregate in the muscle, causing it to fall short in terms of energy expenditure.
Blood that is supplied to the muscle under conditions of maximal work will help to flush this lactic acid out, thereby assisting the pump. The pump is also achieved when hormones and signaling factors such as nitric oxide (NO), released in response to the acidity caused by high lactic acid levels, cause local capillaries in the muscle to dilate, thereby allowing more blood to flow into the muscle.
One Athlete's Perspective.
Bodybuilders are one population who are intimately acquainted with the pump, and its physical and psychological benefits. One bodybuilder who has pumped his muscles the natural way for many years is Anthony Catanzaro.
Anthony feels the pump is absolutely critical to bodybuilding success and says he bases the success of training sessions on his ability to procure a pump. Tony also feels that, as bodybuilders, we need to know exactly how to train and eat for maximal pumps. Once again, he gives his great advice in the following interview.
Sit back and enjoy because Anthony Catanzaro is here to pump you up.
Q Hi Tony. Why is the pump such an important part of bodybuilding?
Hello David. The pump is known to all bodybuilders and almost everyone who has ever had a good workout - it is the height of your workout. The pump is almost drug like, and is just as addicting.
The pump is when your muscles swell up during your workout, which is caused from the excessive amount of blood going into the muscle and filling it up the same way you would fill up a water balloon. Your muscles get a very full, tight feeling and your skin becomes tighter because of this. It's a feeling one cannot explain with words. It's truly a powerful and remarkable feeling.
Most people that workout with weights and do not achieve this, are almost defeating the whole purpose of training. The pump can almost be referred to as a sexual climax because the same thing is happening. Blood is rushing into the muscle, therefore creating a wonderful feeling of increased circulation.
Not to mention all the nutrients that are being carried into the muscle, and cells, though the blood. The more blood that flows through your system, the more it gets filtered and processed. It's like finding the fountain of youth.
Q Describe the pump for those who have never experienced it? What feelings are associated with the pump?
When I'm training and I go through each set, more blood is being pushed into the muscle. It's kind of like when you water your lawn. You get a hose and spray it over the lawn to feed and hydrate it. The same thing happens with the blood. The pump can also come naturally in certain instances.
For example, just before the bell rings, a boxer's heart is pumping, and his muscles are getting ready for battle. His pupils will dilate and his body will start to experience a pump feeling. This is called the "fight or flight" response.
Even animals go through this. Ever see a cat grow twice its size when cornered by another animal larger than he? The cat just instantly blows up in size to intimidate the other animal - the same holds true for us humans.
Q How does the pump affect a person mentally?
One would think the pump would only be beneficial to one's body, but that's not true at all. You hear it many times. People say "I am all pumped up for my vacation," or "I am pumped up about my new home." It's almost the same as a confidence builder.
I see it many times at the gym. Guys that are experiencing a great pump will almost look like they are flying through the gym. Their confidence and aura is at its highest at that time. Then if they are not getting a pump one day, they will feel like they want to cover up, or they will leave the gym feeling unsatisfied with their workout because the pump wasn't achieved. So yes, a pump can affect a person mentally.
Q What are some of the ways a person can achieve a good pump?
One word: carbohydrates! Complex to be specific - baked, frozen French fries, baked potatoes, yams, brown rice, pasta, and whole grain bread work best. This is because carbohydrates are the body's number one fuel source, so when the body is almost swimming in carbohydrates, the pump comes very quickly.
I know many people who drink protein shakes before training, or supplement with carbohydrate drinks that contain high amounts of glucose. I'll tell you the problem with this: you will begin your workout and about 15 minutes or so into it, you will become completely flat.
This is a term I, and many bodybuilders, use to express the opposite of pumped. Ever look at a flat tire? It has no air and is saggy looking, and doesn't hold its shape at all. Well, the same thing happens to your muscles when you ingest glucose into the system.
The body cannot use all of those carbs all in one shot, so it shuts off its supply after around 10 to 15 minutes or so, and stores the rest as fat. But when you eat complex low glycemic carbs, your body uses them like a fireplace would use a nice piece of oak wood. It burns it nice and slow and continues to fuel the fire right through the workout, thereby creating an incredible pump.
I create customized diets that are designed for your needs and goals specifically! I can create a diet plan that will definitely pump you up! Go to www.anthonycatanzaro.com and order your plan now.
Q Is the pump a good gauge of progress? Will muscle growth result purely because of the pump in your view?
Absolutely! Like I said before, when blood enters the muscles it is almost a dam-like effect. Nutrients are being pulled into it as well. So yes, the pump is definitely your friend.
