How to Be More Vascular: Process Explained

Vascularity, as it is commonly used in fitness, refers to the visibility of blood vessels on the skin. It does not have any actual benefits, but it increases the aesthetic appeal of bodybuilders and is a sign of muscularity and low body fat percentage. Improving vascularity requires hard work and a good understanding of anatomic processes that lead to the increased size of blood vessels. 

Combining cardiovascular exercise and strength training along with a healthy diet, sufficient water intake, and intake of additional supplements will improve the body’s overall vascularity.

This article will discuss the factors that affect vascularity and explain the processes involved in increasing vascularity. It will also give pointers to apply the understanding of these factors on workout and diet routines to improve vascularity. 

Factors Affecting Vascularity

Body Fat Percentage

body fat percentage examples

Body fat percentage affects vascularity as subcutaneous fat, or the layer of fat under the skin, can hide the superficial veins. An overweight individual can have a harder time developing vascularity due to the thick layer of subcutaneous fat preventing the superficial vein from manifesting onto the skin, even as heart rate rises through exercise. 

Maintaining a good muscle-to-fat ratio can help in reducing the amount of subcutaneous fat as well as push the superficial vein to the surface of the skin. A combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise can help achieve optimal muscle-to-fat ratio.

The ideal body fat percentage for vascularity is around 8%. This body fat percentage will manifest vascularity around the body, even when the blood vessels are in a relaxed state. It is also a good standard to follow for displaying competition-level vascularity. 

People with 10-12% body fat percentage can also have good vascularity, especially after a workout. At this body fat percentage, the cephalic vein, or the prominent bicep vein, can manifest after a workout too.

Moreover, people who have 15%+ body fat percentage need to combine strength training, cardio, and diet changes to lower their body fat percentage in order to have visible vascularity.

Women also have to engage in these exercises and lifestyle habits to achieve vascularity because they naturally have less muscle and more fat than men. 

Muscle Mass

Along with body fat percentage, muscle mass, or the overall weight of the muscles in the body, also affects vascularity. Bigger muscles help in pushing the superficial vein to the surface of the skin, which becomes more prominent with less subcutaneous fat. 

Blood vessels become dilated through vasodilation, or expansion of the blood vessels, when working out. It also remains dilated for a certain period of time after working out. Repeated vasodilation can cause the blood vessels to remain dilated even as the blood vessels revert to a rested state. 

To showcase optimal vascularity, it is best to take photos of the body at around 15-20 minutes after a workout. This takes advantage of the remaining vasodilation, especially for people who are still working on their muscle-to-fat ratio. For more permanent vascularity, however, alternating between mass building and fat burning routines can help improve vascularity. 

Water Retention

Water retention refers to the process of absorbing water into the cells. High water retention can lead to puffiness of the subcutaneous layer of the skin which can hinder vascularity.

Water retention occurs as an adaptation to low water levels in the body. High sodium concentration in the body can also cause water retention because sodium brings water with it as it is absorbed into the cells.

High stress levels or high concentration of the cortisol hormone can also cause water retention along with high aldosterone hormone levels. Aldosterone is responsible for maintaining a balance between sodium and potassium in the body.

Some of the symptoms of water retention include bloatedness, swollen legs, puffiness, and stiff joints. It can also cause weight fluctuations, which is a great concern for bodybuilders and professional athletes.

Ways to Improve Vascularity

Diet

An ideal diet for improving vascularity is comprised of a macro-nutrient balance of high protein, low carbs, and high fat. 

Protein helps in building muscle mass and can be obtained from both animal and plant sources. A high-protein diet is usually composed of foods like meat, egg, beans, nuts, and seafood. 

Carbohydrate consumption for greater mass gain and fat loss should be composed of complex carbohydrates found in sweet potatoes and brown rice. Simple carbohydrates in pasta and white rice can cause accumulation of subcutaneous and visceral fat which can hinder vascularity. 

Fat will act as the balancing mechanism between protein and carbohydrates to ensure a gradual caloric deficit to facilitate steady mass gain and weight loss. Intake of healthy fat found in fruits like avocado and coconut. Nuts like macadamia and walnuts also have high healthy fat content.

An overweight individual should aim to reduce 0.5 to 1.5 pounds of excess weight per week until he/she achieves a good muscle-to-fat ratio at an ideal weight. This can be achieved through a caloric deficit of 300-500 calories from your recommended caloric intake per day.  

Hydration

daily water intake

Lowering water retention requires the balancing of sodium and potassium in the body. Sodium can cause water retention while potassium can flush the water out from the cells. The Institute of Medicine recommends a maximum of 2300mg of sodium and 4700mg of potassium per day.

Drinking plenty of water can prevent water retention in cells. The recommended water intake is 3/4 gallon to 1 gallon of water per day for adults, with an addition of 1 to 1.5 liters per hour of workout. This can also be combined with a low-carb diet to greatly improve vascularity.

