Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lifting Weights With A Pump And Burn

Going to the gym means something different to each of us. For me, I go to lose weight, build muscle, and return to a more healthy lifestyle. In this entry, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about my latest experience with lifting weights. More specifically, I would like to address the pump and burn.

What Experiences Do I Have Weight Lifting?
While I am not a licensed physical trainer, I have logged numerous hours in the gym over the course of my life. My first experience was between the fourth and fifth grades. I started boxing at the local Boys and Girls Club after watching Rocky Balboa knock out the Russian in Rocky IV.

I played football, ran track, and a short stint wrestling in high school. Each of those sports required considerable time in the weight room. Looking back, Lincoln High School had a nice facility with plenty of serious equipment. While I would not say I was huge, by any stretch of the imagination, I can say I had packed on a few pounds of muscle. By the time I graduated from high school, I weighed around 215 lbs.

After college, I returned to the gym with pounds of extra fat. I dibble dabbled with a number of different strategies. Depending upon the level of my dedication, I lost and gained weight like a yo-yo. With each gain, I became heavier and heavier.

For much of this time, I worked out at home. I amassed an impressive set of free weights for both upper and lower body exercises. I had a bike machine and jump rope for cardio.

When I was focused, I did really well. I could lose weight and pump up pretty quickly. Much of what I know today comes from books and magazines. A few years ago, I began targeting my education on understanding the muscles and the finer points of nutrition.

In 2007, I eventually sold all of my equipment and returned to training in a gym. Looking back, I think it was one of the best moves I could have made.

The Pyramid
Now that you understand my experience with weight lifting, I would like to share my old routine and then introduce you to the new.

Since high school, I have been aware of the pyramid. Essentially, the pyramid set is where you lift a weight a number of times and then decrease the number of repetitions each subsequent set. As an example, consider starting with a 12 repetition set. Once complete, one would do 10, 8, 6, and 4. In each set, increase the weight.

For years, I used this method to build muscle and definition. However, I never really experienced the pump and burn that many bodybuilders talk about. As a result, I sought to find out what I was doing wrong.

What Is The Pump & Burn?
Without trying to sound all scientific or anything, I am going to keep the explanation pretty simple. A muscle pump is when blood gets forced into the muscle and creates a feeling of fullness and swelling. The pump feels so good that many athletes compare it to an orgasm. Arnold Schwarzenegger actually described it as such in the movie, "Pumping Iron."

The burn, on the other hand, is a strong and uncomfortable sensation in the muscles caused by acid build-up during an exercise. The burn is more common in exercises with a high number of repetitions. In the end, both the pump and burn are positive signs of an effective workout.

What Has Changed?
The particulars of an "effective workout" can be debated. There will be some that say a pump and burn means nothing to a solid workout, where the focus is on lifting heavy. For me, I find that the pump and burn serve many uses. For one, they allow me to gauge how well I'm doing at hitting a particular muscle. Two, both the pump and burn feel incredible, which only encourages more lifting.

So, "what has changed?", you ask. I began by realizing it was a time for something different. Below is a list of changes that I made.





  • 10-12 Reps
    I changed from a pyramid approach to a straight 10-12 repetitions in each set. Generally speaking, I do four working sets for my upper body and five working sets for my legs.

  • Warm Up Set
    I was never into warm up sets because I was afraid it took away from my working sets. While this may still be true, warm up sets get blood circulating in the muscles. Additionally, it helps me focus on the specific muscles I intend to work that day.

  • Shorter Rest Periods
    I have shortened my rests periods to 30-60 seconds. This allows me to exhaust my muscles faster while keeping a good pump.

  • Let The Weight Stop You
    In keeping with the 10-12 repetitions, lift enough weight that will cause muscle failure in this range. If I can do more than 12, then it's time to add more weight. If I cannot reach 8-10 reps, then dropping weight may be in order.

  • Less Weight, More Control
    Lifting weights is about lifting heavy. By causing muscle failure, they are forced to grow. Unfortunately, lifting heavy without proper control has severe risks. Therefore, by dropping the weight to meet the 10-12 rep range, I get a solid workout with more control over my form.

  • Heavy Days
    While the 10-12 range is suitable for most exercises, there are times that a 4-6 range is appropriate. To help build muscle mass, experts recommend at least one workout a month devoted to heavier weights. By focusing on 4-6 repetitions versus the 10-12 reps, individuals can lift more.

As a result of these minor changes, I find my workouts to be more intense. I feel the muscles are getting a better workout in addition to increased cardio.

If you are looking for a couple of ways to get that pump and burn, try these out for size. Once you do, come on back and tell me about your workout. What works? What doesn't? Let's talk in the comment section below.

Until next time...

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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