T Nation

I'm a Grower, Not a Shower (Gaining Size when Pumped)


During a workout my muscles are ridiculously pumped and full of blood; I’m talking about shirt splitting pumps that feel amazing; I honestly gain inches on certain body parts. But once everything settles down, I get soft and flat. What gives? I eat clean and try to get as much protein and carbs as possible. I do take quite a bit of L-Citrulline before workouts, which probably has something to do with the pump, and my strength consistently goes up every few weeks, so why are my muscle bellies so deflated outside of the gym?


That is part of being a normal human. It sounds like you are fine.


Hit the floor throughout the day, and do some pushups for swole pecs.

Carry a raquetball around, and squeeze it all day to pump the forearms.

Do Tricep dips on counters. Flex your bicep hard when you raise your glass for a drink.

Stay pumped all the time! If anybody sees you doing this stuff be like, “it’s part of my life. I just make time for it.”


During and post workout I definitely feel like more of a man with my shirt off than when I get home from work after sitting at my desk for 8hrs.

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump. Let’s say you train your biceps, blood is rushing in to your muscles and that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute and its really tight and its like someone is blowing air into your muscle and it just blows up and it feels different, it feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is, you know, as in having sex with a woman and cumming. So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of cumming in the gym; I’m getting the feeling of cumming at home; I’m getting the feeling of cumming backstage; when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5000 people I get the same feeling, so I am cumming day and night. It’s terrific, right? So you know, I am in heaven.”

– Arnold Schwarzenegger


“I’d rather be dead than average.” - Mike ‘Mad Dogg’ Bell

Just kidding, I don’t mind being average, but because of my build, I make Medium shirts look ridiculous and I disappear in size Large. Just wishing I could have more proportionally large arms.


What do your workouts look like, specifically the sets and reps used? And for context, what’s your height, weight, and general fat level?

Sounds like you’re describing what some coaches call a lack of myogenic tone. Thibaudeau talked about it here and in a few other articles.

Yes, that definitely has something to do with the pump, because that’s what it does. Do you take just citrulline or a product that has citrulline in it?


Good questions. I switch up my workouts often, but typically I do 4 days a week like this:

Week 1:
Day 1: Heavy Lower Body (focus on squats with 3 working sets of 3-5 reps)
Day 2: Heavy Upper Body (focus on bench press and t-bar row, 3 working sets of (3-5 reps)
Day 3: Heavy Lower Body (focus on deadlifts up to 3-5 reps)
Day 4: Accessory day (shoulders/traps, bicep/tricep)
I finish all heavy days with isolation exercises to hit specific muscles.

Week 2:
like week 1, but not as heavy/more reps (8-12) and more focus on accessory muscle groups

Body Stats:
Male, 26, 5’8’’, 181lbs, BF ~22% +/- a few. I wear the same clothes at 181 as I did at 160. Everything on me is pretty thick with the exception of my arms and neck. I also think I may hold onto a lot of water.

I make my own pre-workout before the gym with the following:
160mg Caffeine
6g Citrulline Malate 1:1
2g Acetyl L- Carnitine
1g N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine
2g Beta Alanine
Generic multi vitamin

Intra-workout I have a water bottle with a scoop of scivation BCAA, and on the way home from the gym I have a Whey isolate shake with 2-4g of L-Taurine and 5g of Creatine Mono.

Thanks for the article on Mygenic Tone. I’ll have to look into that.


If your goals are physique oriented, it might help to train in a way to emphasize physique progress.


I don’t mean any offence by this but if you want that hard muscular look consistently then it would be advisable to be much less than 22% body fat.

I find when I train higher volume, I get great pumps in the gym but look a bit softer when not training. I seem to stay a lot tighter and harder when I train more on the heavier side with low reps. I’m not sure how much I would be able to monitor this if I was in the 20s body fat though.


Get bigger. That will fix that.


I definitely agree that my body fat is too high for good definition, but I struggle to maintain any muscle when I slim down. During warmer months I typically slim down because I’m more active, but then I say goodbye to my gains. In the meantime, I’ll try to fine-tune my diet and workouts to cut fat but somehow keep the muscle.


You don’t need to be 20+% body fat in order to make progress. If you think you’re consistently losing lots of muscle when losing fat, there’s two possible causes.

1: you have much less muscle than you think. It’s okay, I think we all do.

2: you literally stop eating and training when calories get lower or activity levels rise.


I think most people will be able to continue to grow muscle and get bigger while maintaining 10-15% bodyfat depending on the individual.

There’s no reason to get sloppy and fat to grow muscle. In fact, that will be a hindrance. Especially without drugs.

The fatter you are, the more your body wants to store your macros as more fat. Instead of the nutrients getting shuttled into your muscles.


Thanks for the feedback, everyone. In 12 years of lifting I’ve never been both ripped and swole simultaneously, so I need to continue to tweak my nutrition and training schedule until I can achieve the results I want. Will report back when I have a 30’’ waist and 19’’ arms :wink:


Arnold often remarked as to how he did not appear to be particularly huge when unpumped and unflexed, and how astonished people would be at the transformation when he pumped up and posed.


Have you ever been either?


Er, keep doing what you’re doing


Hahaha witty, yet you bring out a good point. For what it’s worth, here’s a little more info:

In high school I wrestled at 152 and I had a visible 6 pack, defined quads, striations in my pecs and delts, but I still had a pretty soft look. I’ll try to dig up a picture if possible to prove it. I’ve always had a doughy build, and even joked about it by using donutboy as an AIM Screen name.

Fast Forward 5 or 6 years and I was doing a 2 month boot camp with a trainer at the gym. With workouts every day and monitoring my nutrition, I bumped up to 182. My cardiovascular system was great, and my arms were the biggest they’ve ever been, but I was still doughy and the gains never really came home with me.

2006 -quite fat at this point
New photo by Matt Hess

2007 and 2008 -slimmed down for wrestling, but not a lot of muscle
New photo by Matt Hess
New photo by Matt Hess

2014 - this is pretty much how I look now about an hour after the gym, but then I super soft.
New photo by Matt Hess

Anyways, I keep hitting PR’s on a regular basis, so I feel pretty good about that, just wish I had the look to go along with it. It’ll come eventually.

Not sure why the pics get cut off but w/e


You took that surprisingly well. Kudos.

Most people around here have pretty unrealistic standards. Your 2008 photo is around my current body fat and I’d consider myself fat, at least from a bodybuilding/physique oriented perspective.

How much conditioning do you do? I feel like my conditioning is poor, but as I work on it I continue to progress on lifts and also seem to be tightening up around the waist. Totally anecdotal, but adding in some conditioning could help you continue progressing in strength while dropping a bit of fat.


What do you do for conditioning, and do you do it on the days you lift? I’ll do sprints and compound bodyweight exercises during warmer months to improve my running ability, but when I’m strength training I don’t really do any of those things. My life in the winter is like, sit at home in front of a desk all day, lift heavy at the gym, sleep, repeat.

Wow, now that I think of it, other than the time I spend at the gym I pretty much don’t walk or move around anywhere. This is in stark contrast to when I was a server at a busy restaurant sleeping in, then walking 10+ miles a day and lifting at night.