The Pump

The Bottom Line Up Front:

  • Hypertrophy is the golden ticket to the construction of muscle mass.
  • “The pump” is just part of the bigger picture of effective hypertrophy training.
  • Working the complete cross section of the muscle will result in maximal growth.

A must see for any aspiring bodybuilder, is the legendary “Pumping Iron,” the movie that really brought the hidden world of bodybuilding to the public eye, carried through the charismatic and hyper competitive personality of Arnold himself. And if you don’t find yourself motivated to watch a full length film, at least find yourself a few minutes to hear Arnold explain “the pump.” Not that you’ll learn anything new, but I personally feel it is one of the most unintentionally funny moments of film. Set against the musical backdrop of what could be a 70’s, sci-fi themed porn flick, Arnold seems to read off a script that could ALSO be a weird 70’s porn flick. Except its not. It’s all about the glorious pump that we all seek.

If one adopts the idea of bodybuilding for appearance (or for the sport of appearance) with little regard for absolute strength gains, the pump is traditionally the name of the game. Hypertrophy for bodybuilders is achieved differently than it is for strength athletes. While strength athletes like weightlifters and powerlifters have numbers to crunch to dial themselves into the “ideal” rep and weight ranges for results, bodybuilders can follow a similar approach. The two models of hypertrophy are knowns as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (“for bodybuilders”) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (“for strength athletes”). Because building of muscle purely for mass can be approached from more angles than simply “the pump,” it would be wise to cast your net a bit wider to catch the most benefit.

Hypertrophy for Strength Athletes

  • Aims to grow the contracting elements of the muscle
  • Typically developed through low rep sets (2-6 reps) of higher percentage (70-90%)
  • An extra focus will be given towards dynamic effort, or bar speed of the movement
  • Set tempo is key
  • Sample:
    • Bench Press: 8 sets x 3 reps @ 80%, 60 sec rest between sets

Muscle growth from this approach is going to increase the size and amount of the actual, contractile muscle fibers. This is often why you see strength athletes who seem to be smaller than bodybuilders, while being able to move more weight. The actual working portion of the muscles receives the most stimulation, and as a result, more adaptation.

Hypertrophy for Bodybuilders

  • Aims to grow the supporting structures of the muscle
  • Typically developed through a higher rep range (8-12 reps) of lower percentage (60-75%)
  • Tempo still vital
  • Sample:
    • Bench press: 5 sets x 10 reps @ 60%, 60 sec rest between sets

This method is what is more traditionally referred to as “the pump,” as it develops the fluid and cell structures surrounding the muscle fibers. It does not do as much to provide stimulus to the contracting muscle fibers. This is very effective for developing full muscle bodies, which is why it is most closely associated with bodybuilding training.

The Complete Picture

If someone is to take the approach of training purely for muscle mass, it is important to NOT get lost in the rabbit hole of “bodybuilding hypertrophy” type programs. Your goal is to grow the entire muscle, so why focus on the supporting cell structure and disregard the actual contractile muscle cells? This is where workout programs like Layne Norton’s “Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training” (P.H.A.T.) program are highly effective. When taking an entire day devoted to hypertrophy, a program such as this will approach the full scope, which in turn will develop the muscle fully.

It is also important to note that both the “strength” approach and the “bodybuilding” approach may have carryover into the other. There is no golden rule that says bodybuilding templates will NOT develop ANY contractile muscle fibers. Similarly no rule exists that suggests that the strength athlete will NOT develop ANY of the non-contractile tissue surrounding the muscle fibers. But for the bulk of humanity (there will always be freaky outliers) each of those methods will yield results that predominately focus on those aspects of your muscles. So while choosing one method and relying on it entirely may still provide SOME benefits, you will achieve greater overall results by utilizing both methods in conjunction.

Whether you are taking a program from an established source, like Dr. Layne Norton modifying a program for your own use, or writing a program from scratch, make sure you have a deliberate and planned method. This is a principle I will preach til I am blue in the face regardless of what your training goals are. But in this specific case, if you are training to build lean muscle mass for the sake of just GAINZ, take the time to plan for all aspects of hypertrophy, and don’t just focus on seeking the orgasmic feeling of THE PUMP.

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