What About a Pump and Microtears?

Check out my microtears!I received an e-mail this week that combined two questions that I have been asked many times before: What about the value of a pump in creating microtears? How deep do they run and where on the muscle do they generate the growth? Both of these issues are interesting to me because they illustrate a common problem in strength training.

This Year I’m Gonna Get a Pump!

For the benefit of those who don’t know the term, a ‘pump’ simply refers to the feeling of engorgement a muscle gets when it temporarily fills with blood following activity. Ever since Arnold mentioned it in the movie Pumping Iron in 1977 the term has taken on mythic importance to some people.

But here are a few relevant points regarding a pump and the goal of adding new muscle:

– It’s possible to fully engorge your arm by lifting a very light weight many times. Likewise you can forcefully open and close your fist repeatedly and pump your forearm substantially. However, these almost never cause new muscle to grow, and to the extent they might they still would not cause the same growth stimulation that lifting a maximum weight a few times would cause.

– A pump cannot be accurately measured. You can’t know that today’s biceps pump is 13% more than last week’s biceps pump and that your quadriceps pump is down 8% from last week’s workout and therefore your legs need more rest. It’s basically a useless piece of information. Your chest feels really pumped today, so what? What clear conclusion can be drawn from that? Nothing you can hang your hat on.

– Getting preoccupied with generating a pump on every exercise is a needless distraction. It’s just not a goal worth setting. Nobody makes a New Year’s resolution that this is the year he’s finally going to get his muscles pumped like never before. It’s just too vague. It’s also temporary. There is no lasting health or cosmetic benefit from engorging muscles occasionally.

Microtears: Cruising for a Bruising

Next we get into the issue of microtears. The hypothesis is that these microtears are the precursors of muscle growth; that productive training causes microscopic tears and when these tears heal it makes the muscle bigger and stronger. I’m not going to debate that here. But here are some relevant points insofar as practical strength training is concerned:

– These tears are microscopic and can only be examined by doing tissue biopsies that are looked at under a microscope. Fine. Are you going to do that? Is anyone going to test to see whether today’s biceps exercise was productive and effective by cutting out a piece of his biceps and looking at it to quantify the microtears? I doubt it. Without that you’re training blindly anyway.

– Microtears are not entirely good. When there are too many it becomes an injury. Sometimes a very serious injury lasting years. By getting preoccupied with literally damaging your muscles you run the risk of deliberately going too far. Imagine a person who really takes to heart the concept of causing beneficial microtears. He might be inclined to jerk a weight a little harder or to cheat a movement in a way that would cause a little extra muscle trauma – to get a little extra growth. Such a person would be playing with fire, literally trying to slightly injure himself on each exercise. Instead of being focused on progressive overload, he’d be focused on progressive injury. No thanks. Dumb plan.

What Bothers Me Most

What really bothers me about these issues is trainers who encourage people to focus on useless or dangerous elements of training instead of just measuring what can be measured and really means something: intensity of muscular overload. They just don’t want to admit that using a Power Factor measurement or the 5-second measure of intensity using Static Contraction is a very practical and useful way to track your progress.

It’s so damned easy to do it’s unbelievable, but the fitness turf wars prevent trainers from giving their customers proven, sensible advice that really works. I challenge you to find an advocate of “high intensity training” who actually has a way to measure that intensity. Shame on them.

 

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23 Responses to What About a Pump and Microtears?

  1. charlie at #

    this is a great piece Pete. probably wont be published in magazines just yet.

  2. Shawn at #

    Please provide photos of men and women who have used power factor training for 5 years, mlore or less, in their swimsuits. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  3. Hehe. Right after the article on the Monster Microtear Workout – Rip Your Way to Being Ripped! Not likely.

  4. MikeW at #

    Thanks, Pete. You are the myth buster of strength training. Of course, as you know, that gives you — as my papa was want to say — a hard row to hoe. One of the things I’ve learned over my 63 years of living is that we humans often prefer our myths and fantasies over the hard cold facts of life. P. T. Barnum, who is reported to have (but in fact never actually) said, “There is a sucker born every minute,” actually did say something considerably more obscure but perhaps relevant here: “A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched.”

