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Get Swole: What's the Deal with "The Pump?"

Make your muscles look a half inch bigger than they actually are by pumping them up with this bodybuilding trick.
Get Swole: What's the Deal with "The Pump?"

The bodybuilder’s pump: That all-swoled-up post-workout state that Arnold once likened it to sex. “Runners have their ‘high’ and bodybuilders have their ‘pump’—the feeling of euphoria brought on by the rush of blood that causes your muscles to swell during a weight workout,” explains personal trainer Mike Creamer of Anatomically Correct in NYC. Read on to find out what's actualy happening there, how to max it out—and whether or not you can take it too far.

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The pump happens in response to intense strength training. Muscular contractions cause blood vessels to dilate, and blood flow to increase. All that activity in the muscles causes them to expand. A lot. “During an intense workout, a pumped upper arm could measure a full half-inch more than it normally does,” Creamer says. Alas, the effect is temporary, lasting at most a couple of hours.

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To get that volume, you must do volume. “A good pump in the targeted muscles can usually be achieved by performing three or four sets of moderate to high reps (10 to 15) of an exercise to momentary muscular failure,” Creamer says. Keep your tempo slow and really focus on the contraction of the muscles, take short rest periods, and do supersets of opposing muscle groups (say, biceps and triceps) to enhance the effect. “Making sure that you are well hydrated and taking in enough carbs before your workout will also facilitate a good pump, as will creatine supplementation—these all contribute to increasing the muscle cell volume,” says Creamer.

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Not necessarily. “There is cellular research showing that cell swelling increases protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown,” explains Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, CSCS, assistant professor in exercise science at Lehman College and author of The M.A.X. Muscle Plan. “If these results translate into practice during resistance training, then it would have a positive effect on increasing muscle growth—but we simply don't have the ability to test for it.” Plus, as Creamer points out, always working at the intensity required for a good pump may result in overtraining, which can be counterproductive to your longer term goal of actual, lasting muscle growth. So enjoy it when it happens, and make it happen when you want to enjoy it.

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