Is a Pump Needed to Build Muscle?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Is a pump needed to build muscle?

Some people emphatically state that getting a good pump is necessary.

Others say just the opposite.

First of all, the ability to easily obtain a good pump is a sign that your body is in an anabolic state and ready to train.

It shows us that the body and the cells are well hydrated and ready to grow.

Some days, you go to the gym and can’t get a pump no matter what you do.

Your body is telling you something, and that something is that you are not in an anabolic state, probably not fully recovered, and you are not ready to train.

In other words you will probably not be building muscle or gaining strength on that day.

The greatest feeling you can get in the gym is the pump.” – Arnold

As far as the pump having an anabolic effect, this is debatable, but most bodybuilders swear that there is something to it. When you get a good pump, you are delivering tons of nutrient-rich blood to the muscles that will greatly increase amino-acid uptake.

Theoretically, this should result in a greater anabolic effect. There are also those that swear that a good pump can have a fascial stretching effect which will lead to more size gains.

So, while it isn’t necessarily proven by science, there is probably something to gain from getting a good pump. Having said that, I definitely wouldn’t make it the focus of your workout.

Chasing the pump and disregarding all of the principles of effective training is one of the biggest mistakes you can make and will do nothing to help you build lean muscle.

You can get a great pump from doing 50 pushups but everyone knows that’s not going to build muscle. Just mindlessly pursuing a pump will get you nowhere and may even cause losses in size and strength.

You need to get a pump with fairly heavy weights. That’s the key.

Getting a pump feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is.”- Arnold

For example, for your chest you could do some heavy pressing for 5-8 reps and then finish with a few higher rep sets of 9-12 on ring dips to get a great pump. If you do this you hit a variety of muscle fibers and get the best of both worlds.

I love that style of training.

So does Arnold, as he tweeted me earlier today:

@JasonFerruggia: my #1 rule is there is no #1 rule. Sandow used high reps, Alexiev used low reps; I used both. But I still do like the pump.”– @Shwarzenegger

Heavy training is always going to be the number one choice for the genetically average, drug free trainee. Get strong and focus on progressive overload. If you do that you’ll grow.The pump should always be secondary to lifting big weights.

Remember, it isn’t 100% necessary and should never be the main focus of your workouts (heavy training should) but getting a good pump tells you that you’re ready to build muscle and may even maximize your potential to do so.

PS. For a killer muscle building program designed specifically for the skinny guy who struggles to gain size click HERE now.

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36 Responses to Is a Pump Needed to Build Muscle?

  1. Matt March 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Good article.

    Off the topic, have you ever done an article on training for taller lifters? I would definatly would be interested in purchasing a program dedicated for taller people. I’m 6’2, not towering by any means but I have really long arms and legs and I suck at the bench and squat due to the leverage disadvantages and the long range of motion. I’m thinking a mix of full range and partials maybe the answer.

    • Bob September 22, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      @Matt: I know your comment is old – but – you definitely do not want to mix full range and partials, that’s not the answer. The answer is starting off light and adding 5 lbs each time and working your way up. You don’t suck at the bench because your arms are long, that has 0 to do with it. You’re almost definitely lifting too heavy. If you can’t finish your sets, it’s too heavy. If you can, you have nothing to complain about. A good place to start on the bench for many people is about 70 lbs. Add 5 each workout. I bench twice one week, one the next, twice the week after, one the week after that, etc. So at the end of one month, if you did this, you would be benching 100 lbs. The next month, 130 lbs, and then the next, 160 lbs. Maybe you can start off higher, or maybe you should start even lower than 70, but I hope this helps.

    • Scott Lofquist September 22, 2011 at 10:00 am #


      Hey Matt, Just wanted to jump in and tell you that at 6’7″ I was a nationally ranked in both olympic lifting and powerlifting in the 80’s. From my experience is that the only difference is that 20 pounds of muscle on my frame is far less than 20 pounds on someone who is under 6 foot. So basically its just more muscle you have to gain to compete with the shorter lifter.

      Also Brian Shaw the strongman is 6 8 and well over 400 pounds.

