You have to get creative. This isn’t a particularly difficult answer, but it also isn’t a simple one. There’s no “just x” or “all you’ve gotta do is y”. When your body’s drained, and both calories and carbs are on the low (particularly the latter, given how their absence depletes the body of glycogen), figuring out how to get a pump on a cut becomes an outright challenge. But not to worry, it’s not a problem without a solution, and a solution- multiple solutions, actually, are what I have for you today.
Now into the specifics: what exact steps can we take to pump up our pump game while calories are on the low?
A pump is everything for some of us. That temporary rush of blood to the muscle and everything it provides. I mean, the aesthetic fullness, the satisfying “tight” sensation, that feeling of your shirt tightening around you as if you’re about to burst out of it from all the gains you’re making. And of course, popping off the pump cover and taking a moment to appreciate the fruits of your labor at their most presentable. But when that pump becomes more and more unachievable, with sessions just leaving you further depleted and lacking that sense of satisfaction, your physique flat and fatigued, something needs to be done.
In this article, we’re going to detail some of the steps you can take when you find that the fat-loss process is beginning to push you a little bit too far into depletion. By the time we’re through here, you’ll be feeling like the G.O.A.T. back in 77. Let’s dive into the first tip:
Controlling Water & Sodium Intake to Compensate for the Calories Cut
The incorporation of sodium i.e. salt pre-workout has numerous benefits, including
- Improving “mind-muscle” connection i.e. neuromuscular efficiency
- Optimizes hydration
- Maintains fluid balance
- Outright improves strength (primarily but not solely through the first listed benefit)
All of these are desirable in and of themselves, but also leading into the focus here, which is that directly as well as indirectly through the aforementioned benefits,
Salt gives you better pumps
How? Well, aside from the indirect benefits above, sodium draws water into the cells, and said intracellular water retention, on a macroscopic scale, equates to a glorious, skin-splitting, shirt-tearing, head-turning pump.
All you need to do is mix about a pinch of table salt, or Himalayan pink salt if you wanna go the extra mile, into your pre-workout (water will do also). An ideal time frame of 30min-1h before training hits right on the mark. By the time you start moving that weight around the room, you’ll feel the blood making its way to the muscle, bringing a smile to Arnold’s face, wherever he may be.
How Simple Sugars Before and During a Workout Can Help Get A Pump
I hope you’ve got a sweet tooth because salty isn’t all that’s on the menu; gotta save room for dessert! Granted, on a cut, there isn’t much room for hyper-calorie-dense sugary goodness, but a controlled dose at the right time can be more than worth it.
Now, the specification of simple sugars is due to the fact that not any old sugar will do. We’re specifically looking for monosaccharides. Due to the nature of their simplistic molecular structure, they pass directly into the bloodstream after consumption rather than needing time to be metabolized in another organ, making them perfect for our goal. Some examples of pump-inducing, monosaccharide-packed foods include:
- Honey (often favored)
- Fresh fruits (grapes, mangos, bananas, strawberries, etc)
- Breakfast Cereals
- Most Candies (chocolate, gummies, cookies, etc)
In a pinch, there are other options that can be resorted to; ground black pepper, or milk, given that they contain trace amounts of the same sugars, or are quickly digested into the simplistic ones we’re looking for. Ideally, though, we’d favor the options on the list, in the list’s particular order.
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Prioritizing the Pump During a Portion of the Routine
There’s more to the pump than just what goes into your body. We’ve also got to take a look at what’s being put out.
These prior sections advise you on what to do to provide yourself with the fuel necessary, but now let’s talk action: how can you train in a way that brings on a proper pump when it seems to elude you?
Well, depending on your training style, anywhere from a little to a lot. Your exercise choice, rest periods, as well as overall space and intensity are going to have a make-or-break impact on the pump you yield from your session.
Are you pushing plain old sets for lower reps, just shy of failure? Or are you incorporating higher volume work? Explosive concentrics, or time-under-tension? What about drop sets and cluster sets, do they have their place? You’re in a battle right now, and you’d do well to make use of every tool in your arsenal.
Here’s an example of a typical pull day. Alongside it, a tweaked version for achieving an optimum pump:
|Pull Ups 4x 8-12||Pull Ups 4x 8-12, last set a cluster set of 4 reps on, 10 seconds off until failure|
|Dumbbell Rows 4x 8-12||Dumbbell Rows 3x 10-15, last set double drop set with a slow (2 seconds down 1 second up) tempo|
|Dumbbell Curl 4x 10-15||Cable Curls 4x 12-15, switching to cables to allow for greater time under tension|
|Facepull 4x 20||Unilateral Rear Delt Cable Fly 4x 15-20, giving a greater stretch and allowing for better mind-muscle connection|
|Shrugs 4x 6-8||Shrugs 4x 6-8, same heavy work, just holding drop setting the last set with an isometric hold to failure|
I guarantee you that once you try both, the difference in pump will be astounding. What you put in is what you get out, so if you want to get a pump out of it, you’ve gotta put in the work.
Rebalancing the Ratio of Rest Days and Training Days
This next section focuses on inaction rather than action. If you’re deep enough into a cut that getting a pump is becoming an issue, it’s worth re-evaluating your current lifting scheme. Perhaps a little extra rest could help you get a better ROI in terms of energy put in and gains gotten out.
You see, this isn’t a period during which you’ll be building significant amounts of muscle, but rather, are fighting to preserve the muscle you have. Your body’s into a catabolic state, doing away with the unwanted fat smothering your gains. Because of this, we find ourselves in a “stimulate don’t annihilate” scenario, in which less is more, and very explicitly so.
Junk volume is something you can more easily get away with during a period of surplus. In times of nutritional scarcity, though, it borders on outright sin. Once you’ve sufficiently stimulated the muscle enough for both tissue and strength retention, you’d do best to rebalance your efforts elsewhere. You can improve your metabolic conditioning, or focus on flexibility (both of which are great in and of themselves but will also be conducive towards a better pump long term).
The main benefit achieved through this, however, is a less exhaustive depletion of your glycogen storages. What does this mean? It means that on the days that you DO lift, achieving a pump will be that much easier. And this need not come at any detriment, given that you can easily compensate for the caloric burn elsewhere. Be it in the pursuits mentioned above, or other leisure activities, from long walks to surfing. As long as you’re proportionally active, no negative changes with be made.
So re-think your weekly approach, and perhaps 4 days over 5 will suit you better in the long term, dedicating that 5th day to an active recovery; this game is about quality over quantity, after all, and that’s what this all boils down to.
Beyond the Pump: How Can You Take Your Training Further?
A lot of information has just been dumped in your lap, and if you’re at all like me, I’d wager there’s a lingering worry regarding if it will stick, if you’ll incorporate it past the first few tries, if you’ll actually take these changes on or if they’ll becoming another set of good ideas that get lost in the clutter, leaving you with that same feeling that you’re spinning your wheels. Thankfully though, we can avoid falling into that trap again right now.
Forget doing this alone, scrounging and scavenging for whatever tip and secret might give you an edge if haphazardly rammed into your routine. Take a step in the right direction by placing your trust in someone who’s dedicated their life to this, who’s made the mistakes, learned the lessons, dodged the curveballs (and gotten hit by a few as well), all of which experiences that have helped them reach a point at which they can guide others, help them avoid those same mistakes and rocket past each milestone with the help of someone who knows the way. Click here, if you’re ready to stop kicking the can and start putting in the work.