Certain hydration routines can also help in lowering water retention on specific days. Professional athletes and bodybuilders perform these routines in preparation for upcoming competitions or events.

An example hydration routine involves a loading phase of 4-5 days where the person drinks over 5 liters of water per day. Then, for the next two days, he/she will cut back on water intake or barely drink any water. On the day of the event, the person can drink wine to further reduce water retention

Diuretics can also help expel water and sodium from the body. Natural diuretics include coffee, celery, eggplant, and onion. However, water is usually taken with caffeine which counters its effects as a diuretic.

Supplements for Increasing Vasodilation

Vasodilation is the process of expanding the blood vessels. Nitric Oxide (NO) is the primary hormone that facilitates vasodilation in the body. As a vasodilator, it increases blood flow into the muscles for faster transportation of oxygen. The endothelial cells produce nitric oxide during physical training.

Certain supplements function as NO precursors to increase the production of NO in the body. They help promote vasodilation and improve vascularity. Glycerol and L-citrulline are known NO precursors as well as agmatine and ornithine.

Thermogenic products such as caffeine and ginger can also increase vascularity by increasing the heat produced in the body. This widens the blood vessels and raises basal metabolic rate.

Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise and other aerobic activities promote fat loss by helping achieve a daily caloric deficit and reducing body fat percentage. These are essential factors for improving vascularity. 

Cardio can also increase blood pressure as the heart pumps more blood into the various parts of the body. This promotes cell swelling and expands the blood vessels.

While this can increase capillary density or size of the blood vessels, it can also produce smaller blood vessels which can also improve vascularity. 

“Pump” Workout Routines

arm pump

Pump workout routines, which facilitate metabolite accumulation and cell swelling, can help increase metabolic stress on the muscles. Greater metabolic stress stimulates the production of nitric oxide in the body which increases muscle endurance over time. Pump workouts are usually characterized by high repetition at reduced weights with short rests in between each set.

A nine-month vascular program, moreover, can provide the best workout structure to achieve optimal vascularity. These vascular programs are composed of three phases namely: strength and hypertrophy phase, fat loss phase, and shredding phase. Each of these phases lasts three months and works on building muscle mass and fat loss.

Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFRT)

Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFRT) aims to increase vascularity in specific parts of the body. Blood Flow Restriction increases the size of the blood vessels by partially restricting blood flow back to the heart and pooling blood in blood vessels in specific parts of the body. 

The common pump routine performed with BFRT includes four sets of leg extensions, tricep dips, and bicep curls with 10-15 repetitions and 30 seconds of rest in between sets.

Circulatory restriction methods can increase muscle size and vascularity. However, these circulatory inhibiting methods can be detrimental and dangerous if performed excessively. 

Final Thoughts

The various requirements on body fat, muscle mass, water retention, and diet make improving vascularity a great challenge, especially for those who do not possess the genetics for vascularity. More importantly, improving vascularity takes time as it often comes as the final touch in a well-defined muscular physique. 

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Is Time Under Tension a Myth? An Analysis

Time under Tension (TUT) is a widely used time-based metric that prioritizes increasing the duration of repetitions and sets rather than weight lifted. This method was popularized in the 90s and was widely accepted and adopted as opposed to progressive overload. However, critics were quick to refute TUT and some even label it as a “myth.”

Time under tension is a fitness principle and is not a myth. It is a timing-based metric used with other fitness principles like progressive overload, metabolic fatigue, and cell swelling to enable adequate muscle growth.

Time under tension provides a good alternative to traditional methods of training. However, it is important to learn and discern the proper ways to use time under tension and how to incorporate it properly into an existing fitness program.

What is Time Under Tension?

Time Under Tension refers to the amount of time it takes to complete a repetition and/or set. For repetitions, people measure TUT with ratios like 3:1:1 or 5:1:5. These three numbers represent the number of seconds used to execute the three phases of the repetition. Sometimes, a fourth number is added to the ratio to represent the amount of time in seconds to rest before performing another repitition.

Repetitions of any exercise consist of three parts: eccentric phase, isometric phase, and concentric phase.

The eccentric phase is where the muscles become shorter and the muscle fibers are squeezed together. To illustrate, in a bench press this is where the barbell comes in contact with the chest.

The isometric phase is the transition between the eccentric and the concentric phase.

The concentric phase is where the muscles elongate. In a bench press this is when the arms are elongated as the person lifts the barbell away from their body.

types of muscle contractions

TUT ranges from 20 to 70 seconds. The common standards for strength, muscle mass, and endurance are 20 seconds, 40-70 seconds, and 70 seconds or more, respectively. People often use TUT as an alternative to counting repetitions in a set. In its heyday, this method of training led to the methodical timing of lifts.

