Besides that fantastic feeling, ensuring you achieve intense muscle pumps can not only lead to the short-term benefits elicited by training but can also have long terms responses which can mediate long-term adaptive responses to enhance muscular hypertrophy.

How muscle pump occurs

As muscles are contracted, the veins which transport blood out of the working muscles are compressed; however, the arteries continue to deliver blood into the muscle, thereby increasing the amount of blood plasma pooled in the muscle. When this occurs, blood plasma seeps out of the capillaries and into the interstitial spaces which causes an extracellular pressure gradient and brings about the flow of blood plasma back into the muscle. This reperfusion of blood flow then induces cellular swelling within the muscle.

Muscle pump intensity is increased by resistance training which utilises anaerobic glycosysis. This is typically weight training which sets contain moderate to high repetitions but which are under 120 seconds in duration and have short rest periods between sets. This bodybuilding style training results in the production of increased metabolic byproducts including lactate and inorganic phosphate. These byproducts, in turn, function as osmolytes and draw an increased amount of fluid into the cell.

How mechanical tension impacts hypertrophy

There are three primary factors which influence muscle hypertrophy through resistance training. These include mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Studies have shown that of these three, mechanical tension is the primary driver for this adaptive response. When there is tension placed on muscles, a phenomenon is known as mechanotransduction occurs. When this occurs, mechanical energy is converted into chemical signals that mediate a multitude of anabolic and catabolic pathways which swing muscle protein balance in such a way that the rate of protein synthesis is greater than protein degradation. This occurs through a number of pathways which directly compel anabolic processes. Due to the evidence presented through scientific research that mechanical load can promote anabolism, it is logical to deduce that resistance training with heavy loads is an effective means of enhancing muscle hypertrophy. The more tension placed on the muscles, the greater the effect of stimulating mechanotransduction.

With that said, mechanical tension is not the only factor that plays a role in post-exercise muscle protein accretion. Exercise-induced metabolic stress, in particular, has been shown to induce a hypertrophic response; and cell swelling is believed to be an extremely important part of this process.

Best practices to elicit optimised muscle pump & cell swelling

Due to the fact that exercise-induced cell swelling bolsters hypertrophic gains, it is believed that training in order to achieve an intense muscle pump can mediate long-term responses beneficial to muscle growth. In order to elicit the responses associated with cell swelling, the local muscle activation must be intense enough to occlude venous blood flow and the contractions must be repeated for a sufficient amount of repetitions in order to drive blood into the muscle. In addition, muscle tension must remain constant in order to prevent blood from escaping the musculature. Because of this, exercise selection and execution thereof need to be carefully performed.

When it comes to exercise selection, it is suggested to utilise exercises which place constant tension on the muscle due to their torque-angle curves. Single-joint exercises are often the best choice when it comes to enhancing muscle pump as these exercises are the ones that enhance cellular swelling by prolonging venous occlusion through constant tension.

Limiting the range of motion of certain exercises to where the muscle is maximally stressed can also ensure a constant tension on the musculature. An example of this would be to perform bottom-half push-ups in order to facilitate an intense muscle pump in the pectorals rather than full-range push-ups.

Three ways in which this can be achieved is by varying rep, set and timing Regimens as follows:

Perform a few high repetition sets with short rest periods. An example of this would be to perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions with 45-60 seconds in between sets.

Perform a drop set whereby high intensity is immediately followed by a lower intensity with a decrease in load of between 25-50%.

Perform several medium repetition sets combined with short rest periods. An example of this would be to perform 5-10 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a 30-40 second rest in between sets.

When it comes to hypertrophy training, low to medium repetition ranges have proven to be an effective, and necessary, part of a bodybuilding training program. Heavy loads work to optimise muscle activation and progressive overload ensures that muscles are subjected to increased mechanical tension over time.

With that said, a training regimen which is focused around maximising muscle pump through higher repetition ranges combined with shorter rest periods can also stimulate powerful hypertrophic effects. In order to fully exploit hypertrophic adaptions, it is always a good idea to combine heavy compound exercise focused strength training with training that focuses on higher repetition and provides constant tension on the muscle so as to optimise muscle pump. In doing so you will able to take advantage of the multiple pathways involved in muscle hypertrophy.

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