Pump workouts are specific workouts that increase the visual size of your muscles, their function, and overall make you look stronger. That’s a pretty simplistic view into it, so we’re going to dig a bit deeper.
Why do people do pump exercises? And are they exclusively for bodybuilders and competitive lifters, or are they something that you could use in your own exercise regimen to get stronger?
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started. Just know that you never have to do pump exercises to get strong, but some of the improvements you can make through them are pretty fantastic looking.
What is Pump?
Pump workouts refer to a coined term simply called “the pump” in the strength training world. If you see anything centered around this, it’s talking about pumping up your muscles as if you were plugging in an air hose and inflating their size.
A pump workout doesn’t technically build strength. In fact, pump workouts can be dangerous if you don’t do them properly, which is why you need to exert complete caution when performing them.
Pump exercises are designed to make your blood vessels expand and increase your blood flow, therefore making your visible muscles look that much bigger.
You have to be completely hydrated to do this properly, and if you aren’t, you run the risk of serious injury. We’ll talk more about the dangers later on in this guide.
Does Pump Help Building Muscle?
Pump builds muscle, but it doesn’t build strength. You can get a thin layer of muscle that may amount to a few pounds over your entire body, however, you can actually watch this fall off the scale as well.
Pump workouts require you to do the following:
Increase Blood Flow: This is temporary. Your blood flow will return to normal in the targeted area, and the size will decrease.
Redirect Hydration: Your body sends hydration to where it’s needed most, and if you’re assaulting your muscles with pump workouts, then the hydration is inflating the areas around those muscles (bloating) instead of working to keep your joints lubricated, or benefit your core muscles.
Cause Inflammation: This is basically the definition of inflammation, which according to the Oxford Dictionary means “A localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.” Sore muscles are not the same thing as causing intentional inflammation to make your muscles swell up.
So what does pump do apart from looking good? Well, you might hear people refer to “losing their pump” after a few hours of being out of the gym.
When they talk about it like this, they mean the slight bit of pump that occurred from their workout. When you work your muscles, you’re naturally going to increase blood flow and water distribution, but not to an egregious extent.
Losing your pump and doing pump exercises for the sake of perceived muscle growth are two different things entirely.
How to Achieve Pump
You can pump, just use caution. If you’re going to, then follow proper protocol and use these methods to actually get a solid pump without hurting yourself.
Rapid, High-Volume Lifting: Can you easily hike those 80 lb dumbbells around the gym? Great—now pick up a pair of 20s and pump them furiously fast, with the proper form of course. The more muscles you contract in a short amount of time, the more blood and hydration is going to be sent your way. When it comes to the barbell or kettlebells, where there’s a lot of concentrated weight and it’s putting pressure on your wrists, it could be a good idea to get some weight lifting gloves to help keep your hands safe.
Hit The Carbs: No, really—if you want to pump, you need to fill your body up with carbs right before you go to the gym. It’s all smoke in mirrors in the end because all you’re really doing is forcing your body to hold onto more water so that your muscles can look bigger. It’s like the opposite reason as to why people will intentionally dehydrate themselves if they’re interested in looking extra cut.
Don’t Get Sick, But Chug Water: Your body needs to hold onto more water to maintain that pump, so without making your stomach sick, you need to take in a ton of water. On top of this, bring a water bottle with you and drink as often as possible before, during, and after pump sets if you want to keep that pump looking bigger for longer.
B Vitamins: Yep, one of the last secrets to the pump is the complex B vitamins that you should (hopefully) already be taking. There are 8 nutrients in B vitamins, but the one that helps the most is B6. That’s because it improves blood circulation, so you’ll get blood to your muscles faster and sometimes in higher volume than when you don’t take these supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Diet: To accompany the blood flow benefits of B vitamins, you should be adding fresh fish to your diet that contains tons of omega-3 fatty acids.
You can take fish oil supplements (read the label carefully, because a lot of low-tier brands are just selling you snake oil, not fish oil), and it can help if you take it over a period of time.
Dangers of Improperly Pumping
So are pump workouts harmful? Not inherently, but they can be. It’s all about how much you’re willing to push yourself just to get some bulky aesthetics that don’t actually lend you anything in reference to strength.
