Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously said: “The best activities for your health are pumping and humping.” While the 1980s heyday of über-muscled action heroes has gone the way of the mullet, there’s still some truth to Arnie’s credo. “Chasing the pump” refers to the practice of encouraging blood to pool in your muscles, leading to a temporary boost in size and vascularity. A Strength and Conditioning Journal paper suggests it can accelerate long-term growth, too.
The pump occurs when contractions prevent your veins from taking blood out of the muscles you’re working. Meanwhile, blood continues to be forced in. As it collects, excess plasma causes muscle fibres to stretch, says Jim Pate, physiologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance. Your muscles interpret this as a threat to their integrity and channel their efforts into reinforcing the cells, resulting in greater mass and strength gain.
The best way to chase a pump is to use time under tension, advises Pate; four
to five seconds are optimal. Choose from the following: giant sets (perform four moves on the same muscle group, back to back), drop sets (finish your set with a heavy weight, then use a lighter load to failure), or, best of all, negatives (slow down the eccentric part of the lift to encourage time under tension and maximal blood flow). Whichever you go for, pack a vest. Where you’re going, you don’t need sleeves.
Unless your name is Dwayne Johnson, however, chasing the pump at every session isn’t a viable strategy. The fatigue will become detrimental, says Pate: “Your returns will diminish. You need compound exercises and a variety of rep ranges, which will improve muscle recruitment and the co-ordination of your neuromuscular system.” Working to swell your muscles with blood should be a part of your regimen, not the sole aim.
The most effective way of incorporating the pump into your workouts is to cap your usual strength session with 10 minutes of high-volume work. Dave Lipson and Andrew Charlesworth, founders of the training resource thundrbro.com, recommend performing supersets of banded triceps extensions and hammer curls. Do this to maintain all the normal benefits of your training, while earning yourself two tickets to the gun show.
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