Muscle Pump: What It Is (And How To Get It)

Most people who work hard in the gym are looking to build muscle and maximize their gains.

Getting a good muscle pump not only helps you feel like the Hulk but may help support muscle growth.

But what is muscle pump, and how do you get a good muscle pump while working out?

Keep on reading to find out!

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • What Is Muscle Pump?
  • How to Get a Good Muscle Pump

Let’s get started!

Two people lifting weights.

What Is Muscle Pump?

Muscle pump sometimes called “gym pump” or just “the pump,” refers to the temporary swelling of your muscles that occurs during a workout due to the increased blood flow.

When you work out, circulation to your muscles increases in order to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to fuel your muscles (so they can generate ATP to contract) and flush out metabolic waste products that build up as your muscles generate energy to contract.

Getting a great muscle pump not only looks great and helps you feel good about your physique, but it also indicates that your working muscles are being well nourished and are primed for a great workout.

Some strength and conditioning professionals also believe that getting a good muscle pump during a workout can actually augment your training and lead to better muscle gains (hypertrophy).

When you get a big muscle pump, the blood that is engorging and pumping into the muscle to swell into its larger size ultimately helps stretch the fascia, which is the fibrous connective tissue that surrounds the bundles of muscle fibers (fascicles) within your muscle as well as around the muscle as a unit. 

Fascia essentially encloses and encapsulates muscle and lies between the muscle and subcutaneous fat under the skin.

A person doing a single-arm row.

Fascia is dense and fibrous, and although it can stretch, it is not as extensible and elastic as contractile muscle tissue.

In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that a lot of the soreness that can be experienced after a workout is largely attributable to stretch and microtears in the fascia surrounding your muscles rather than solely attributable to microtears in the muscles themselves.

Mobility exercises and self-myofascial release techniques such as foam rolling and using a massage gun can help stretch and mobilize the fascia and reduce adhesion between the fascia and underlying muscle fibers.

All of this is to say that one of the benefits of getting a sizable muscle pump during your workout is that the swelling in your muscles attributable to this pumping muscle effect can help stretch the fascia surrounding the muscles.

This can potentially create more “space“ to provide room or “real estate“ for hypertrophy or muscle growth.

Additionally, if you are getting a good muscle pump during your workout, it’s a good sign that your muscles will indeed be able to strengthen and grow because they are getting a bounty of oxygen and nutrients needed to support their growth.

A person doing a bicep curl at the gym.

When you are witnessing a good “gym pump,” as you watch yourself in the mirror during an impressive set of bicep curls looking like The Rock, your muscles appear larger than they do when you’re not in the gym; this means that your muscle tissue is being well-perfused by a healthy supply of nourishing blood.

Blood carries oxygen and essential nutrients, including glucose, amino acids, and various micronutrients and antioxidants, including vitamin C, zinc, copper, and magnesium.

In order for hypertrophy to occur, such that you experience gains in muscle size, the process of myofibrillar protein synthesis (typically just called muscle protein synthesis or MPS, for short) must take place.

This energy-intensive process requires nutrients such as amino acids and glucose to assemble new reparative proteins.

Without adequate resources available, which can occur either due to poor blood flow to the muscles or poor nutrition, muscle growth and repair will be compromised.

Therefore, the good news is that if you are seeing a discernible muscle pump as you work out, it’s a good sign that your muscles are getting access to the nutrients they need to maximize the gains from your workouts.

A person doing.a bicep curl at the gym trying to get a good muscle pump.

How to Get a Good Muscle Pump

Theoretically, any strength training workout should provide some amount of muscle pump effect, but there are ways to get a better muscle pump to really take advantage of not only the aesthetic appeal of having “swole” muscles but also the beneficial training effects of pumping muscles with more blood.

Here are a few tips for how to get a good muscle pump:

#1: Drink More

Not enough emphasis can be placed on the importance of hydrating before and during your workouts (as well as after!).