  5. Joe Mongiardo at #

    Pete,

    I take Taekwondo a few times a week and the Master incorporates a lot of intense cardio fitness into his teaching routine. The other day he went as far as saying that when you workout hard and tear your muscles and sore the next day, that your muscles are actually bleeding internally. I was laughing to myself, because I knew his statement was false. But of course could not correct him in front of everyone in his class.

    I will definitely send him parts of this article. Keep these good articles coming. I love sending this stuff to people who make off the cuff bone head comments. Like you said, they can’t argue with science.

  6. Ed at #

    It has long struck me as funny the mythological status that -getting a pump-has in body-building circles.I have heard over many decades all sorts of nonsense spouted about the pump.One of my favourites being-If you cant get a pump then you cant grow a muscle.When I first started training a young man for the first few weeks I would get pronounced pumps in my muscles to the extent that movement was restricted.After a short time as my circulation improved the pumps vanished never to return.Does this mean that I have not been able to develop by muscles?Far from it I am quite a muscular individual and pump has proven to be a complete red herring of muscle head mistaken training lore that persists as a form of mumbo jumbo alongside all of the other-never quite dies and goes away-crass ill-founded and demonstrable superstitions that still infect our gyms even to this day.I have long wondered whether those that claim pumps etc even after years of training{I would have thought improved circulation efficiency would have taken care of that}are either saying it as a ritual stance or may have some medical problem.In this context I have often read the claim from steroid users that their substance use improves their pump and steroid are known to have a poor effect upon circulation-could their be a connection?At least that’s my speculation.Thanks once once again for nailing some important points Pete.

  7. Rene Kittelsen at #

    Nice article!

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Jordan at #

    Thanks for the tips. Your program is very good. I’ve noticed muscle growth on my very first workout.

  9. Hi Shawn. Please read these articles: http://www.precisiontraining.com/tag/before-after/

  10. Good point, Ed. Perhaps a pump is a clearly negative indicator, rather than just irrelevant.

  11. David Dressler, BA, RMT at #

    I began working out in 1959. At that time, dinosaurs occupied the gyms. We had stone-age ideas that unfortunately never went the way of the dinosaurs. “No pain, no gain” echoed the halls and have reverberated across time to the present moment. I used to train 9 1/2 hours a day in two or three workouts per day. (Obviously I had little else to do!) I believed in not dropping any exercise out of my workout, so when I learned a new one, I just added it on. That is why eventually I was spending 9 1/2 hours a day in the gym! I also began jogging before there were jogging shoes. I wore tennis shoes. And this is the truth: sometimes people would throw rocks at me from their cars and jeer. No pain, no gain.

    I got very, very strong and fairly big. But I was wearing myself down, or “over-training” as we eventually said when a tiny particle of intelligence grew in our troglodyte brains. I also hurt every single day in almost every single muscle. But, no pain, no gain.

    I always told myself that, if I ever took a break, my pain would go away, but I never took a break, so it never went away. Fifty-plus years, half a century of no pain, no gain.

    Yes, I certainly had “micro-tears.” I also eventually plateaued in terms of what I could lift. Pain, no gain.

    Then I tried Pete’s system. I more than doubled my leg press and experienced similar gigantic gains in a matter of weeks, the likes of which I had never experienced in literally years of no-pain-no-gain training. I also had almost no pain. The mantra of something like four decades was reversed in about four weeks! Now it was gain-no-pain!

  12. David Dressler, BA, RMT at #

    By the way, so that a myth about the anabolic steroid testosterone does not get promulgated, please note:

    Testosterone does not cause circulatory problems. Testosterone is protective of the heart and circulatory system and prevents heart attacks in aging men, as well as protecting the brain from early dementia. There are more testosterone receptors in the brain than there are you-know-where. Aging men experience a decline in testosterone, resulting in pre-disposition to heart disease as a result, as well as loss of muscle mass, accumulation of chest and belly fat, and often depression and poor concentration and memory. Exogenous testosterone (taken orally or topically but preferably not intravenously) helps slow the aging process in men over 40.