Q Which exercises are best for achieving the pump?
There is tons of information out there that will say do this or stick to this plan, or kiss your grandma on the head before you train. It's all bologna! The truth is, when your body has a large amount of complex low glycemic carbs in it you will experience an amazing pump!
Now for the best exercises: there aren't any specific exercises. What you want to do when you train is completely become the muscle and focus on each repetition. Don't just spin your wheels and count reps, focus on every rep and every set.
The last two, three or four forced-reps is what will create the pump. I also do a lot of drop sets. This is when you complete a set, then immediately, without any rest, strip off some of the weight and begin to push out another five to eight reps. Do this on your last set of each exercise and you will be pumped up like a hot air balloon.
Q From a bodybuilding standpoint, what is the most effective way to pump up backstage before competing?
The pump room isn't what one would imagine. You would think there would be a mini gym or something similar back stage, but that's not the case at all. I remember times at shows, where there were only a couple of dumbbells and a barbell.
But the bottom line in achieving your best pump back stage is to ingest some complex carbohydrates one hour before you hit the stage, then begin to pump up slowly. Then, just before you are ready to go out (three to five minutes before), have some simple-sugar carbs in the form of liquid.
Arnold used to drink coke with honey in it right before he went on stage. What this does, is bring out your vascularity (the veins) for about 15 minutes, or so. It would only take about three to five minutes to work. But the window is short, so remember to do this just as you are about to go on.
My trick is to have a few chocolate chip cookies. I found that this works best for me. Drinking coke or a liquid sugar drink would actually be too much for my system. The cookies hold my veins out longer. Sounds crazy, but at the end of the day you have to do whatever it takes to win.
Q What are the most important muscles to pump before going onstage, and why?
Well of course you want to pump every muscle since every muscle would be visible. But the main muscles would be in your upper body since pumping up your legs could cause them to cramp up on you while you're out there posing.
I've seen this many times, the best thing to do for your legs back stage is to just flex them and hold the poses. It's very easy to forget to keep your legs flexed while you're on stage being judged. I've seen guys cramp up their legs on stage.
It's such a horrible sight to see a bodybuilder fall right on the floor while posing. It's over for them after that, so you want to make sure you're practicing your poses backstage and drinking water because dehydration will bring on the cramping.
Q Why do the muscles pump up? What are the processes behind this?
Well if you want to get technical... It all starts like when you start your car in the morning, or strike a match. The body goes into what I said earlier (a fight or flight response). When you become active, your nervous system starts to fire like spark plugs in a car; the body's nerve endings release catecholamine's which increase the heart rate.
When its "fight or flight" time, the nervous system works with the brain by releasing hormones to stimulate the body. Your breathing rate is going to increase to absorb more oxygen from the lungs. It then sends the body into overdrive.
When you complete your first set to the point of fatigue, your muscles create a pump. Your brain will send a signal to your lungs to keep your breathing rate elevated because when the blood leaves the muscle, it is then sent back to the heart, and then to the lungs.
During this time, a lot of waste is developed and pushed out to be filtered. So yes, the pump works as a cleansing agent for the blood. It all sounds technical, but it's very simple. The bottom line is: the more you achieve the pump, the better will be your blood flow - and thus, creating a larger highway in order for more blood to travel through more smoothly the next time.
I'm sure you've heard of people shoveling snow or doing some yard work and getting hit with a heart attack. This happens because the body was not in shape for the mass amount of a blood flow it was receiving. It's like a traffic jam on a highway - all of these cars piled up with no room to move. This is why exercise is so important. It truly is the only way to keep your pipes clean and open.
Q In this response you compare the pump to the body's fight or flight survival mechanism. Do you think our muscles are biologically programmed to pump in response to a certain kind of stressor?
Absolutely! Like I said before, the body's one and only purpose is to survive. The brain works by signaling the body with commands, like the feeling of winning money or the feeling of being attacked. The brain sends out signals as fast as lightning to respond in a particular fashion under these circumstances.
I've been taking Karate, and the first thing I learned was to keep cool during an attack. Fear would be your brain's first response, but if you can learn to control your fear and direct into a positive response, you can handle anything that comes at you.
Like I always say, your brain quits before the body. So when you hear someone say I can't lift that much or I can't do another set, or I don't feel like working out, it's not the body talking it's the brain. Don't be one of those people who make excuses or look for the easy road.
Remember, no one is going to do it for you. If you want to be in the best shape of your life, you have to work hard to get it. So get in the gym and start getting PUMPED!
Q Describe how the pump felt for you the first time you began training?
