What Causes Vascularity and Can You Improve Muscle Pumps?

What Causes Vascularity and Can You Improve Muscle Pumps?

Have you ever had those gym sessions where the pump you get from a some arm curls or leg presses gets so intense that you feel like your muscles could explode at any minute?

Your veins are so pumped and your skin feels so tight that you’ve doubled in size?

Hell yes. You’ve got those vascular gains going off.

But what exactly causes vascularity and can you harness it’s muscle-ripping power more effectively?

In this article we take a look…

What is Vascularity?

When we talk about vascularity, we’re primarily talking about the vascular system – your heart that pumps blood around your body and the network of blood vessels that lie under your skin. It’s their job to work together to regulate circulation.

Your vascular system is responsible for pushing blood, oxygen and nutrients to your working muscles, and removing cellular sludge, carbon dioxide and byproducts so they can get eliminated from the body.

What causes a muscle pump?

Your muscles are closely related to the vascular system – if blood vessels are the highways that blood travels down, then muscles are the destination.

When you contract a muscle (such as when you lift weights) you inhibit blood from entering it because it compresses your blood vessels. It’s a bit like closing down the hatches for winter because it’s completely off limits during contraction.

And when the muscle relaxes you get an overflow of blood that spurts into the muscle in order to make up for the loss of blood volume during contraction.

This is what’s called the skeletal muscle pump. 

When you contract a muscle repeatedly you cause a number of cellular changes that increase blood flow. Simply because you need more oxygen to power the muscle whilst your chasing gains.

Firstly, there’s a release of a chemical in your body called nitric oxide. This compound forces specific cells called endothelial cells to expand your blood vessels, making them wider. This process is called vasodilation.

When your blood vessels then dilate you can push more blood and oxygen through to the target muscle. There’s also an increase in blood plasma too as this carries all of the nutrients that your muscles need.

The result? One insane pump.

Handsome muscular bodybuilder demonstrates his fist and vein blood vessels. Studio shot on black background
  • Key Point: Vascularity is the result of a number of mechanical and chemical changes in the body that lead to an increase in blood flow and nutrient delivery during exercise.

Best ways to Increase Vascularity

Whether you’re a hardcore bodybuilder or physique model just about ready to walk on stage, prepping for a summer holiday or just a guy on his way down to the bar for the evening, we all enjoy a good muscle-splitting pump.

There’s nothing more aesthetic than a good muscle pump.

But can you increase vascularity? And if so how?

You most certainly can. Here’s how…

#1. Get lean and add muscle mass

If you aren’t already lean or you don’t hold much muscle mass then this is the place to start. Excess body fat will mask any vascularity because it sites above your vascular system.

You’re aiming for your body fat to be as low as possible to maximize vascularity – but single digit numbers for men or sub 15% for women is where you’ll notice the magic start to happen.

And to slice down you body fat whilst maintaining muscle you’re looking at a combination of a calorie deficit, strength training and some cardio too.

And the more muscle you have, the more of your vascular tissue you can stimulate. It’s a known fact that through regular exercise stimulation, blood vessels will increase in number and density, leading to better blood flow.

#2. Use Nitric oxide-boosting foods and supplements

Foods that are rich in nitrates such as spinach, beetroot or a beetroot supplement. increase levels of nitric oxide in the blood.

As you already know, nitric oxide is the catalyst for vasodilation as it triggers the initial increase in blood vessel size.

But the precursor to nitric oxide is nitrate – a type of organic ester found in soil, water and of course some foods.

You’ll also find that watermelon stimulates vascularity and muscle pumps as it contains citrulline malate – another all-natural compound that increases nitric oxide production.

Muscular bodybuilder performing bicep curls with dumbbells in the gym

#3. Use moderate or high rep ranges

For the skeletal muscle pump to stimulate vasodilation there has to be the right kind of stimulus. If you life heavy weights you might find that your nervous system packs up before you’ve had time to trigger that potent nitric oxide production.

So going a little lighter allows you to gradually work up your blood flow without succumbing to fatigue. Just think – every time you squeeze or contract a muscle you’re forcing more blood into it during the relaxation phase. So more reps equals more blood flow.

#4. Throw in some advanced training methods

To really chase that mega pump you can use advanced weight lifting techniques such as blood flow restriction training (BFR) or intermittent stretch overload training.

These types of protocols purposely manipulate blood flow by increasing the time that the muscles are contracted (and thus forcing more blood into it after it relaxes) or by affecting the way in which blood travels too and from the muscle to heighten the vascular effect.

For example, BFR uses a specialized cuff or tourniquet worn around the muscle to restrict blood from leaving the muscle during weight training. This leads to extreme cell swelling because you’re essentially packing blood into a muscle and refusing it from leaving.

Stretch overload places a loaded muscle under stretch for a period of time so no oxygen or blood can enter the muscle – and of course when you relax you get a surge a blood and consequently powerful vascularity.

#5. Decrease fluid retention

If you’re holding lots of water in your muscle cells you’ll never get that ripped, shredded look.

Now don’t get us wrong – if you’re still a little wobbly because of excess body fat this one won’t work as well. It assumes you’re already pretty lean.

But using techniques such as water manipulation, flushing or drying out can make a massive difference to your vascularity because they minimize water content in the muscles and under the skin allowing your blood vessels to poke through and show off their vascular goodness

All you need to know is how to do it.

Firstly you’ll spend a few days drinking more water than normal. A lot more (shoot for a good 2-3 liters per day). You’ll do this whilst at the same time reducing your carb intake. You’re aiming to do this to deplete your glycogen levels and force your muscles to soak up any carbs that are floating around your body.

You’re also aiming to switch on ‘flushing mode’ for the upcoming days. If you do this right, your muscles should begin to get fuller and you should be urinating non-stop as your body tries to get rid of the excess water.

Next, you’ll drastically drop your water intake. But your body is in flushing mode still – and this leads to you getting rid of more water than what you would have before you ‘watered up’. You’re like a fountain – or what’s called supercompensation.

The result? A dried out, vascular physique with a full muscle and visible striations.


Vascularity refers to the pump you experience during physical activity. It is caused by a number of mechanical and chemical changes in the blood vessels that result in vasodilation ,and as such, helps to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle.

Although vascular changes are not permanent, there are a number of things you can do to improve your muscle pumps. These range from the way you train in the gym to the types of foods and supplements you choose as well.

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  • Smash your workouts – feel your nervous system firing on all cylinders
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