    • Niel Rishoi April 15, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      @Matt, welcome to the club. I’m 6’4″ and my arms are (dress shirt size) nearly 37 inches long. I can’t bench heavy or do barbell curls as much as others can. However, an interesting – and felicitous side effect has come as a result. Since I can’t bench heavy, I’m actually kind of ‘forced’ to use good form, and my chest muscles contract, so I got/get results. I see guys who are benching a fourth, to as much as half more times weight than I do but their chests are flat. Why? They’re “strength-proving,” using their arms not to “lift” but to support merely the weight; they’re using so much weight that they’re not getting the contraction. Sounds kooky, but that’s my observation. Arms – my elbow joints will not allow me heavy barbell curls, and I guard/protect these with all my might, and again use good form and rep techniques. My arms are just over 18 inches now. Have to be careful with tris too, but again, good form has stood me in good stead. Regarding the pump: I quit thinking about that goal so long ago. I go in and lift. Period. I’m too focused on the workout itself to self-preen and marvel at the pump. Now, I feel exhilarated when I’m working out, physically and emotionally, but I really don’t stop to review the pump. And no, Arnold, “the pump” doesn’t rival cumming – not by a barbell mile.

      • Jason Ferruggia April 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

        Good stuff, Niel. But I might have to agree with Arnold.

        • Niel Rishoi April 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

          >grin< – who am I to argue with The Oak's credibility?? Having a chance to think and chew on this…I can say, definitely, that in the sack, in the gym, both of them testosterone-fueled surges, DO provide the same vitality-laden exhilaration. Guys who have neither of these "essential" commodities in their lives…oh man are they missing out. While we're on this subject…the nicest, most generous, and cool guys in the gym, I'VE found, are the bodybuilders. They're the ones who get surreptitious side glances of admiration and awe; the ones where people don't make eye contact out of intimidation; the ones who don't get approached because they're perceived as "higher mortals." In one way, wrong impression, in another way, right on. Most upper-league bodybuilders, I've found are happy to share their knowledge, and mostly, their generosity of spirit is genuine. In another way, as Arnold wrote on the subject in "Education of a Bodybuilder," most bodybuilders aren't "normal." They want more, achieve more, have a dedication and drive that is leagues apart from the passive, unmotivated masses. Bodybuilding has made me an infinitely happier, more focused, more motivated, clearer-thinking person. Even more than my my music, my writing…bodybuilding is my number-one passion. I should add, though, that having the other passions are important to round out your life: they all complement each other to considerable enrichment.

        • mike May 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

          and also arnold was taking the good stuff and that really gives u a great pump so. gotta love arnold.

          • Fatboy May 27, 2013 at 6:56 am #

            What you really mean is that he was over-dosed on steroids to get that physique.
            And trust me he is paying for it big time now.

            A while back he under-went emergency heart surgery because of that steroid shit he did for all those years. And if you look carefully, without the benefit of studio lights and makeup he is looking like a very old man.

            Choose wisely guys.

      • Colin April 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm #


        I have found the same regarding good form, lighter weights and muscle growth. I’m wondering if you believe it is necessary to do any direct arm work or to just stick with the big compound exercises for arm size – as promoted by some coaches these days. My arms are lagging behing and i don’t do any direct work. May’be i should include some?


        • Niel Rishoi April 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

          @ Colin: My best results in arms came when I isolated them from the chest/back days. I used to do too much on one day – Jason cured me of that. I do a 3 days on, one day off, 3 days on cycle right now. Short sessions, only about 45 mins per workout, sometimes not even that. Day 1 is chest and back; they involve bicep and tricep action as well. Day 2 is leg day, which gives my upper body a chance to rest. Day 3 is shoulders and arms. I’ve found that doing arms at the end of the 3 day cycle works best, but I suppose you could switch them to the beginning of the cycle; but I like to have my full strength for the chest and back, so I put that after the day’s rest. Arms are the “smallest” muscle group, and they recover quickly (I’ve found). This program I’m on now, with the short sessions Jason put me on, and the eating regimen (also inspired by Jason), I’ve made my best gains ever. In my 49 years. Youth and all its hormonal advantages has no benefit without knowledge, smarts and education.

          • mike May 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

            thats a good workout i guess but only problem i see is that ur only giving ur delts like 2 days to rest before u hit them again cause in bench ur going to use them alot and then 2 days later ur hitting them again. i like to wait at least 3 days if not 4. but thats just me im older to so maybe ur a young guy and ur body can handle it good..but thanks for the info.

        • Fatboy May 29, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

          Under-grip pull-ups are the best bicep w/o ever. Try a few and you’ll be convinced.

          The reason being it is the only compound exercise for the bicep. Plus when you can move the body through space you get way better results.
          Just check out the ‘Bar-boys’!

