Arnold Schwarzenneger has a great monlogoue in the iconic bodybuilding film, Pumping Iron, where he compares getting a pump in the gym to having an orgasm. Yes, this is a real comparison, and here is the video:
While I am not sure that even Salma Hayek's presence could make any muscular pump I have ever had feel that good, Old Arnie gets his point across: pumps feel good! With that being said, I really think it is a huge mistake to CHASE a pump as a means to increase muscle size. All too often, beginners and intermediate level trainees chase a pump, only to be left with the same level of muscular development, day after day, month after month, year after year. Let's delve a little more into "the pump," and discuss the right and wrong way to go about getting your swell on while attempting to get yolked up.
Pumps are a temporary state that occur when blood rushes through a certain muscle group during training. Unfortunately, pumps dissipate eventually as we return to our "normal" state. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have looked at my arms in the bathroom after a nice gun show, and admired how "jacked" I looked (don't act like you don't do it too . An hour later, I would look into the mirror again, and I could have sworn that a different person stood before me! "How could this be? What the...I was jacked, I swear it, I was so swole. Next time I'll show you...I don't look big now, but don't worry, next Friday I'll be pumped for an hour after I lift...THEN you will see!" The pump is the culprit for many failed attempts at gaining size in the gym, because it is extrememly deceptive; it feels good, it looks good, but it is NOT permanent. Many elite level bodybuilders may appear that they are training for a pump, but these men have built their bodies up through YEARS of heavy lifting, and the weights they use to "pump with" are far heavier than any weights you have ever touched.
The Wrong Way
Think of pumps as an end to a means, not a means to an end. In other words, strength train with heavier loads, proper technique, and a lot of intensity, and you will get that pump that you love. However, DON'T do high rep work with weights that your mother could use in order to put size on; it WON'T work. If you are at the beach, a bodybuilding show, or have a need to quickly impress the neighbors while you mow the lawn (who does that, honestly...), then by all means, pump away. Just do so with the understanding that the intent is not to put appreciable size on. Ask yourself, am I doing this exercise to get bigger and stronger, or am I doing this because it gives me a crazy pump? If its the latter, your efforts are better served putting some real work in.
The Right Way
20 Rep Squats have given me the sickest quad pump I have ever had. And I performed the squats in order to develop size and strength, NOT because I wanted the pump. The pump was just a side effect. Rest pausing has also delivered some incredible pumps. I usually rest pause "DC" style, performing a set to failure, taking 15 deep breaths, performing a second set to failure, taking 15 deep breaths, and performing one final set. Again, the rest pause sets were performed heavy, and with the goal of getting stronger on that exercise. If you bust your butt trying to get bigger and stronger, you will end up with a great pump, no doubt, time and time again.
We all love getting "our swell on" at the gym, but remember, if you want to remain "swole" you better get pumped by lifting heavy and intensely, and not by lifting light weights in order to create a temporary illusion. You don't have to like pumps as much as Arnold does ( he likes them...a lot), but we all train because we love it, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the satisfaction that a good pump provides, as well as the inflated ego that comes with it!