If you pump, do it sparingly so help yourself get ready for a workout or something, and not as a method of trying to get long-term gains. Avoid these issues while you’re at it.
Painful Muscles: Your muscles are their own ecosystem of protein, glycogen, vitamins and minerals, and when you intentionally disturb the way they should operate with pump workouts, you can hurt yourself. Now that myriad of nutrition that was helping your muscles grow is actually redirected to help ease pain and repair damaged muscle. You can easily hurt yourself with pump workouts and prolong deep muscle growth and strength improvements.
Muscle Damage: Beyond the painful indicators that you’ve injured yourself, you can actually ensure long-term muscle tearing and break down your muscles faster than they would normally break down on their own. That’s serious, long-term damage that you really don’t want to endure.
Bone Stress and Premature Fractures: This one isn’t common, but it does happen and can be attributed to pump workouts. Muscle pumps can make you feel like more weight is the answer, when in fact your muscles might not be as powerful as they look. Overestimating what you can handle for your pump can lead to fracture and damage, especially when you get that adrenaline surge from doing a pump workout. Be smart and don’t go above your lifting weight (at least not beyond a reasonable level).
Damage to Ligaments and Tendons: Your tendons are connective tissue that keeps your muscles attached to your bones, and your ligaments are what attach bones to other bones (joints). These are two things you cannot afford to damage.
Varicose Veins: Most varicose veins are cosmetic and don’t hurt you in the long haul, but some varicose veins can constrict blood flow and cause long-term circulatory issues that can only be resolved with surgery.
Can Pump Harm Your Gains?
Yes, it absolutely can. You’re still working out, so you will gain some amount of muscle, but you’re not gaining strength.
The difference is that you’re gaining thin layers of muscle on the outside of your current muscles to look aesthetic, but true muscle growth begins in the center of the muscle. It expands from there and grows through micro-tears that heal and grow.
Pump workouts focus on getting as much blood flow to specific areas as possible, redirecting your hydration to make your veins look thicker and your muscles look bulkier.
The exercises required to perform pump workouts are using up your glycogen and not allowing your body to restore that properly.
Glycogen is stored in your muscles and used as energy when you strength train, so if you use it all up, you’re wasting its potential on actual gains.
So Can I Just “Pump” From a Normal Workout?
Well, yes! You’re already getting a pump in when you lift dumbbells, do squats, and basically any time you do resistance or strength training. If you’re pumping blood and water into your muscles, you’re getting “pumped” so to speak.
So why is there such a fascination with the pump? It comes down to results and aesthetics, and sometimes competitiveness. The whole point of working out is to get healthy. Once you’re healthy, it’s to become confident.
Once you’re confident, it’s about strength, seeing what you can do, having control over your life, and that’s basically it. Yes, it’s good to be strong, but don’t look at the bigger guy in the gym next to you and think you have to compete.
You’re already getting in a pump when you work out. Your muscle size will come in ebbs and flows, and that’s what those muscles are supposed to do.
They use water when they need it, increase blood flow when needed, and otherwise, they let those resources run the rest of the body where they should be.
Pump Workouts for Bigger (But Not Stronger) Muscles
Pump workouts can have short-term benefits for weightlifting tournaments (and of course, the aesthetics). It’s not just about the pump, but you can certainly use these workouts to increase your visible gains and improve your blood flow.
Notice we said visible gains.
As always, be sure to hydrate properly so that your muscles can pump effectively, and for your own safety while exercising as well. Do anything you can to safely and properly prepare your body for pump exercises.
Just remember that this isn’t going to do much for you at all, especially in the long term. It’s a way to get, as some call it, “pretty muscle” that doesn’t play into your strength the way you think it does.
Justin Rodriguez has spent most of his adult life inspiring people to take their fitness more seriously. He is not new to the business of providing practical solutions for those looking to set and smash their fitness goals. From sharing professional tips and tricks to recommending awesome products, Justin Rodriguez helps just about anyone who wants to get the best out of their workout routines.Having gathered a lot of experience both in and outside the gym, Justin Rodriguez uses DSW Fitness as a medium to show you exactly how to get that great-looking body with toned muscles you’ve always wanted.