Well as a lot of you know, I started training when I was 15-years-old. I had a room in my house that I made into a gym. I never, at that time, understood about carbohydrates or protein or anything. The only thing I knew was my mom's cooking.
If you told me about carbohydrates back then, I would have thought you meant the stuff that comes out of the tail pipe of your car. But nonetheless, my pumps were pretty good since I used to live on my moms pasta, home made pizza (which was the best by the way), and chicken cutlets breaded with Rice-A-Roni.
So I was getting enough carbs for sure. The only thing was that I was as smooth as carvel ice-cream. Understanding about proper nutrition is key to achieving definition. Look for my customized diet plans to take all the guess-work out and get you into you best shape ever!
Q If one is not experiencing the pump, what could they be doing wrong?
It's all in their diet as well as their training. You have to look at these two things, is your diet correct and do you eat enough complex carbs before you train? Are you one of those people at the gym that do one set of working out and five sets of talking?
If so, this is most likely the problem. Focus on your diet as well as your training. You have to make every rep count. You cannot lose focus when you're training. This is what I say: eat clean to be lean, you can't be hard and tight, if your diet ain't right!
Q How long does it take you to pump up? How long should it take the average person?
I get pumped most of the time, within seconds of lifting. My brain is ready and I'm confidant of the pump I will be receiving so it's like I'm anticipating it. You should feel pumped after your first three sets of an exercise.
As I mentioned before, the pump has a lot to do with your diet, water intake and even your stress level. If you are upset about something, or worried, your brain sends signals to the body to go into stress mode.
Under these conditions our muscles become tighter and the pulse rate increases, which causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol which is a stress induced hormone.
Cortisol is one of the key hormones associated with the stress response. This hormone causes the body to go into a survival mode almost like when your cars performance becomes restricted the same thing happens, making it very hard to achieve a pump or to get into shape.
If you are not getting a good pump within the first 10 minutes of your workout, and providing you train correctly, the above could be contributing factors.
Q What foods and supplements are best for creating the right conditions for a pump?
Complex carbs like potatoes, brown rice, yams, baked frozen French fries, whole grain breads. Stick with the whole foods to achieve your best pumps, supplements like vitamin C, vitamin E, and Calcium are great for protection against oxidation caused by overtraining, and just everyday stress itself.
Q What are your views on the NO supplements on the market that are supposed to contribute to amazing pumps?
Funny you should say this. The other day at the gym, my friend was talking to me about NO2 and how it's been giving him these awesome pumps. Without a doubt, he looked more pumped then ever. The only problem with this is NO2 (also known as nitrous oxide), it is present when your muscles contract which causes blood vessels to dilate.
Then, an increase in blood is surged into the muscle; this is also causing an extreme amount of blood flow to surge back into the heart as well. This could be very dangerous and could cause too much pressure. I have another friend of mine who came up to me in the gym, and was asking about creatine.
He told me he was taking creatine for a couple of months and he was feeling like crap. He went to have a blood test taken which came back abnormal - his blood potassium was very high. I told him to stop taking creatine and within two weeks he took another blood test and his numbers went back to normal.
Many supplements have their 15 minutes of fame. So I kind of laugh when these new ones come out. NO2 to me is like creatine - a waste of money and a tremendous health risk. Like I always say you don't need a pill to create a great body, you just need heart!
Q Do you have any interesting stories relating to the pump?
Well, this is something that happens many times with me. I have the type of body that is adaptable to its environment. If you put me into a dance school and have me dance everyday, all day, I will in a short time resemble a very slim and long physique.
If you put me in a gym with a bunch of heavy lifters, I will very quickly become large and full. This is due to my years of training; I almost have become chameleon like.
One time, I went to have some work done on my Cadillac (I own a 1979 Couple Deville which I inherited from my father). Well to make a long story short, when I dropped my car off to have some work done the mechanic first saw me with a black fleece jacket on.
Later that afternoon after my workout, I went straight there still pumped and wearing a thin tank top. I walked in the shop to check out the progress of my car the mechanic and the whole shop thought I was coming in to beat the hell out of the guy!
Being natural has its advantages like I always say. Since I'm natural, I can disguise myself under clothing. But when my shirt comes off, my guns are ready!!
Q Do you think the pump compares to having sex with a woman, like Arnold said?
Arnold said, when he compared sex to the pump, "can you believe how much I'm in heaven? I'm getting the same feeling when I'm working out when I'm out there posing in front of people." I think I understand what he meant. He basically was trying to say that the pump is an incredible feeling (like sex).
It makes you feel like you are invincible, and it has many positive effects on the whole body. But no way is it better than having sex. If it is, you better change your sex partner.