T Nation

Strength vs the Pump


The title is supposed to have some irony in it, because with bodybuilding, you cannot have one without the other.

But it's a concept I think that many beginners/intermediates really struggle with (including myself at times in the past).

There seems to be 2 phases that many lifters go through.

One phase is the strength phase (aka "ego phase"). This is the phase where they realise that their training needs to be intense. So they drop many of their filler exercises (redundant exercises). They fall in love with making jumps in load and low rep training. Some people respond well to that type of training (often referred to as power-building), but this is not aimed at them.

Before long, they begin to realise that their size gains don't seem to match the strength gains they are making. They realise that tension/volume on the muscle is pretty low, and much momentum is used. Often they find things stagnating because they confuse themselves with some hybrid of powerlifting and bodybuilding (powerlifting needs to be more structured especially with regards to rest/frequency/intensity). Sometimes, depending on how extreme they became, they begin to realise that their body is developing imbalances (typically those who focus just on the "showy muscles" or some form of pure "starting strength" training).

The other phase is where they realise that a pump is not JUST a pump. They begin to realise that ability to achieve a healthy pump in most of the target muscles is ideal. Instead of making fun of the bicep curlers pumping away, they begin to join the group (lol hypocrites!).

But, they often go to the extreme, adding in too many exercises/sets JUST for the sake of it, and start to "forget" about strength progression. They put a little bit too much emphasis on the feel/form when in reality, it doesn't matter how many exercises you do, or how many sets, and no amount of perfect form and control will make up for no decent muscle over-load.

Each phase doesn't necessarily take any specific order, but it's not until the person comes to terms with both, a happy medium, when their gains really take off (assuming diet is in order).


I think both concepts are very important, however, everyone has to come to two inevitable realizations:

1- You can make strength gains without any appreciable hypertrophy (neurological conditioning)
2- A pump does not guarantee growth stimulation

Still, both can be used as indicators to some degree of the effectiveness of a training session. Strength gains and muscle pumps can indeed be viewed as positives in short term windows, but again I would say not as be-all-end-all indicators of growth.




A good illustration for getting a good balance is the "mountain peak". If you reach failure too quickly on an exercise, you'll find growth is suboptimal - that is, you reach the peak too early rather than letting fatigue accumulate more.

I find some exercises are different than others. Take for example barbell benching; you can be more aggressive with the weight "jumps" on this exercise. Like you can ramp up till you fail (just about every set is heavier than the last). Whereas, for exercises like dumbbell presses, you need to let fatigue build up over more sets and less ramping (e.g. the last few sets will be with the same load).

Another example is with biceps - you need to let fatigue build up more slowly on these (e.g. doing the reps more slowly and better control/more sets). With biceps, if you keep ramping by adding more load to each set, failure hits you quicker and gives less growth stimulation. Load needs to be more constant after warmups (to allow fatigue to accumulate).


I've always loved pyramiding sets for this exact reason, best of both worlds IMO. Works for me. Though, on my mains lifts sometimes i don't pyramid down...depends on the day. When it comes to assistance work I'm all for it.


well,what about a "pump" caused by 6/8 good form reps?
i see the pump like an effect (the other is hypertorphia LOL )of a 20/30 second TUL with a decent % of load...
even when we (or most part of us) do the last "pumping" set with higher reps range and ligher loads are we just "pumping out" or training different kind of fibers than in first heavy set(s) of 5/8 reps??


People often make the mistake of thinking that "pump" = really high reps and low load, but that's not true.

I don't see much long term growth effect (other than inflammation) from high rep pumping sets just for the sake of achieving a pump (maybe better recovery?), but you can get a good pump using lower reps as long as enough sets are done. It may mean reducing the load a little towards the end (if you still don't have a good pump), or sticking to the same load for some sets.

6-8 reps/set is actually my favourite rep scheme.

Main point is that an exercise should be heavy, but at the same time you need to do it enough to achieve a decent pump (for a better growth effect). This may include controlling the exercise more (which is another way of getting a pump).


i catch you about a mix of % of load/time under tension/excercise form , today I'm still sore and feel pain (taking 4 aspirins per day) at lats and femoralis because of eccentric one arm pulldowns/one leg curl so my question is; given a good ratio load/tul/ speed controll its better to reach the effect (exhausting the fibers=size gains ) in few sets or in many?
one thing for sure, in the future i'll do just some eccentric reps not two entire sets LOL




Crazy you wrote this.
The last 8-10 wks since i picked up training again, i began with an upper lower split, making strength progression for 4 weeks, decent ones at that, i switched to a bodypart split, as id got my strength back to where it was.

I then began, smashing the weights reps between 8-12, and began seeing good gains. But last week I made the realisation I wasnt making the strength gains needed, therefore Ive changed things a little.

Main compound exercises 1-2, reps 4-8
Isolation exercises 1-2 , reps 8-12
and then maybe a widow maker set for legs, and some super pump shit for medial delts/tris, as those are the muscles which really lag.

Ive grown 0.5" on my arms, and an inch to my legs.


I should mention thats over 8-10 wks, NOT AFTER i switched to the upper/lower.

Therefore strength training, plus higher reps and pumps were both used. But basically i smashed the bodypart till I couldnt move it.


Yeah you've got to find a good balance.

I tend to ramp up with a decent amount of reps (more than before). For pressing exercises, I like to keep the last/max sets to around 6 reps, pulling and delts closer to 8-10, and legs closer to 10+. Like you've started doing, lower reps for the bigger exercise (except legs), and higher for the smaller ones.

Like I said, many people make the mistake of thinking that a good pump only = high reps (15+)...but I find a better way is using low[er] reps (e.g. 5-10) but with more sets. That way your intensity doesn't suffer too much and you are still getting good strength progression.


What ive been doing recently is, if im doing sets of 10, then i ramp up:
10 x 60 70 80 90*

And when i only just get 10, instead of dropping the weight and doing more reps, I increase the weight and do 2-3 sets but half the reps.

So using that example, I would do:
2-3 sets of 100 for 5 reps.


I dont ever go for a pump each set is me vs the weight. But with the way my body is i can get chest pumps doing 1-2 reps so it happens anyways


lucky bastard lol