Trying to get a muscle pump is the fundamental goal that people who are weight training, especially for muscle growth are trying to achieve. ‘Pump’ in short is the increase of blood flow into the muscles that increases its size. The pump we feel is the pressure generated as the increased volume of blood in the muscles causes them to expand and press against the outer covering of the muscles the fascia when subjected to repeated intense muscle contractions, at the same time blood is occluded from exiting the muscles and pools in the muscle that gives the pump feeling lasting usually up to half an hour.
So why is pump important?
Well muscle pump is obviously an indicator you are working and targeting the right muscle, so is a good guide when training smaller muscle groups, such as the rear delts to see if you are managing to target these muscles effectively. But pump is more than just about feeling. It is suggested that the pump is an essential part of any training session, pump as we have already discussed is an increase of blood into the muscles, but this also carries nutrients and other muscle building hormones into the muscle, providing it with all the right tools to recover and grow. Increase in blood flow is caused by many complex signalling pathways but one compound is regarded as the main protagonist in signalling muscles to dilate capillaries and increase blood flow into the appropriate areas, and that compound is nitric oxide.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide (NO) is produced in skeletal muscle and is involved in many aspects of a muscles function and growth including muscle contraction, metabolism, gene expression and of course the most important factor as to why it is commonly included in pre-workout supplementation the sometimes elusive benefits of a muscle pump. A question that may occur to you at this point might be ‘if we produce NO naturally in the body then why would we need to supplement with substances that increase it?’ Well although NO is produced in the body, under certain conditions there are reduced amounts available and getting a pump can be difficult as I’m sure at times we have all experienced. This is caused by a reduction in fluid in the blood and muscles which can be caused by low blood glucose levels, which may be a symptom of over training or occurring when on low carbohydrate diets. There are things we can do to increase are chances of getting a pump. First, using good form and developing a mind muscle connection and squeeze is a definite help in forcing blood into the muscle. Increasing the volume in each set or changing the tempo towards a time under tension styles is also a great way to force blood in to the muscle and something I personally employ during the latter stages of contest prep when getting a pump without muscle glycogen and other nutrients can be difficult.
Another option which is becoming increasingly popular is the use of NO boosters, NO boosters are usually food derivatives that are broken down and converted in the body to increase levels of an important amino acid for NO production, L-Arginine. Alongside L-Arginine playing a the leading role in NO production it is also important as it is essential for the synthesis of creatine, which plays a key role in cell volumisation and muscle efficiency and strength during weigh training type activities. Although limited research exists testing the efficacy of NO boosters in athletic populations, it has shown positive results in the medical world. It has been used to help wound healing and recovery rates after injury and surgery, by increasing blood flow to an affected area this allows the delivery of other key biological material to that area to enabling quicker healing. In pre-workout pump products L-arginine is found in its raw form, there are however many other derivatives of L-Arginine such as Citrulline are also capable of increasing NO production as are many ingredients that end with the word nitrate or sulphate, I know this isn’t very specific but the list is very long and tedious even to the most enthusiastic of supplement geeks! For those looking to steer clear of pre-workouts and go the more natural route towards muscle splitting pumps, then beetroot and in particular concentrated beetroot juice, is rich in nitrates and is more than adequate at doing the job.
Are They Safe?
NO levels cannot remain elevated in the body for long, it also acts as a free radical which can cause cell damage and inhibit recovery, so therefore the body want to reduce levels of NO to maintain normal levels as quickly as possible. This is performed a specific enzyme which acts quickly to reduce NO levels in the muscles, however for those of us looking to sustain out pumps for a little longer or for those who can’t get a pump using conventional NO boosters , then help is at hand.. and before you ask, elevating NO for lengths of time around training should not adversely affect recovery or health. The effect of increasing the duration of the pump or increasing NO levels by reducing the rate at which it is removed, is caused by competing for receptors on these enzymes, inhibiting the capacity for these to reduce NO levels. This can be achieved through supplementation with the clever little ingredient Agmatine Sulphate which is becoming more widely available in pre-workout formulations.
So NO boosters are just for bodybuilders right?
Well again no! They have shown improvement in endurance activities, the proposed mechanism for this is by the freeing up of nitrates from their storage form, allowing more to be available for the muscle cells improving muscular function and efficiency. This has been demonstrated to enable athletes to maintain the same relative power output as without supplementation but with a decrease in oxygen demand thus increasing time to fatigue. Here at CSN we stock a wide variety of muscle pump products to assist you in the pursuit of the pump, click here and see which ones tick all the boxes mentioned above. So there you have it a little insight into what muscle pump is, how to get it, and how you can use it to your advantage to get the most out of your training sessions. Thanks for reading. Peace, Weights and protein shakes, Paul Rimmer (BSc, MSc)