Not only is dehydration associated with numerous negative health effects, such as dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, and low energy, but dehydration can also impact athletic performance. Some studies show that as little as 2% water loss due to dehydration can significantly decrease athletic performance.

Moreover, in terms of increasing your muscle pump, the more hydrated you are, the greater your blood plasma volume will be. 

A muscular person doing a push up.

This will allow for better circulation because your blood vessels will be filled with a greater volume of blood, and each beat of your heart (stroke volume) will be able to deliver a larger bolus of blood into circulation. 

This blood will help fill out all of the large and small blood vessels in your muscles, helping augment your muscle pump all that much more.

To visualize the difference between exercising in a more dehydrated state and being well hydrated, picture the difference between a prune and a plum.

In the case of a prune, dehydration has caused the belly of the fruit to wrinkle and shrivel up. On the other hand, the plum is fleshy and turgid with water and has a nice firmness, roundness, and size to it.

A person doing bicep curls at the gym.

#2: Don’t Go Low Carb

Low-carb diets are quite popular for weight loss, but they have no place in the pre-workout fueling routine for athletes wanting to get a good muscle pump.

Glycogen, which is derived from digesting carbohydrates, helps fuel your muscles with the energy you need for a high-intensity strength training workout so that you can perform your lifts with maximal effort and capitalize on potential gains.

Furthermore, glycogen helps your muscles appear larger and will support a better muscle pump because it causes some swelling and water retention.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. For every gram of glycogen your body stores, it also stores 3 to 4 grams of water, which is what creates this greater swelling or pumping muscle effect.

Make sure that you are getting plenty of carbohydrates for your workouts.

A person getting spotted while doing the leg press at the gym.

#3: Lift Heavier

Most people who are looking into how to increase muscle pumps are ultimately engaging in hypertrophy training with the goal of building muscle.

Therefore, not only to increase muscle pump but also to make your training more effective, you want to make sure you are lifting loads that are appropriately heavy.

You should be using a resistance that you can only lift for a maximum of 8 to 12 repetitions. 

If you can eke out more than 12 reps well still using proper form, you need to increase the load you are using. 

A good muscle pump only comes when your muscles are truly being taxed and working at a near-maximal effort.

A person doing a kettlebell snatch.

#4: Squeeze During Each Rep

Another way to increase your muscle pump is to slow down each rep and give a good squeeze of your muscle (think: flexing) during the maximal workload portion of the exercise.

Think of this “squeeze” of the muscle as a mini isometric contraction.

#5: Try Supplements 

Not all athletic supplements, or ergogenic aids, are necessarily healthy and will have little to no impact on getting a good muscle pump.

However, nitric oxide, which is found in beets and beetroot supplements, has been found to dilate blood vessels, so it may help you get a better muscle pump.

#6: Increase Your Training Volume

High-volume training can also increase your muscle pump because the longer that your muscles are working and the greater the number of exercises, sets, and reps, the longer they will be perfused with blood.

A person doing a seated bicep curl.

#7: Incorporate Advanced Strength Training Techniques

You can get a bigger muscle pump by incorporating some advanced strength training techniques such as super sets and drop sets.

Superset training intensifies your muscle pump because when you perform exercises back to back with no rest in between, the blood flow to your working muscles has to increase in order to keep your muscles fueled and prevent fatigue.

Drop-set training has a similar effect and is a great way to get a bigger muscle pump.

Start with a weight that you can handle for a maximum of 6 to 8 repetitions. Perform your set to failure and then immediately switch down to a weight that is about 10% lighter. 

Perform 8 or more repetitions until failure, and then try to complete one more set of the same exercise with yet another lighter load, again about 10% lighter. Complete your last set to failure.

This should definitely give you a big muscle pump.

For more information on drop sets and supersets to get that max muscle pump, check out our helpful guides:

What Is A Drop Set? How To Promote Muscle Gain With A Drop Set

What Is A Superset In Strength Training?

A person holding a kettlebell.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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