What Is A Muscle Pump?


What Is A Muscle Pump?

Ever heard bodybuilders talk about “chasing the pump” and wondered what on earth they are talking about? For those who aren’t familiar with this gym lingo, a pump refers to the temporary swelling of the muscles during a tough resistance workout. Arnold Schwarzenegger describes the sensation as one of the most satisfying feelings he has ever experienced. If you’ve never had this happen before, read below to learn why it occurs and whether it can be beneficial for long term gains.

What Is A Muscle Pump?

As stated above, a muscle pump is a colloquial phrase used to describe the temporary increase in muscle size that occurs during resistance training. When lifting weights, our muscles have to tense and contract. In order to make this happen, our bodies send blood, oxygen and nutrients to the necessary regions. This is referred to by scientists as an increase in intracellular hydration. If it didn’t do this, we would not be able to function optimally or lift the load. This increase in circulation is what causes our muscles to appear engorged and swollen during a lifting session. Blood rushes into them faster than it can get out which is why you might feel like you have been pumped full of air. Not only do you look more jacked when this happens, you also feel like you could conquer any task imaginable.

How Do I Get One?

The best way to get a pump is by doing a high intensity, resistance workout. Imagine the kind of session Arnie would put himself through. Lots of weightlifting, high time under tension and potentially a few drop sets. The more time your muscles spend contracted under load, the more likely you are to get a skin-splitting pump. Aim for high volume workouts with minimal rest periods. It doesn’t matter how heavy you are lifting, it matters how much time your muscles spend under tension. Not all exercises are conducive to getting a pump. For example, it’s going to be much easier to keep your muscles under tension during a machine shoulder press than it would be during a hand release push up. Select exercises that you are able to get a good mind muscle connection with. This could be high rep glute bridges, tricep pulldowns or barbell bicep curls. Any movement where you feel your muscles burning in a good way is likely to initiate a good pump. On top of this, certain supplements can assist increasing blood flow. NZProtein pre-workout contains an ingredient called citrulline which is proven to increase vasodilation. Taking a scoop of this prior to your session can drastically increase your chances of getting a mind blowing pump that you’ll feel for hours afterwards.

How Long Does It Last?

Unfortunately a good pump doesn’t last forever. This is because the excess blood that has been sent into the muscles eventually drains out. But this doesn’t mean you’ll be back to your normal self as soon as you exit your post-workout shower. Most people agree that a pump tends to last at least two to three hours but research shows it may even be longer. Some pumps can last around 48 hours if the glycogen hangs around in the muscles for that long. Obviously it depends on the individual and there are a few different factors at play. Staying hydrated and eating sufficient pre and post-workout carbohydrates can prolong the duration of your pump. Additionally, you should avoid submerging yourself in cold water. Doing so will encourage the blood to leave your muscles and may even inhibit recovery. No matter what you do, that pump will eventually dissipate so make sure to enjoy the feeling while it lasts.

Are There Benefits?

Unfortunately getting a pump doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting stronger but this doesn’t mean they are not beneficial. Not only do they  feel great in the short term, they can be a much needed boost for your self-esteem. On top of this, they are a physical indication that you’re targeting the correct muscle groups. For example, getting a massive pump in your biceps after a few heavy curls, is a sign you are engaging the right muscles. Some research suggests that the increased swelling may also encourage recovery and improve amino acid transportation throughout your cells. Your muscles have to physically expand to let all that extra blood in. This expansion lasts a while and allows nutrients to circulate faster around your body with ease. So if you want to feel on top of the world and recover like a champ, follow Arnold’s advice and chase the pump.


Although the pump doesn’t last forever, it feels great at the time and provides that nice feeling of accomplishment that we all live for. If you want to guarantee a mind blowing pump, make sure you are well hydrated, try a citrulline containing supplement and keep the time under tension high during your workout. Pick appropriate exercises and bang out as many reps as you physically can. Utilising these methods will have the blood rushing straight into your muscle cells and ideally you’ll be looking ripped for the rest of the day.


Written by Lauren Carruthers