    Contrary to myths even promoted by some physicians, testosterone does not promote cancer in aging men, in fact research shows it does the exact opposite. As men age, their testosterone is converted to estrogen in the body, and it is this hormone that can cause men cancer as well as excess belly fat leading to heart disease and the symptoms just described.

    My sources of information are the Journal of Cardiology and Life Extension Foundation articles.

  13. jon at #

    talk about trying to sell your own products in an article. Why not just talk about a topic from a neutral point of view without sounding like ur trying to sell something! you could be scientific and not leading man, for christ sakes surely uve earnt enough money already. besides you’d still get a lot of interest from people if you just sounded integral / open minded… more like mentzer i’d say. and no im not some mentzer selling dupe.. read his books ppl he has an open mind and isnt trying to SELL something!!

  14. jon at #

    oh and to the moderators for this website… i dare you to keep that last comment up and let sisco read it.. but u wont it mite affect his reputation

  15. 1. I keep asking gas stations and grocery stores to do the same thing – give me the stuff I want for free – they never see it my way.
    2. Remember to send angry e-mails to all the television stations that keep interrupting your programs with commercials selling stuff. Shame on them! They should work free so you can be a happier person.
    3. I always wonder what guys like you do for free all day long that you think others should do the same. (You don’t get paid, right?) Or do you have one of those government jobs where you are paid to obstruct productive people?

  16. It’s your reputation that takes the hit with a dumb comment like this, comrade.

  17. Mark Dalton at #

    Thank you for your liberating responses to “Jon’s” comments on July 9th. He sounds like your typical “ne’r-do-well” liberal msn bullsh!t grubworm who thrives on hating capitalism, the free market(an open marketplace where everyone can share and profit from their ideas, remedies and fun and entertaining niceties, etc…unimpeded, by the way by ‘Big Government’) I know I know this is not the arena nor did his comments contribute anything beneficial to weight training.
    It is, though , essentially why America is wallowing at the brink of ruin right now. It’s called class warfare and it is the leftist mentality that those with more should be punished by an undeserving entity(government) by paying more corrupt extortion and regulation dollars just to stay in business.
    Hey Jon! You have a constitution that because of Thomas Jefferson’s foresight and genius has a a few references to “The government shall not…” The point is that what drives the free market are the free peoples wants, wishes and desires so why are you even wasting Pete’s and our time if you’re not interested in all that he offers free, by the way. And you know what? You’re free to market products and services, too! Who knows? You might even create a job, hire an employee or two. Woww! That would be 2 more taxpayers and it would add to the already behemoth take to the treasury via Wells Fargo every week to DC. Wake up. Grow up Pinhead!!!

  18. charlie at #

    pete is the moderator mr.
    this is a dot com site as in commerce.
    your comment was not even written well enough to know what you are trying to say.
    get some help.

  19. charlie at #

    if you are talking about mentzer at the end of that rant…what was he selling? books? training? gym?

  20. I knew Mike Mentzer and he was a relentless marketer. That’s why people know who he is and what his ideas were – and as a promoter of Ayn Rand you couldn’t find a bigger capitalist than Mike. Strikes me as odd for Jon to equate all that with mooching things for free as a way of life.

  21. Brian at #

    LOL! Great come back Pete. Hey, I just recently read a study published in one of the fitness rags that demonstrated the microtears are not a precursor for muscle growth. Funny that they usually have some type of workout program on the next page telling their readers to train to failure. Duh! Oh, and another thing, if the “pump” is your thing, no problem. I have had such incredible pumps from doing Power Factor, that after a session I usually have people ask me what I have been doing as I “look” more muscular. Ok, so it could be a little temporary, but at least this pump is attained with a measurement! Amen!

  22. Grant at #

    Hi Pete,
    (not sure where to put this question) I have badly injured shoulders, I have been doing everything I can to fix them for over a year and is still injured. Can I train with PFT or SCT, if so, what exercises should I avoid?
    Thanks

  23. Longtime readers know I never give medical advice. The question about the status of your injury is one for your physician because he knows your exact circumstances. That said, a lot of people have successfully used strong range static contraction to build muscle, tendon, ligament and joint strength in a range the does NOT create any pain. Many people feel that rehab is one of the biggest markets for static contraction.