    • Fatboy May 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

      Hey Matt, it’s my observation and opinion that the (b/bell behind the neck) squat is the worst exercise ever invented for legs, especially for tall guys.

      Go check out Frank Zane’s site and see the device he invented for squats. He had to because of an injury that prevented him from doing basic squats.

  2. Tyler English March 28, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Bodybuilders are meatheads! haha

    Great post brother! I believe there is a way to train “for the pump” but still hit multiple fibers while targeting hypertrophy at it’s best.

    Love the examples.

    Wait isn’t today supposed to be my “chest day”?

    Keep it comin’ homie!

  3. Clement March 29, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Hi Jay, hearing you talk about high reps and pumps reminds me of something I read in Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 manual – he recommends 100 total reps of bodyweight dips as an assistance exercise for the bench press. Would that qualify as merely training for the pump, or would it still improve triceps strength?

    I was also interested to read Tyler English’s comments about training for both forms of hypertrophy. No doubt he’s talking about the 8-12 rep range!

  4. Niko September 7, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    I find that training heavy in your prescribed rep range, that it is very rare that I don’t get a pump. It might just be me, but I can’t train with this method without getting a pump.

  5. Michael Hodge April 15, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Yet Jay, im running uncaged now (awesome program btwcould there anything you suggest to add more hypertrophy in the program? any tips. Would be extremely helpful!


    • Jason Ferruggia April 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      @Michael- The program is designed for that and is good as is

  6. Stan April 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm #


    The quote you used from Arnold B.G (beforGovernorer) about the pump and its’ comparablele feeling was just a little bit “sophomoric” and really uncalled for. You are grown successfull business man, not a kid. You have great ideas and a lot people follow. You are better than that!!!

    Stay strong and carry on !!


    • Jason Ferruggia April 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      @Stan- That is the first word I’d use to describe myself. And in the Start Here page you are warned that if you don’t have a sense of humor this aint the place for you.

      Lighten up a little, man

      • Stan April 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

        I would think that if you hold someone in such high esteem you not even consider taking such a “cheap shot” at him. I can also see that Alex is incapable of reading the comment rules on being disrespectful, either that or he knows what is like to be the “bitch”. One more piece of advice for you Alex and it comes from a much better man than you will ever be:.

        “Never miss a good chance to shut up!” ~Will Rogers

        Jason, I maybe little according to your standards,and physically yes I am, but you sir still think you are a “big man” unfortunately inside that “big man” is a little boy’s brain.

        Stay Strong Be healthy!

  7. Michael M April 16, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    The quotes from Arnold from “Pumping Iron” where a joke anyhow. He later admitted saying them in an attempt to shock viewers to increase viewing and sales of the movie.

    His tweeter response is right on. That’s him being serious.

  8. Matt April 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Bob, thanks for the comment above about taller lifters. Great timing as I started doing what you suggested last week. I’m doing a very basic 5×5 program with just the main compound lifts; squat, bench press, bent row, military press and deadlift. I’ve literally gone back to using just the bar on some of there lifts and focusing on form and adding weight each session. I’m going to milk linear progression for all its worth until I hit a sticking point, deload and start another cycle.

  9. Alex April 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Stan, quit being a bitch.

  10. Craig L. April 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Integrating higher rep work into your training plan is a great way to emphasize sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (the expanding of the muscle cells). Of course, this doesn’t actually add mass, but it does make your muscles larger, which is never a bad thing. I typically spend about 75% of the time training for gaining muscle mass (heavy weight, low rep work) and 25% of my training on getting a good pump with higher reps and enhancing my muscle cell volume.

    I’ve tried training only heavy for extended periods of time and my muscles did not look as impressive after a few months of completely eliminating higher rep work (10-12 reps) from my training. I did gain a decent amount of strength, but the goal is to not only be as strong as possible, but to also look as big and strong as possible. I have recently made the switch back to cycling in lighter weight weeks and can already tell a difference.

  11. James June 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I got my first pump in years today and did a search to find out what it means! I love the very first answer: it means my body’s anabolic and ready to grow.

    I’ve been an on-again-off-again kind of dabbler and would always quit after overdoing it, but I think the lessons are finally starting to stick: train LESS, eat more, rest more.

    I guess I’m an example of a guy who needed some really basic information. Anyway, so now I’ve got another guide. If the pump becomes elusive, time to back off.

    As far as the Arnold comment, I suppose part of the satisfaction of a pump is knowing that all that blood can be redeployed later for sexual purposes. Think I’ll check with my wife about that.

