Training for the pump has been the holy grail of bodybuilding ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke about it in the documentary “Pumping Iron”. Achieving the pump while working out is a great indicator that your body is in the right condition for muscular growth. The big reason that bodybuilders can display much more mass than someone who lifts exclusively for strength is because bodybuilders train for the pump. I’ll talk about what causes the pump in a second, but first let’s look at a picture of a pretty girl in a field of flowers.
[You didn’t think I was going to show an oiled up bodybuilder did you? Call me crazy, but I think pretty girls are better motivation!]
Okay…Back to “The Pump”
The simplest explanation of the pump is that more blood is forced into the working muscles causing the muscles to swell a bit. The reason this helps for muscle growth is that the muscles are surrounded by a tissue called the fascial layer. The pump helps stretch this layer out a bit allowing more room for muscle growth to occur. The pump also helps the body create more capillaries which in turn allows the body to create large and larger pumps and more growth.
What Causes A Large Pump in the Muscles?
The biggest factor in creating a large pump is the level of muscle glycogen in your body. Simply put, when you eat an adequate number of carbs this becomes an energy source that is stored in the muscles. When your muscles are full of glycogen, your body is “carbed up”. You will achieve the pump easily in this state. The way you lift has a lot to do with the pump as well. Typically higher reps (6-12) and less rest between sets will maximize the pump.
So Why Do I Recommend Avoiding the Pump?
I will list several reasons I don’t recommend training for the pump. Remember, this isn’t a bodybuilding site. I focus solely on tips to help people get the “Hollywood Look”. Nobody in Hollywood has that bloated pumped up look. That excessive muscle look is completely out of style, isn’t attractive to the general population, and really isn’t very healthy.
1) The Pump Creates Temporary Muscle Tone
When the muscles are pumped up, they grow in size and the skin tightens up a bit around the muscles. When the muscles are in this state they look a bit better than normal. They look quite a bit more defined. The problem is that once this temporary state is gone, the muscles look a bit soft. Later in this post I’ll discuss a better strategy to insure that your muscles look defined all day long.
2) The Pump Makes You Look Leaner Than You Actually Are
When your chest and back is pumped up, it tends to hide that bit of fat around your waist. In proportion to these larger, pumped up muscles you look like you have less body fat. Even worse than that, a lot of guys will focus on how good their arms or chest look and forget about that lagging midsection. The pump creates an illusion of being in better shape than you are. The problem is that once you hit the beach in the summer, you will realize that you don’t look quite as good as you thought you did. You should have worked harder on cardio.
3) It Will Cause Growth in Muscles That You Want to Slim Down
Women please, please, please read this! If you want to slim down your legs, hips, and butt…avoid all exercises that create a pump in these muscle groups. Remember, the pump will stretch the fascia to allow the muscles to grow. The pump will also build more capillaries in those muscles. I don’t believe large legs look good on men or women, so I pretty much advise against most leg lifts (yep…I get challenged on this all the time…but I’m not going to change my opinion on this). Hit cardio hard instead. You really will look WAY better in jeans. Here is a tip from my sister who is in incredible shape…if the exercise bike is pumping up your legs, stick to running instead.
4) The Pump Gives a “Bloated Sausage” Look to Your Muscles
It is had to describe in words, but guys and girls who train for the pump have a strange unnatural look to their muscles. The muscles are too rounded in my opinion. An attractive body has a more lean, angular look to it. The excessively large rounded muscles create kind of a “cheesy” look. What I mean by that is that when a person who trains for the pump wears normal clothes, like at a club, they look like a gym rat who is trying to dress hip. When people look at you, you don’t want them to think “gym person”. You want them to think…”that is an attractive looking guy or girl with a hot body”. This is a subtle but important difference.
5) The Pump Creates Excessive Muscle Mass
I am not against muscle mass. Really…not at all. I just think “excessive” muscle mass creates a very unattractive look. See each person has a natural amount of muscle mass that they look great with. A person with a small frame like Brad Pitt, would naturally carry less muscle mass than The Rock. They both look great although their amount of mass varies greatly. The Rock at one point did focus on mass and didn’t look as good as he does now. If people focus on functional strength, cardio fitness, and muscular efficiency without forcing the issue to gain mass, they will look much better. Unfortunately most personal trainers teach their clients to build muscle mass at all costs. This is why working out for “the pump” is so popular. The most efficient bodies have a high strength at a lower body weight. So training for strength without an increase in size is how to get a more efficient body. This is the polar opposite of what bodybuilders do.
6) The Pump is An Indicator For Muscle Growth But NOT Fat Loss!
Whenever my muscles get really pumped in my workout, I know that I am in a poor position to burn excess body fat. you see, to create the best conditions for the pump to occur, your body has to be “carbed up” a bit (as I mentioned earlier). This means that your muscles are full of glycogen, which is how your muscles store fuel. The other major fuel that your body uses is body fat. The problem is that your body will use all of this stored glycogen before it accesses your stored body fat. If your body is carbed up, your muscles will look great in the gym. You will look more toned, because as mentioned earlier the enlarged muscles will reduce the appearance of some of that body fat. The problem is that you won’t burn much body fat in that workout. Going into a workout in this “carbed up” state is a bad long term strategy to get lean and defined.
Training in a “Carb Depleted” State is a Better Strategy
I really recommend going into the majority of your workouts with as little glycogen in your system as possible. This is why I recommend eating very few calories leading up to your workout. I like to fast 4-5 hours before every workout to insure that my body is in a great position to burn body fat, not glycogen. You won’t look quite as impressive in the gym, but you will look MUCH better in the long term when you get to a low body fat percentage.
Keep the Reps Low, Build Strength Without an Increase in Mass
When you get stronger without getting bigger, your muscles will begin to display permanent muscle tone. You will gain muscle density and get a firm body that looks great 24 hours a day. A body built on the pump looks good while in the pumped state (in the gym), but poor the rest of the time. An example of athletes who train for strength without increasing mass is Gymnasts. Their bodies look defined at all times. As long as you train for strength without aiming for the pump and you keep your calories under control, you will not need to worry about excessive muscle mass. I also recommend following up your brief strength training workout with intense cardio. If you have never done tough cardio in a carb depleted state, you will be shocked at how much more effective it is for fat loss.
How Your Mind Plays Tricks on You in the Gym
Everyone looks much more muscular and defined in a pumped up state. A normal looking guy or girl can transform their body with a few reps of bench presses and look really ripped if his body is carbed up. This is psychologically rewarding…especially to guys and girls who like the bodybuilder look. When you go into the gym in a carb depleted state and train for low reps, your body won’t transform a few sets into your workout. What you see in the mirror is how your body will look 24 hours a day. It will be a weird transition for you, if you are used to seeing bulging muscles after 4-5 sets of curls. The great thing is that you will know exactly where you stand, and will know exactly how much fat you need to drop to look defined. If anything, you will look worse in the gym than you do the rest of the time. The decision is yours…look impressive in the gym or impressive the rest of the time.
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