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How Important Is Getting a Pump for Building Muscle?


Jan 18, 2023
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Key Takeaways

  1. The muscle “pump” refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights, especially when you use higher reps and shorter rest periods.
  2. 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.
  3. If you want to know how to use pump training to build muscle more effectively, keep reading to learn how.
If you’ve read anything about bodybuilding, you’ve probably heard about something called “the pump.”

In a nutshell, this refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights.

Bodybuilders have been strangely obsessed with this phenomenon since people started lifting weights, and according to many, it’s the cheat code for unlocking rapid muscle growth.

For example, here’s how Arnie described it in the 1977 film, Pumping Iron:


George Butler and Charles Gaines, authors of Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding, claimed getting a muscle pump, “feels like one of those fast-frame films of flowers blooming or seeds ripening; the muscles seem actually to go from pod to blossom in seconds under the skin.”

This explanation reveals one of the main reasons weightlifters like getting a pump: it’s a visible sign your efforts in the gym are paying off. Your muscles are getting bigger before your eyes!

This preoccupation with the pump hasn’t waned, either.

You’ll still find articles touting the benefits of “chasing the pump”—bodybuilder lingo for doing lots of reps with short rest periods until your muscles are swollen and sore.

Others counter that chasing the pump is a fool’s errand. Temporary muscle swelling has nothing to do with muscle growth, and your time is better spent getting as strong as possible, they say.

So, who’s right?

If you don’t get a pump, does that mean you’re doing something wrong?

And if you want to build as much muscle as possible, should you change your training to get more of a pump?

Well, the long story short is this:

You can build muscle without getting a pump, and it’s far from the most important thing you should be focused on.

That doesn’t mean it’s useless, though.

Pump training does have a place in your workout routine, and you can use it to build more muscle than you would with strength training alone.

In this article, you’re going to learn what the pump is, what causes it, why people think it’s important, why it isn’t essential for muscle growth, and why it’s still worth doing some “pump” training in your workouts to get the best results.

Let’s start at square one.

What Is a Muscle “Pump?”

The muscle “pump” refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights, especially when you use higher reps and shorter rest periods.

To understand why this happens, we need to look at what’s going on inside our muscles when we lift weights.

When you contract your muscles, metabolic byproducts like lactic acid build up in and around the cells. These substances contribute to the muscle pump in a few different ways.

First, your heart pumps more blood into your muscles to carry these compounds away, which makes your muscles swell.

Second, these compounds pull water into the cells, making them larger.

Third, as these cells expand, they reduce the amount of blood that’s able to escape the muscle.

You can see what this looks like in a diagram like this:


When your muscle fibers are relaxed, blood can easily pass between them. When they expand, they pinch off the veins trying to carry blood back to the heart.

The net effect is that blood is being pumped into your muscles faster than it can leave, which makes the blood “pool” in your muscles, and gives you a pump.

The more contractions you perform, the more these compounds accumulate in your muscle cells, and the more swelling occurs.

In other words, the pump is a temporary enlargement of a muscle due to an increase in the amount of blood in the muscle.

The three main things you can do to get a pump are to . . .

  • Do more reps in each set, so your muscles produce these metabolic byproducts faster than your body can shuttle them away.
  • Rest less than you normally do between sets, which also makes it harder for your body to remove these metabolic byproducts.
  • Do more sets, which further increases blood flow to your muscles and generates even more metabolic byproducts.
This is why “pump training” usually involves sets of 12 to 15+ reps, with around 30 to 90 seconds of rest between each set (or less), for as many sets as possible (or until you get a pump).

The combination of high reps, short rest periods, and multiple sets causes a rapid buildup of these metabolic byproducts and a large spike in blood flow, while simultaneously making it harder for blood to escape.

And voila, you have a pump.

This effect doesn’t last long, though. Within the first hour your muscles will be close to their normal size, and after two or three hours you won’t be able to notice any difference.

The real question is, does this translate into more muscle growth?

Let’s find out.

Summary: A muscle pump is a temporary increase in muscle size due to increased blood flow, typically due to using higher reps and shorter rest periods.