A few days ago I underwent an extremely hard and rewarding arm workout session which I shared in my previous blog post, titled “Light is heavy”. At the end of that post I mentioned that my last two arm workouts have both resulted in a great pump, both in the biceps and in the triceps. In today´s post I will elaborate on how I have been able to achieve such a great pump on both these occasions. Before I do so I will also share the other arm workout in its details. It was performed 5 days before yesterday´s follow-up session. It went like this:
Biceps curl, cable, from the floor, one-handed, 5x12-20
Triceps pushups on bench, feet on floor, 5x30-35
3. Superset 3:
Inclined biceps curl, 4x12
Triceps extensions behind neck, dumbbell, 4x12-15
4. Bicep s curl, barbell, 3x12
5. Concentrated biceps curl, 3x10-15
Comments on this workout session:
As you can see this workout was high volume, just as the second one. The weights were “light”, most often allowing me to perform 12 reps or more per set.
The traditional alternated biceps curl with dumbbells is a true classic. It is also one of the most common arm exercises performed at gyms throughout the world. For me personally, though, it is a rarity. I often go months without performing a single set of this exercise. The main reason why I seldom perform the standing alternate biceps curl is that I feel I’m better at targeting the biceps through the use of the concentrated curl and the inclined curl.
Maximizing the pump
I applied the following principles in order to maximize my arm pump during these two workouts:
1. Prioritize the pump. To get maximum pump you have to really go after it. You have to prioritize it. These workouts weren’t about lifting heavy. I wanted to achieve max pump, that was my main goal. This isn’t always the case – far from it, I often have completely different goals in mind when entering the gym. But this time I wanted to go for it. It had been a while since I really made sure to get maximum pump and I felt that now was the time to prioritize it.
2. Be well hydrated. If you want max pump, then make sure to be sufficiently hydrated. In other words, drink an extra glass of water some time before the workout.
3. Eat some carbs. If you want max pump, then it is not the time to go all fussy and careful about your carb intake. Make sure to load up on some good carbs (brown rice or potatoes being great alternatives), preferably the day before, or at least several hours before entering the gym.
4. Welcome the pain and be prepared to leave your comfort zone. Be prepared for some pain – in order for you to get max pump you will have to experience and endure pain. And I’m not just talking concrete in-the-muscle-pain; you have to be mentally prepared to go out of your comfort zone. Lifting heavy weights for 5 or 6 reps can be taxing, absolutely, but mentally I find it much harder to get through 30-40 sets of high volume pump training.
5. Use shocking techniques. Do drop sets and supersets. These techniques are truly helpful when aiming for max pump. As you can see above – and in my previous post – I relied heavily upon super-setting during these two arm sessions.
6. Keep the intensity high. This goes hand in hand with the use of shocking techniques. If you are used to 2 minutes of resting in between heavy sets of deadlifts, then this is the time to mix things up. When going for the pump you want to keep rest intervals short. Personally I never allow myself more than 30 seconds of rest when the pump is my priority.
7. Go high volume. You can get a good pump from heavy sets of 5, sure. And you can get the blood flowing by employing an exercise or two per muscle group, absolutely – but if you are looking to really pump it up you will benefit from going higher in volume. Aim for 3 to 5 exercises and a total of at least 12 sets per muscle group. Try to make it to at least 10 reps per set. Remember that all sets are supposed to be tough. Light weights doesn't mean light training. If you are doing sets of 12, it should feel hard already at 8 reps... those last 4 are the real struggle.
8. Sleep. Make sure to get a decent amount of sleep the night before. Aim for at least 7 hours.
9. Remind yourself: this is about technique, concentration and full engagement. When going for max pump it becomes extra important to master good form and technique in the different exercises that you choose to employ. You want to make the muscle do all the work. You want to use the targeted muscle – and nothing else. And you want to go all in, making sure that you are fully concentrated and fully committed to each and every set during the workout session.
10. Perform at least one rare surprise exercise. Surprising the targeted muscle with an exercise that you usually don't perform often helps in achieving maximum pump. In the examples here given the standing alternating biceps curl with dumbbells was one such surprise for me - and it really worked; already after a few sets I had a great pump. The surprise factpr is important here. If I continued to start every biceps workout with 6x12 in the standing alternating curl my body would soon get use to it and become more hardly persuaded to reward me with such an immediate pump.
11. Find your own best pump exercises. It is not all about the numbers of sets and reps. Everyone responds differently to different exercises. If a certain exercise never rewards you with a good pump, then change it for something else if the pump is your priority. With the exception of the surprise exercise mentioned above you should identify and rely on exercises that your own body responds easily to, no matter what is and what isn't recommended in magazines, etc.