What Does An Optimal Workout Feel Like?

I am no different from most people who exercise, in that I like strong muscles and being healthy, but my prime objective and motivator to exercise is to look good. I enjoy seeing my abdominals, the vascularity in my arms, the detail and separation in my thighs, and the feel of pumped, firm musculature. It is a mental rush. I should note that I am not just speaking to bodybuilders but rather to anyone trying to promote an increase in lean muscle mass whether you are trying to improve your body composition , building strong bones or just increasing your overall longevity.The same rules apply to you too, if you are trying to achieve the optimal workout.

My personal obsession has inspired me to experiment with any and all types of muscle building training methods, to discover what works best to optimize development. Today I’d like to focus not so much on what a productive strength training workout looks like, rather on an almost forgotten but crucial element; what it feels like.

How does one know that a workout is optimal? There are several things that must be considered, but something that should not be ignored is the ‘feel’ of the workout. A productive workout (one that is deemed productive from the overall euphoria of a good mind-muscle connection) often is characterized by a skin-tight muscle pump and for the muscles to pump quickly and optimally.

muscle pump from exercise

“The Muscle Pump” is the tight, blood-congested feeling in a muscle after it has been intensely trained. Muscle pump is caused by a rapid influx of blood into the muscles to remove fatigue toxins and replace supplies of fuel and oxygen. Anyone with sufficient exercise (bodybuilding experience) is well aware and has experienced unusually good workouts, in that you can ‘feel’ when a workout was productive, that growth will occur from that workout (or is more probable), and always that feeling is accompanied by a very good muscle pump.

This is only reflected in those who are able to achieve or experience a pump, a phenomenon that is uncommon with many neophytes and some female trainees, perhaps because of lack of muscle tissue to allow for the muscles to ‘inflate’ sufficiently in order to sense a ‘pump. Different techniques tend to increase muscle pump better than other techniques or styles of lifting. The degree of muscle pump also seems to vary among individuals, exercise selection and  muscle groups. Beginners have a hard time feeling muscle contractions as they are still adapting to the neurological demands of learning a new skill.

It really comes down to experimentation whereby you need to find the best exercises, workout volume and load that allows the greatest pump. I should note that cycling for 2 hours has given me the best quadricep pump I’ve ever had but it hardly resulted in increased muscle mass since the other important muscle building factors were not present; load and time under tension.

The winning combination in optimizing building lean muscle mass, then, is to produce intense muscular contractions, which require a sufficient load that is controlled throughout the intended range of motion.All the while aiming to achieve an optimum muscle pump for whatever number of sets is required to achieve that “pump effect”. The directive of ‘intense muscular contractions’ is served best by trying to flex the muscle throughout the intended range, as if to squeeze into the movement, rather than merely lifting a weight without intentional flexing or squeezing of the muscle.

Many trainees lift weights, but they rarely forcefully flex the muscle being trained, and there is a difference in quality of control and net effect when the goal is to produce results with as few sets as possible. The squeezing of a muscle is an important point when performing  reps, since it is that squeezing that improves quality of movement and control over the exercise environment.

It’s wonderful that just about everyone from the media to your family doctor are promoting weight training, but you should now have a good idea that it is not enough to just go through the motions of lifting a weight ( although some is better than none) if you want to achieve the optimal workout for increasing lean muscle mass.

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Craig Simms
Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 11 years and has amassed over 15,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
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