The truth is if you want to build muscle you shouldn’t be focusing on training solely to get a pump.
What you want to focus on instead is slowly but surely getting stronger over time. This is called progressive overload.
What The Facts Say:
In order for us to build muscle, we must provide our muscles with a powerful reason to grow.
This means subjecting our muscles to more mechanical tension over time.
The best way to subject our muscles to more mechanical tension is to add more weight to the bar for the same amount of reps.
For example, if one week you barbell squat 80kg for 3 sets of 5 reps.
Then next week if you squat 85kg for 3 sets of 5 reps you’ve subjected your muscles to more mechanical tension and thus your body will build muscle (hypertrophy) because of this.
The powerful signal of lifting progressively heavier weights acts as a stimulus for our bodies to build muscle.
And then next time we train, the recovered and newly built muscle can help us send an even more powerful muscle-building stimulus to our bodies by enabling us to lift even more weight. And again our bodies will build even more muscle. It’s hard and it’s tough, but it’s a virtuous cycle when done properly.
At the heart of this virtuous cycle is progressive overload.
What Is Pump Training?
Pump training is effectively training your body to get blood flow to your muscles. Pump training is most often achieved by lifting weights in the 10-12 rep range with short rest periods of a minute or less.
Training for the pump feels good and the pumps can make it look like you’ve built more muscle than you have for a short period, but over time if you don’t focus on getting stronger (progressive overload) your results will stagnate.
The Pump Should Be A Side Effect Of Proper Training
Subjecting your body to more mechanical tension requires you to contract your muscles under increasingly heavier loads.
This way you’ll build more muscle and your muscle will look fuller and denser than if you focused your workouts entirely around getting a pump.
The Mind Muscle Connection And The Pump
The good thing about getting a pump is that it helps you to build the mind-muscle connection.
More blood flow in your muscles can help them become easier to feel during your workouts and easier to contract.
To prove this point, next time you work out your arms (mainly your biceps and triceps) try tensing them during or slightly after your workout. And then the morning after try tensing your arms again.
You should find that it’s easier to contract your muscles during/ straight after your workout.
Why Pump Training Doesn’t Yield Good Results In The Long Run
Pump training merely focuses on getting blood flow into the muscles. This by itself does not cause muscle growth.
Applying more mechanical tension to your muscles (progressive overload) does cause muscle growth and that is what you need to be focusing on to see results.
This one study had two groups of adults perform 2 different types of resistance training.
1. Group one performed 4 sets of 10-12 reps (pump style training) with short 1 minute rest periods.
2. Group two performed 4 sets of 3-5 reps focusing on strength with 3 minute rest periods.
Each group trained for 8 weeks and the results found :
” It appears that high-intensity resistance training stimulates greater improvements in some measures of strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men during a short-term training period. “
Note: High-intensity training means using heavier weights. It also means using weights that are a greater percentage of your one-rep max ( the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition).
So If you can bench press 100kg for a one-rep max. Performing sets with 90 kg means that you’re training at a higher intensity than if you were performing sets with 80kg.
The study clearly shows that strength training (lifting heavier weights for fewer reps and having longer rest periods) increases muscle mass and strength, especially when compared with higher rep pump training (training with higher reps and having short rest periods).
Why Having Longer Rest Periods Is Important For Better Muscle And Strength Gains
If your training consists of compound exercises like barbell squats, the bench press, overhead press and the deadlift (like it should) It makes sense to have longer rest periods of 3-5 minutes.
Having longer rest periods gives your muscles a chance to reduce fatigue before you perform your next heavy set or sets.
Whereas performing higher reps and having less rest in between your sets will increase the amount of lactic acid in your muscles and you’ll be more fatigued for your following sets which will result in you lifting the same amount of weight for fewer reps or even having to lower the weight all together.
Whereas if you just implemented longer rest periods to your training you wouldn’t have to lower the weight or reduce the number of reps you perform.
This is one of the reasons why the individuals in the study who lifted heavier weights for lower reps and implemented longer rest periods had better results.
The Most Muscular Guys And Gals Have Admirable Levels Of Strength
Everyone who has developed a decent amount of muscle mass has also developed an admirable level of strength.
Progressively overloading your muscles (getting stronger) is the best way to build muscle.
There Are Multiple Ways To Apply Progressive Overload To Your Training To Increase Muscle Size And Overall Strength
- 1. Lift more weight for the same amount of reps. (Linear progression)
- 2. Lift the same amount of weight for more reps then add weight when you hit the top range of your rep target e.g working in the 4-6 rep range (double progression).
- 1. Use better form with the same weight for the same number of reps. When the weight feels easy, add weight to the bar or use heavier dumbells. ( A more subjective and intuitive way of applying progressive overload to your training).
Real-Life Examples Of The Different Ways To Progressively Overload Your Muscles
Example 1 ( Linear Progression)
Here’s an example of using linear progression to get stronger at barbell squats (all examples are for barbell squats):
Set 1 80kg x 5 reps
Set 2 80kg x 5 reps
Set 3 80kg x 5 reps
Set 1 85kg x 5 reps
Set 2 85kg x 5 reps
set 3 85kg x 5 reps
Set 1 90kg x 5 reps
Set 2 90kg x 5 reps
Set 3 90kg x 5 reps
Example 2 (Double Progression)
Set 1 80kg x 6 reps
Set 2 85kg x 4 reps
Set 3 85kg x 4 reps
Set 1 85kg x 5 reps
Set 2 85kg x 5 reps
Set 3 85kg x4 reps
Set 1 85kg x 6 reps
Set 2 90kg x 4 reps
Set 3 90kg x 4 reps
This way of progressive overload is quite subjective. If one week you’re squatting 80kg for 5 reps and it seems hard. But the week after you are squatting 80kg for 5 or more reps and your form is pretty much perfect and the weight feels easy then progressive overload has occurred and you’re ready to either increase the number of reps you perform or the weight you’re lifting.
What Comes First Muscle Or Strength
When you lift sufficiently heavy weights you provide your body with a stimulus to build muscle.
When you leave the gym and focus on proper recovery, your body will adapt and you’ll build muscle.
The recovered bigger and stronger muscles cause you to display greater levels of strength in your next workouts.
So in fact the strength comes second to the muscle we’ve built. It’s the mixture of progressively lifting sufficiently heavy weights, utilizing proper recovery methods and nutrition that helps us to build muscle in the long run.
These are the laws of muscle growth and if anyone deviates from these methods be very sceptical.
Rep Ranges And Muscle Growth
Just because I’ve mentioned lower rep training doesn’t mean that I think it’s superior to higher rep training.
You can build muscle using higher and lower rep ranges so long as you’re utilizing progressive overload, performing an equal amount of sets and putting in a comparable amount of effort.
But just focusing on getting the blood flow into your muscles without emphasizing progressive overload is missing the forest for the trees.
The Bottom Line On How Important Is Getting A Pump For Building Muscle?
Getting a pump really isn’t that important for building muscle. If you’re following a properly structured strength training program, getting a pump will be the side effect of performing and getting stronger at the exercises within your workout plan.
As long as you’re getting stronger in your workouts you don’t need to worry about training solely for the pump.