The Competitor's Pump-Up Guide — Either Do It Right or Don’t Do It At All

TAGS: pumped muscles, bodybuilding posing, pumping up, bodybuilder stage presence, pump up, posing practice, bodybuilding show, Just Sayin', Skip Hill

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As a competitor, you know all too well the amount of time and energy invested in the physique you are about to display on stage. You know the sacrifices involved for the last handful of months, if not longer. The last thing you want to do is something at the last minute to take away from your conditioning and present less than your best — yet competitors insist on doing it time and time again, less than 30 minutes before going on stage.

I understand that it may seem counterintuitive, but pumping up is the fastest way to lose detail in your physique and look soft on stage. The brain tells you that you look awesome when you are in the gym with a great pump, but the reality is that you only look bigger, not more detailed. The next time you have an incredible pump in the gym, take a long hard look at your muscle detail and shape. If you are being honest with yourself, you will see right away that the size you gain does not present your physique in a better light. What you gain in size you lose in graininess or detail. If you are contest-ready, pose a pumped triceps and pose a relatively cold triceps and tell me what you see.


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I am not completely against pumping up if it is done correctly. Pumping large muscle groups is a bad idea, but small muscle groups tend to not lose detail and can give the illusion on stage that they are better-developed than they actually are. While pumping your chest or back will cause you to lose detail, pumping side delts, rear delts or even biceps can be a bonus. However, timing is everything and most people screw it up — badly. Doing 12 sets of curls or 12 sets of push-ups is asinine, especially when this is typically done 30 or more minutes before going on stage. How in the hell are you going to hold that pump?

Image courtesy of Csak Istvan © 123RF.com

If you are going to pump a small muscle group it needs to be done while your group or division is “staged,” waiting to be the next group to go on. Otherwise, the pump you worked so hard for 30 minutes earlier will not hold, and when a pump doesn’t hold, you go flat. Flat equals soft. Soft equals you look fat. If your promoter lets you pump up while your group is staged (some do and some don’t), light sets with bands are optimal. Otherwise, simple posing practice will warm up the muscles, give you a slight pump, and bring veins to the surface because body temperature is elevated, which is always a good thing. Plus, posing doesn’t require any bands or weights, so if your promoter doesn’t allow these things while staged, you are still good to go.

Running in place or even doing jumping jacks will keep the body’s temperature elevated and keep veins at the surface while waiting to go on stage.

Another trick to use at the last minute that can help give you the illusion of being pumped is to eat something with a good amount of sodium, fat, and carbs. Obviously, you want your midsection to remain as small as possible, so you don't want a lot of food in your stomach, but a small portion of something heavy and dense with nutrients can bring veins to the surface quickly and make a couple light pump sets that much more productive. One of the main things I use personally and use with my clients is half or one full McDonald’s sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast biscuit sandwich. Forget the dogma for a moment; they are ideal in that they are very dense and have a good amount of sodium, fat, and carbs. If you are in condition, as you should be, after five minutes of eating this you can watch your veins start to swell. At this point in your prep, it isn’t about what anyone thinks is stupid on the internet; it’s about presenting your physique as best you can for the few minutes you are on stage being judged for the work you have done over the last several months.

If you see your competition pumping up large muscles groups or pumping excessively, encourage them to continue doing so to the detriment of their condition. If they ask you why you aren’t pumping up or why you are eating McDonald's, just shrug and tell them you read it on the internet and let it play in their head. There is nothing worse than watching someone in better condition than you eating McDonald's and not pumping up. At this point, it is a head game, and if you can get in their head and improve your condition at the same time, it’s a win-win for you — hopefully literally. Just Sayin’.

Image courtesy of Csak Istvan © 123RF.com

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