You know that feeling when your biceps are engorged after a burnout set and they look like they are five inches bigger in circumference when you arrived? You know when your arms have become so tight and vascular and locked stiff they feel like they may never be able to return to a completely straight position again? You know when your chest is so jacked after you drop the weight it feels like you need a bra? If you answered yes to any of the above question, you have experienced the muscle pump aka “the pump.”
What is the pump? Why do we love it so much when we achieve it? The pump occurs as a result of blood rushing to the muscle, also known as hyperemia, and swelling up the area like a water balloon. Some weight trainers and body builders look to the pump as a sign that they are getting a good workout that is sufficient enough in rigor to create an engorgement in the muscles. When a lifter trains their muscles, blood is diverted to the muscles in order to supply what is needed to perform to its fullest potential.
The reason so much blood needs to flow to the muscles is that muscles require the proper nutrition and oxygenation required to sustain the high level of activity that they are being put through. The muscles also need waste products to be removed in order to continue working effectively. The blood directed toward the targeted muscle group helps to flush out lactic acid to help the fibers to recover quickly after work. The repetitive muscle contractions causes the release of nitric oxide into the bloodstream. The nitric oxide (NO) causes capillaries to dilate allowing more blood to flow. Specific B vitamins, B3 and B9 play a role in NO production. Therefore, by taking in sufficient B vitamins, a lifter can increase flow of nutrients and oxygen to muscles. The blood flow helps keep muscles nourished and oxygenated, clears out waste, and the excess of flow creates the area specific engorgement known as the “pump.”
The mental benefits of the pump are vast. A good pump is a simple indicator that a lifter had a good workout. Feeling the pump gets a lifter psyched up, motivated to come back for more the next chance he gets. Arnold famously compared the pump to having an orgasm.
To achieve a good pump start with a warmup that gets your whole body involved and sweating. This will allow improved blood flow for hyperemia (which is the pump). Do approximately ten minutes of interval training before picking up any weights.
Do a couple warm up sets after your full body warm up. Do at least two sets of a compound exercise at light weight and higher reps. Compound exercises include squats, bench press, deadlifts, etc.
You want to lift to just before the point of failure. Use a weight that you can go about 6-8 strong controlled reps but not any more than that. Maintaining controlled form and slow negatives is crucial for getting a great pump.
Reduce your rest times keep your heart rate up and blood flowing constantly.