    The other great question of the ignorant and wishful masses is can there be strength/muscle gains without muscle soreness? and how do you use muscle soreness as a guide?

    Finally, like Niel I’m past 45 and want to feel better than when I was 20. Do-able?

  12. MUSCLE MAN September 12, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    that dude is ripped!!

  13. Zee December 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    The pump is great, whatever suits you is better than doing nothing. A healthier more fit you is a greater you with more confidence. Train so that you can actually feel the muscle working, if you cant feel it then find out what your doing wrong, could be weight size(too heavy/light), angle/form, the type of exercise/machine, ect. Takes lots of dedication and education to be a bodybuilder if thats your goal. I been training since may of 2010, im only 5-4 and started at 220lbs fat, now im down to 165lbs and look so much more hotter/sexier/cuter, whatever you wanna call it. In the end, i know I look better and have much more self esteem, especially with girls of luck.

  14. Fatboy May 27, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Yeah I know Arnie is worshipped but having big balls and a steel will is always an advantage.
    However there are four main body types and sadly I’m one of the skinny guys.

    Seriously hard work in the gym for the ectomorph is muscular death. The ‘hard-gainer’ has to pace himself with slightly lighter weights and a few more reps and more rest in between sets. The over stimulation for the ‘ecto’ makes everything zing so much he’ll rarely put weight on because of that almost instant over-training. More work doesn’t mean more gains.

    Mike Mentzers HIT is great for ectos. Hard brief work with good rests in between work-outs. When you’ve started to put on weight, you’ve then got reserves to start ploughing into hard work.

    Check it out.

  15. nate May 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I love the pump! I don’t strive for it but still…love to see and feel it. Let’s me know I’m doing something right.

  16. nate May 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    @Stan… You should take notice of punctuation. He wasn’t calling you a little man

  17. jai watchman June 9, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    In my late 50’s, I just began training at a health club 4 yrs ago. At 6’0″ 263-270lbs I could not do a single dip in the beginning. I strained my biceps for 3mos after attempting just 6 reps of 60lbs on the pulley machines. I’m now under 250lbs and can do 18 body wgt dips; do progression machine curls from 80-175lbs with a 3RM=210lbs; and due 3 sets of machine leg extensions @wgt of 720 with a 2RM=1,010lbs.

    After 1yr women were commenting on my change. After 2yrs, guys were commenting. After 3yrs, other bodybuilders and trainers were complimenting my physique change.

    However, I’ve now hit a plateau in muscle size. My problem areas are abs, shoulders, upper chest, bi’s & tri’s. I’m not seeing the bulk I’d like to see compared with my strength gains over the yrs. To combat this I…
    1. changed up my workout to do 1 muscle group/wk.
    2. increased reps/set from 10-12, to a descending ratio of 30-20-14-10-5 but added > wgt

    It was taking me too long to feel pumped, (Mike Irvine uses high reps). So I now started increasing the wgt to failure a partial way to my rep goal for that set; take 10sec to reduce the weight by 10-15% and then cont. til I fail again; reduce by another 10% and go to fail. I never have to change more than 3 time in a set. But now I definately feel the pump!

    My diet is not the best but I cut down on beef, and now eat primarily white poultry, rice, salad, beans, Special K, oatmeal, breads, and CofWheat. I take supplements and found adding Magnesium and B-complex instantly increased my wrkout stamina by 10-15%! I estimate my protein intake at only 20-50mg/day (vs the 120mg articles suggest for my size.)

    I don’t do deadlifts or bent rows, and usually use pully machines.

    3. How do I get in more protein, and eat more when I’m NOT hungry?
    4. How much liquid (not pop) should I be drinking before, during, and post wrkout?
    5. Is it necessary to reach failure on every single rep?
    6. Some huge wrkout buddies say to let muscles rest completely between sets. 5-10 min
    7. Is a 214 lb bdy wgt goal realistic for my height and preferred mass?

    I do cardio early morning (8:30-9:30);wgt train 4-10hrs later. I try eating 6-8 meals/dy but I often can only get in 4. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life but I’m not as big as I want.

    HELP ME!

  18. jai watchman June 9, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    excuse me… due s/b =”do”
    and I meant “to failure at the end of each “SET” … not rep.

  19. Cameronb September 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    i like arnold’s tweet. its good to mix it up using low reps then high reps. it keeps the body guessing.

  20. wayne moore September 29, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    a pump is not nesecary 1 warmup set and then next set to failure only one set to failure