Does Getting a Pump Help You Build Muscle?


Jan 18, 2023
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Yes and no.

While scientists are still unraveling the complex systems responsible for muscle growth, it’s clear pump training is effective for building muscle.

That doesn’t mean it’s optimal for building muscle, though.

You can build muscle effectively without ever getting a pump, as scientists from the University of Central Florida demonstrated in a recent study.

The researchers split 33 resistance-trained men with an average age of 24 into two groups:

  1. Group one trained in the 10-to-12-rep range using 70% of their one-rep max (1RM), resting one minute between each set.
  2. Group two trained in the 3-to-5-rep range with 90% of their 1RM, resting three minutes between each set.
In other words, the first group did “pump” style training, and the second group did heavy strength training.

Both groups used the same exercises, did the same number of sets, trained the same number of times per week, and were observed by the researchers to ensure they used proper, consistent form.

The researchers also had both groups complete a two week preparatory phase so they could familiarize themselves with the exercises and all start the study with more or less the same amount of fatigue.

They all trained four days per week using a lowerupper split made up of a combination of compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and incline bench press, and isolation exercises like the dumbbell raise, triceps extension, and biceps curl.

Both groups gained about the same amount of muscle, but there was a small trend for greater gains in the group that used heavy weights. This has been borne out in other studies as well.

So, all in all, there isn’t a huge difference in muscle growth from pump training and strength training.

That said, there are two reasons you should prioritize heavy lifting over pump training:

1. Heavy strength training takes less time.

If you follow most of the high-volume “pump” style training plans you’ll find in bodybuilding magazines, you can easily find yourself in the gym for several hours every day.

A workout based on heavy, compound lifts in the 4 to 6 rep range might take half as long, but will yield similar results.

2. You’ll need to train with heavy weights eventually, so you might as well start now.

When you first start lifting weights, you can build muscle following almost any program.

The closer you get to your genetic potential, through, the more you have to focus on progressive overload to keep making progress.

This refers to exposing your muscle fibers to greater and greater levels of tension, and the most effective way to do it is to progressively increase the amount of weight you’re lifting.

In other words, pump training and strength training will get you to the same destination, but strength training will get you there more efficiently.

As I’ve said many times before (and will continue saying), if your goal is to gain muscle as quickly as possible, then, ultimately, you need to gain strength as quickly as possible.

So, why bother with pump training at all?

Well, many people don’t. They make fantastic progress using only the main compound lifts like the squat, bench press, military press and deadlift.

That said, there are a few problems with this approach.

For one thing, most people wind up with muscle imbalances of one form or another after following a workout routine made up of only compound exercises. This is easily corrected by including a few isolation exercises in your routine, but these often don’t play nicely with low reps and heavy weights.

For example, many people wind up with undersized shoulders when they follow many strength training plans, and doing some dumbbell side raises or dumbbell reverse flyes can work wonders for bringing up these small, stubborn muscles.

If you’ve done either of these exercises, though, you know it’s almost impossible to maintain proper form when using weights that limit you to 4 to 6 reps. Instead, you’ll generally make better progress using slightly lighter weights and higher reps.

In other words, pump training.

Another reason it’s worth including pump training in your workout routine is it may help you build muscle faster than solely focusing on strength training.

You see, while progressive tension overload is the primary driver of muscle growth—the 20% of your training that will give you 80% of your results—pump style training can complement your heavy strength training.

Without getting into the biological weeds of muscle growth, the long story short is there are three main levers you can pull to kick muscle growth into high gear:

  1. Progressive tension overload, which refers to exposing your muscles to greater and greater levels of tension over time. (This is the most important of these three levers.)
  2. Muscle damage, which refers to the process by which weightlifting stretches and tears muscle cells, forcing them to recover and grow stronger than before.
  3. Cellular fatigue, which involves exhausting a muscle to the point the fibers can’t contract effectively anymore.
Heavy strength training tends to emphasize progressive tension overload and muscle damage, whereas pump training emphasizes cellular fatigue.

If you only train with heavy weights, you’ll expose your muscles to plenty of tension and make good progress, but you’ll also be missing out on the muscle-building benefits of cellular fatigue.

As you know, pump training causes a great deal of cellular swelling, which increases protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown and, theoretically, should result in more muscle growth over time.

This is why you generally want a balance of both heavy, compound strength training, and lighter, higher-rep exercises in your workout routine.

Finally, pump-style training is also a great way to add some extra volume to lagging muscle groups.

Pump training tends to require less focus and effort than heavy strength training (which is one of the reasons many people are drawn to it), which makes it an ideal way to add a few sets at the end of your strength workouts.

For instance, let’s say you’ve just finished doing several heavy sets of bench press, and your chest is toast.

You still want to give your shoulders and arms some extra volume, though.

You could just do more sets of bench or some heavy dips, but these exercises may be too taxing to do properly or consistently.

Instead, you can tack on a few high-rep, lower-weight “pump” sets of biceps curls and dumbbell side raises to the end of your workout.

Summary: Pump training should never be your primary focus if you want to gain muscle as fast as possible, but it can help you build muscle faster when done in conjunction with heavy strength training.