Controlled Reps and Pump Sets

Building the Muscle Tissue

Like many, I’ve gone back and forth between wanting to be stronger as wanting to build a more muscular looking physique. Granted, one will ultimately follow the other. However, if you’re not naturally strong and you don’t have gifted genetics in regards to muscle size and shape, you kind of have to choose one or the other. If you train purely for strength you can’t worry about your physique as much. If you’re training for aesthetics then you’re strength may suffer.

I’ve always wanted both. But I was never naturally strong and I was not born with the gifted genetics that pro bodybuilders have. That’s not to say you can’t set goals for both and achieve them. However, generally speaking you’d want to train in phases and focus on one over the other if you want to be successful.

Building and shaping the muscle requires a different training style and nutrition plan than training for power and strength. For strength you need calories, and a lot of them. You also need to put more emphasis on multi-joint compound exercises. For building muscle tissue you need to focus on doing exercises and techniques that pump more blood into the muscle and your diet, though it may shift depending on your goal, may be a bit more strict.

My goal lately has been geared towards building muscle tissue. I’ve found myself going through the motions the past few weeks so I’m starting to get back to doing controlled reps as this type of training keeps the muscle under tension longer and allows you to work the muscle rather than just performing the lift. With controlled reps I’ve also been integrating what I call pump sets for the last set of some of my exercises. These are not controlled reps and consist of higher reps. They’re quick and sometimes with a restricted range of motion. The goal is to pump more blood into the muscle.

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Controlled Reps

I actually get a better pump using controlled reps than any other weight training technique. These reps are typically performed slower, especially during the negative part of the rep. And it also allows you to contract the muscle at the peak of each rep. This ensures you’re working the muscle rather than just going through the motions of the exercise.

The thing you have to been conscience with in using controlled reps is you will indeed sacrifice strength. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go light. But don’t expect to lift maximum weight using this method. In other words, if you can bench press 225 lbs for 20 reps you will more than likely only get 10-12 reps using controlled reps. This is one of those times you have to drop the ego and remember what you’re training for; building muscle tissue.

Pump Sets

As I stated earlier, pump sets are generally done with higher, and quicker reps. My personal rep range for pump sets is usually at least 20 reps. Sometimes to ensure an extreme pump I may do a rest-pause set for these. An example would be doing a pump set of 20 reps for barbell curls, resting about 10 seconds and doing another set with the same weight. I would hope to hit around 10-12 reps that second time around, totaling over 30 reps.

To me, pump sets are a great way to end an exercise or a workout. You may also find doing a pump set is a relief after doing 3-4 controlled sets. I don’t mean that pump sets are easy but there is so much strain in doing controlled reps and the time under tension is greater. It feels good going from the slower, controlled reps to faster reps. I also feel I’m getting the best pump possible combining controlled reps and pump sets.

Rep Speed

The rep speed of controlled reps is slow to moderate. It’s very close to doing negative reps as the goal is to keep the muscle under tension throughout the entire rep. You can vary the rep speed however you see fit. It’s always best to try different techniques, rep ranges, rep speeds, etc. to see what works best for you at that time. The bottom line is to feel the muscle working and making sure you contract your muscles.

Pump sets are meant to be quicker reps and again, sometimes the range of motion is less (more along the lines of not locking out). The common goal that pump sets have with controlled reps is keeping the muscle under tension throughout the entire set, just in a different manner. On that note, I don’t recommend going so fast that your reps are sloppy. But do keep a rhythm.

Controlled Reps with Pump Sets Workout Example

Below is a sample chest workout that uses both controlled reps and pump sets. The focus is more on the controlled rep sets as we’re ending each exercise with a pump set for the final set. You can mix these up anyway you want though.

Incline Barbell Press:

3 controlled reps sets x 10, 1 pump set x 20

Dumbbell Press:

3 controlled reps sets x 12, 1 pump set x 20

Decline Dumbbell Flyes:

3 controlled reps sets x 12, 1 pump set x 20

Combining controlled reps and pump sets are a great way to ensure you’re building the muscle tissue. This is the perfect method if you feel your workouts are stagnant or maybe you’ve found yourself just going through the motions. Try using controlled reps and pump sets during your next few workouts.

Train with Passion,


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