People believe that increasing TUT will lead to a greater increase in muscle mass. Thus, instead of the conventional repetition counting, people began to alter the amount of time in seconds they devote to each phase of the workout. A 3:1:1 repetition will increase strength, while a 5:1:5 repetition is best for reaching muscle hypertrophy.

Scientific studies also support the TUT claim, stating that it helps in increasing protein synthesis essential for muscle growth. There is a popular belief that the eccentric phase of the repetition produces greater micro-trauma to the muscles than the concentric phase, leading to more muscle growth. This led people to double the time devoted to the eccentric phase of the repetition (hence 3:1:1 and 5:1:5).

TUT also altered the isometric phase of the workout, stating that pausing for one second before transitioning between the eccentric and concentric phase removes the potential for momentum and forces the muscle to execute the exercise. Resting for one second in between the eccentric and concentric phase also mentally activates the muscles and helps engage more muscle fibers.

Is it Better to Lift Slowly to Increase TUT?

The TUT fitness philosophy comes from the understanding that lactic acid build-up is a good indicator of muscle growth. Lactic acid build-up occurs when the muscles are worked beyond their normal capacity, and a burning sensation begins in the muscles during the lift. The TUT prescribes that people must slow down their lifts to activate the lactic acid build-up better in the muscles.

The TUT method activates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and with greater intensity than traditional rep-counting workouts. It also has longer muscle recovery time than traditional workouts, which further convinced people on the effectiveness of the TUT method for building muscle.

Several benefits of TUT include the ability to focus on form to help prevent joint injuries. The slow, albeit controlled movement that’s associated with TUT also promotes more purposeful movements and greater mind-body connection. This subsequently leads to better breathing, better body alignment and posture, and greater muscle control.

Slower lifts also create greater tension in the eccentric phase of the lift. According to the TUT training philosophy, slower lift result in more tension in the muscles and allows you to reach hypertrophy faster with less effort.

The Process of Muscle Growth

muscle contraction

The most accepted explanation for the muscle growth process includes only three mechanisms: progressive overload, metabolic fatigue/stress, and muscle damage or cell swelling.

Most fitness experts would subscribe to the principle of progressive overload which aims to overwork the muscles towards metabolic fatigue to deplete its energy and signal anabolic growth for muscle gain through recovery from muscle damage. In this process, three crucial variables contribute to muscle development: frequency, intensity, and volume.

Frequency indicates the number of repetitions in a set; Intensity represents the amount of weight; Volume represents the total volume of weight lifted during the entire set.

Training volume, which is the combined values of weight x repetitions x sets, is one of the most important variables to assess the effectiveness of a routine. Volumes that do not reach beyond the capacity of the muscles do not effectively engender muscle growth.

Another important factor for muscle growth is mechanical tension. This represents the amount of stress the muscles experience during each repetition. A common adage among traditional fitness experts is that muscles do not know repetitions or cannot experience time; they only experience external stress or pressure. Thus, in terms of traditional fitness training, mechanical tension is a more important factor than time under tension for muscle growth.

Time Under Tension vs Progressive Overload

TUT is not a myth, but the foundations of its claims on muscle growth are contested widely in the fitness world. Training using time under tension is important for muscle growth, but it ignores other factors of muscle growth like mechanical tension and progressive overload. The TUT method relies solely on applying pressure to the muscle for longer duration without considering progressively overloading the muscles and applying optimal mechanical tension.

One of the primary basis for the perceived success of TUT is the longer and more painful DOMS, but traditional fitness experts say that people should never use pain as an indicator of workout success or failure. Truth be told, there is no scientific explanation for why DOMS occur. However most people subscribe to the beliefs above that micro-tears in the muscles result in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

The flawed foundation of the TUT method is also exposed in scientific research as some have shown negligible improvement in strength and size in using TUT as compared with traditional methods. Other studies also show that faster paced training is more effective because of the higher peak force and training volume. There are also established scientific literature on the positive relationship between hypertrophy and training volume, while there are none for lifting tempo and muscle development.

Contrary to TUT, the best method to achieve higher training volume is through progressive overload coupled with explosive repetitions. This method takes advantage of the inverse relationship between the amount of tension and the amount of time for the lift. This means that people can only lift heavier weights for a shorter period of time before reaching muscle fatigue. Thus, people use explosive reps to stave muscle fatigue longer and perform more lifts using heavier weight.

The main flaw in TUT is its focus on lift tempo and lack of consideration for progressive overloading. The method prescribed in TUT of lifting slower reduces the total amount of training volume per set because lifting slower will force the individual to scale down on the weight in order to adhere to time per set/rep. Therefore, despite inducing DOMS, the total “work” being done by the muscle is reduced.

Final Thoughts

The main goal of TUT is to work the muscles longer by altering the timing of lifts. In terms of promoting muscle growth, progressive overload is the most widely accepted and time-tested method.

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