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Why Middle Age Men Don’t Get The Same Pump While Weight Training

Mention the words “muscle pump” around a weight lifter or bodybuilder and you’ll hear varying opinions on its importance. Some guys will speak of the pump like it’s the holy grail of working out.

Others will tell you there’s not a big correlation between the pump and achieving strength or lean muscle gains. The reality is I’ve found most individuals don’t fully understand what’s really behind the pump from a physiological standpoint in the first place.

In this post I’ll get into the science behind what causes a muscle pump, its importance, and why middle age men tend to see it diminish as they get older.

Alright, let’s start with discussing what causes the pump. I’ll have to get a little technical here for a minute but I’ll look to wrap it up in simple terms. When you’re engaged in high intensity weight training the muscle pump is a result of nothing more than basic osmosis. Here’s how it goes…

You’re pushing through a series of challenging sets and your muscles start burning and filling with blood. The muscle fibers are calling for energy for contraction and hydrogen ions begin to simultaneously build up inside the cell walls.

Blood begins to rush into the capillaries surrounding the muscle cells as fluid and nutrients rush into the cells through a process of diffusion. While this is happening fluid (minus the nutrients) is exiting the muscle cells and diffusing back into the capillaries. This is what scientists refer to as osmosis.

When the hydrostatic pressure pushing fluid into the cells is GREATER than the osmotic pressure pushing fluid out, we’ve got a pump. In simple terms we’ve got more pressure going in than going out of the cells. Think about it as a four lane highway going in and a one lane road going out.

Depending on the duration and intensity of your workout, this pump can last for a few minutes or up to several hours after the workout is over.

So is the “pump” necessary for increased strength and muscle growth?

This is where we’ll get into some debate. Contrary to the opinion of some in the bodybuilding community, the pump is not a prerequisite for strength or muscle gains. There’s simply not enough evidence to confirm this belief.

Sure it definitely feels good and it gives the lifter the impression that muscle fibers are being broken down due the burning sensation. While there is some benefit to the pump, I’ll get into that in a minute, the burning sensation and pump is more a reflection of the pressure balance I talked about earlier.

It doesn’t mean there’s automatically growth or adaptation occurring.

Think about it in a common sense manner for a second. You could go into the gym and pick up a pair of light dumbbells and start curling them repeatedly for several minutes. It won’t be long before your arms swell up with blood and you feel a pump. Does this mean you just got bigger or stronger? Of course not.

I’ve watched novice weight lifters make this mistake for years. It’s typically the young guys, you know the crowd I’m talking about. It’s the ones that look like they’re auditioning for the next series of “Jersey Shore” on TV.

They’ve got the string tank top on, all tanned up, hair spiked, basically looking the part. They come in and strut around the gym focusing more on themselves in the mirror than actually getting under some heavy iron. They’ll do some super-sets with curls and other arm exercises, get their pump, and then head for the door.

As long as they got a “pump” in their mind it’s been mission accomplished. Big mistake.

Experienced weight lifters, power-lifters, and fitness enthusiasts will tell you there’s more to getting big, cut, AND strong than just getting a pump. You’ve got to train hard under a variety of different workloads to facilitate an adaptation response.

Yes, that means getting under some heavy weight now and then! Those in the know will tell you that you don’t necessarily get a “pump” after completing a heavy set of barbell squats for 5 reps.

Now, this isn’t to say there’s not some physiological benefit of getting a muscle pump.

There’s certainly some correlation between higher concentrations of lactic acid build up with high intensity burst training type routines and an increase in growth hormone release. This can be a good thing, but like I’ve eluded to earlier it’s not the objective of each and every workout.

Ok, let’s finally address this whole issue of middle age adults and why they tend to see a decrease in the intensity and frequency of a muscle pumps.

Why is it that it’s fairly easy to get a good pump when you’re in your twenties but not so much when you hit your thirties, forties, and beyond?

This isn’t to say that you can’t get a pump at any age, it’s just that you frequently see a decline as you get older.

The biggest reasons for this from what I’ve gathered in research has to do with changes in insulin sensitivity and vascular rigidity issues that come with age. As you get older we tend to see a natural decrease in insulin sensitivity due to hormonal shifts. Obviously a lot of this has to do with bioindividuality, genetics, and lifestyle habits with diet and exercise.

There’s also often a change within the capillaries themselves in terms of elasticity. Much for the same reason arteries will stiffen and lose elasticity with prolonged periods of inflammation. The better you take care of yourself as you get older the less noticeable this will be, but it happens to some degree none-the-less.

Let me put it this way…the guy who’s in his early thirties with elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, insulin resistance and other poor health markers probably won’t get much of a pump with this workouts. He may also be requesting Viagra from his doctor way sooner than expected.

Ok, let’s talk about the insulin sensitivity side of this for a second because it’s important.

Exercise in general has a positive impact on insulin sensitivity and so does a healthy diet without excess starches, sugars, and processed foods. As you’ll see in a minute, this is just another reason why I’m such a big proponent of a Primal Blueprint type diet for older adults. It’s one of the best ways to keep insulin sensitivity up.

So what does all this talk about insulin sensitivity have to do with a muscle pump?

A lot actually. Remember insulin plays a very important role in delivering nutrients to the cells, muscle cells and fat cells alike. As insulin sensitivity decreases muscle cells become more resistant to glucose thus causing more insulin to be secreted.  This diverts more glucose away from the muscle cells and into fat cells.

In short, as insulin sensitivity decreases so does the prevalence of the cherished pump while working out. So step one on getting it back is to work on improving insulin sensitivity. This is best accomplished with cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, but more importantly with changes in your diet.

Middle age adults will want to shift away from excess starches in their diet and focus more on consuming a combination of lean proteins, greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

The whole idea is that you just don’t need the same amount of starch carbohydrates you did when you were younger. And for that matter your body is likely not optimized to use a lot of starch and sugars for fuel due to changes in insulin sensitivity.

I’ve always had very good insulin sensitivity and a fast metabolism (thanks to some good genetics), but at almost 40 years old I’ve found I get much better pumps now that I follow a modified Primal Blueprint diet.

I still consume some grains and starch carbohydrates, partly because I do well with them in moderation, and partly due to the fact I’ve got relatively high insulin sensitivity for my age. Once again this is all about finding out what works best for you individually. I’ve long held the opinion that each person must use experimentation to see what kind of diet works best for them.

There’s no question however that you’ll improve insulin sensitivity, if this is an issue, by reducing the amount of starches and sugars in your diet. The reason is simple, you’ll decrease the amount of insulin being secreted as a response to elevated blood glucose levels.

Other than what I’ve stated above, there is one little last trick you can use to increase a muscle pump as you get older. There are some high quality creatine and nitric oxide supplements on the market you can experiment with. The premise behind all of these is to simply increase cellular volume during workouts. I won’t get into all of the details as I’ve got to wrap this up, but they’re worth experimenting with.

The only thing I’ll say is that you should look to “cycle” these products on and off instead of staying on them for long periods of time. Something like 3-4 weeks on and 2 weeks off.

It’s also worth considering to supplement with L-Arginine and L-Glutamine.

I’ll go into more detail in a future post. I hope this has helped to clarify a lot of the misconceptions about muscle pumps and you’ve been able to pick up a few tips. Until next time, train with purpose, eat primal, and live with passion.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fitness Training.