Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is Muscle Pump = Muscle Growth? By Veeraj Goyaram.

Exercise Science Update

Is Muscle Pump = Muscle Growth?
By Veeraj Goyaram
Cape Town, South Africa 12/3/14
"The greatest feeling you can get in a gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump… It’s as satisfying to me as cuming is, you know, as having sex with a woman and cuming". Arnold Schwarzenegger
I used to believe that the muscle pump-muscle growth link was grossly exaggerated and that it was likely some sort of marketing gimmick by companies selling "muscle pump" preworkout supplements. However, I became interested in this link some time ago when I noted incredible pumps during my own experiments with 4XMass and TORQ techniques that eventually led to good muscle gains. Increasing scientific evidence supports the fact that the muscle pump during workouts can actually lead to muscle growth and several mechanisms have been hypothesized. This article is largely based on the excellent review by Schoenfeld and Contreras (2013) and will attempt to explain things in layman's terms.

I. What causes the muscle pump?
When muscles contract intensely the veins taking blood out of muscles are compressed. At the same time the arteries are still delivering blood to muscles. This leads to a reduced clearance of blood from working muscles and creates an increased concentration of intramuscular blood. As a result of this, fluid builds up in the interstitial spaces (spaces between muscle cells), causing plasma to move into the muscle. What results is "cellular swelling" or "muscle pump", a phenomenon that Arnold describes as equivalent to "having sex with a woman and cumming" (LOL).  Bodybuilding-type exercises that rely on moderate to higher repetitions and limited rest intervals magnify the pump. Furthermore, such exercises increases the concentration of metabolic byproducts that attract more fluid into muscle cells, thereby amplifying the pump. 

If you are not interested in the science of how muscle pump triggers growth you may skip directly to section III of this article. 

II. How does the pump trigger growth?
Cell swelling serves an important function and has been shown to increase protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown in a variety of cell types, not only muscle cells. Fast twitch muscle fibres, compared to their slow-twitch counterparts, are more prone to cell swelling because they have a high concentration of water transport channels called aquaporin-4 (AQP4) in their cell membranes. This allows plasma to move into the cells. 

It has been hypothesised that the increased intracellular pressure is perceived as a threat to the integrity of the cell and this initiates a cascade of anabolic reactions in order to reinforce the cell, probably involving the mTOR pathway (I am sure most of you are familiar with this term now), MAPK and increased amino acid transport. Another hypothesis is that cell swelling can also increase satellite cell activity. Satellite cells are cells which reside in close proximity with muscle cells (Fig ) and are activated when muscle is subjected to mechanical overload. Activated satellite cells then fuse with damaged muscle fibres and donate their nuclei (carrying genetic information) to increase the cell's ability to synthesise new proteins. It must be noted that Creatine Monohydrate has also been shown to increase satellite cell activity probably by means of its ability to draw water into muscle cells (Dangott et al., 2000). These mechanisms require further investigation.

It is also said that the muscle pump increases exchanges between blood and muscle of nutrients and waste products. It is not known whether this leads to muscle growth. The cell swelling hypothesis seems more plausible.
Satellite cells help regenerate muscle cells
III. Strategies to maximise the pump
The Schoenfeld and Contreras (2014) paper elegantly laid out training strategies to maximise muscle pumps, namely:

A. Varying set, rep and rest schemes: use several high repetition sets combined with short rest periods. E.g. 2–3 sets of 20 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest in between sets. Secondly, use of repeated medium repetition sets combined with short rest periods. An example would be 5–10 sets of 8–12 repetitions with 30 seconds of rest in between sets. Personally, programs like German Volume training and techniques like FST-7 are both useful strategies to increase the pump and reap the benefits. The 4xMass and TORQ systems 

B. Drop setting: performing a high-intensity set followed then decreasing the load by 25-50% and immediately continue with another set. In my personal opinion, you can take drop sets further and perform double and triple drop sets for an even more potent pump. I would begin a barbell curl set with 50kg for 6-8 reps, then drop to 40kg for 8 more reps, drop to 30kg and rep more to failure. Drop sets have many skeptics who believe that one must go heavy all the time and that it is counterproductive to use a lesser weight after a heavy set and rather "save the juice" for another heavy set and induce more micro-tears in muscle. However, the pump you can achieve with drop sets can do a lot by means of growth. Your joints also get a break, by the way!
Drop sets can help you achieve tremendous pump
C. Use exercises and strategies that allow constant tension: constant muscular tension increases occlusion of veins (vascular occlusion) and thus increases muscle pump. Good exercises for pump training are as follows:

Chest: cable crossovers, pec deck
Biceps: cable curls
Triceps: cable extensions
Back: various cable movements
Legs: leg extensions/ curls
Shoulders: cable laterals

Exercises can also be modified to allow greater constant muscular tension. You can focus on a portion of a repetition that maximally stresses the muscle. I like bottom partial presses for both shoulders and chest. Bottom partial shoulder presses are a favourite of the late Larry Scott. Sergio Oliva preferred bottom partial bench presses. Both are reliable techniques to subject the muscle being worked to greater muscular tension on a constant basis, thereby increasing the pump.
Larry Scott performing bottom partial reps.
He didn't go to full lock-out
Dangott B, Schultz E, and Mozdziak PE. Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy. Int J Sports Med 21: 13–16, 2000.

Brad J. Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras. The Muscle Pump: Potential Mechanisms and Applications for Enhancing Hypertrophic Adaptations. Strength and Conditioning Journal (One on One column). COLUMN EDITOR: Paul Sorace, MS, RCEP, CSCS*D

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