How to Increase Vascularity for Roadmap Arms

By on March 26, 2018

Learn how to increase vascularity and you can not only create that awesome roadmap-arms look, but also potentially enhance your performance in the gym. Here’s what you need to know…

Sylvester Stallone is not quite as ripped as he once was, which is definitely understandable seeing as he’s now 71 years old.

And don’t get me wrong, he’s still in awesome shape. And in some ways, he actually looks even more awesome. And the reason for that has a lot to do with his incredible vascularity. His forearms look like road maps and it makes him look incredibly jacked. Speaking of jacked, this is also a great look for Hugh Jackman.

hugh jackman wolverine vascular

Hugh Jackman from X-Men: Days of Future Past

As you get older, increasing vascularity becomes a little easier seeing as your skin becomes thinner your subcutaneous fat is redistributed. But what if you want the veiny look now? And what if you want to benefit from the potential gains in performance that can come from knowing how to increase vascularity? Let’s break it down.

All aboard the vein train!

Chase the Pump to Increase Vascularity

Jeff Cavaliere of AthleanX has a fantastic video on vascularity. He points out how your veins become more prominent during the summer, due to changes in temperature. When it’s colder, your body brings your veins closer to your warmer core to keep you warm. When it’s warmer, it pushes the veins up to the top in order to help you cool back down.

This is possible due to the fact that your veins and your arteries actually have smooth muscle within their veins. Interestingly, your arteries – which carry blood away from the heart – contain more smooth muscle than your veins.

chasing the pump

Vascular smooth muscle is able to contract and relax in order to alter you’re the dilation of your blood vessels to increase or increase blood pressure. This can also occur in response to increased adrenaline and it is able to increase local blood pressure – which helps to drive blood flow where it is needed. During a fight or flight response, that means that blood will be driven to your muscles and brain. During a workout, it will be sent to the target muscle groups. Your body really is an incredible piece of machinery…

And what this tells us, is that there are also potential performance gains to be had from training vascular smooth muscle – as it will help our bodies to become better at delivering oxygen and nutrients to the areas that need them!

the best way to train for increased vascularity therefore is to train with super high reps

This is also good news for those looking to achieve a more vascular look. Where there is muscle, there is the potential for hypertrophy! Jeff recommends that the best way to train for increased vascularity therefore is to train with super high reps – like a bodybuilder. In other words, chase the pump. This increases local blood pressure as blood is sent to the working muscle. That blood then pools in the area (this is called occlusion) which leads to hypertrophy. But it also increases vascularity in the short term and makes it easier to achieve in the long term.

This makes perfect sense to me. I’m someone who trains with high reps myself and I would argue that I have pretty good vascularity considering I have a fairly high bodyfat percentage. Likewise, watching Stallone’s training suggests to me that he also chases the pump during his training.

This works best with isolation movements and rep ranges of 15+. The way I recommend doing this is by using drop sets. Drop sets are in my opinion the most under-utilized tool in the gym and pretty much the answer to everything. By starting with a higher weight, then dropping to a lower weight without pausing in between, you can achieve super-high rep ranges while still challenging yourself with higher weights at least to begin with. Run the rack and you can start with a heavy weight but ultimately be pushing for 10, 20 or 30 reps without a break.

Want to take this even further? Then use my personal favorite intensity technique: burns. Burns are tiny quarter-reps that you perform at the end of a set-in order to keep going past failure. When you can perform no more repetitions, instead of giving up, dropping the weight or using cheats or assisted reps – you simply bounce the weights just a fraction.

I incorporate these kinds of techniques into all my workouts and I believe it has lead to my gaining some pretty decent vascularity. If you’re only using compound movements or low repetitions, think about incorporating high rep ranges at least some of the time. In short, that is how to increase vascularity.

More Ways to Increase Vascularity

Other than using high rep ranges, another thing you can do to increase your vascularity is to try using contrast showers. These are showers that have you enduring bouts of hot and cold showers. We’ve already discussed that changing environmental temperatures will cause you to use your vascular smooth muscle, so by using contrast showers, you may be able to increase your thermoregulatory abilities and help the vascular smooth muscle to do its thing.

contrast showers to increase vascularity

It also stands to reason that BFR (blood flow restriction training) may have some relation here. This means training with a tourniquet or band placed around the muscle in order to occlude the blood. Tie a tourniquet above the bicep for instance, then perform curls. This traps the blood in the lower arm causing cell swelling that may lead to hypertrophy according to some studies. It will certainly give you a pump and bulging veins in the short term. In the long term, it might just help you to increase vascularity in a similar way to training with high reps.

blood flow restriction training

Apparently, walking around with tourniquets around the tops of your legs is enough to cause increases in size and strength! So maybe this could work on your biceps too if you just role up tight sleeves? That’s pure speculation, but if nothing else that’s a hack to get temporarily veiny looking arms. Just stop if your hands start to go blue.

How to Increase Nitric Oxide for Vascularity

As well as vascular smooth muscle, veins and arteries also contain endothelium – cells that line the interior surface of the blood vessels and which are responsible among other things for producing nitric oxide. As you may already know, increasing nitric oxide can increase ‘vasodilation’ which is the fancy term for dilated blood vessels.

There are plenty of ways that we can raise nitric oxide. For instance, combining garlic and vitamin C has been shown to increase nitric oxide by up to 200% (study). Garlic is high in nitrites which the tongue converts to nitritine, while vitamin C protects the nitric oxide molecules that get created as a result. Interestingly, using a mouthwash may actually be harmful to this process as it can kill off the ‘healthy’ bacteria that live in the mouth.

combining garlic and vitamin C has been shown to increase nitric oxide by up to 200%

Of course, many pre-workouts that contain the likes of l-arginine and citrulline malate are designed specifically for this purpose.

Beetroot juice meanwhile is another vasodilator and seems to greatly enhance athletic performance when consumed in quantities of around 500-600ml 2-2.5 hours before exercise (study). In fact, it has been shown to enhance athletic performance by up to 3% (study)! Omega 3 fatty acid is also great for raising nitric oxide, which should come as no surprise because omega 3 is good for everything.

Lowering Bodyfat for Aesthetic Vascularity

Otherwise, getting great-looking veins is about lowering bodyfat and increasing muscular density. Bigger muscles means greater demand for blood supply and it forces the veins to the top of the skin. Lowering your bodyfat percentage meanwhile will reduce the amount of subcutaneous fat that lies between the veins and the skin.

There are certain parts of the body where the skin is naturally thinner and bodyfat is naturally lower. One such example is the forearms, which also happen to be the part of the body that you get to display while wearing clothes.

It makes sense then that one of the best ways to increase aesthetic vascularity, is to train the muscles in the forearm. I just made an entire video discussing grip training and forearm training, so watch that for all the tips you could need. This will make perhaps the biggest difference if you want to know how to increase vascularity.

As well as reducing subcutaneous fat, you also need to focus on reducing subcutaneous water retention. If your body is holding onto water just beneath your skin, then this will also hide your veins out of site. And counterintuitively, the best way to reduce water under the skin is to drink more water. This tells the body that there is no need to hold on to the water that’s there and therefore the system is flushed more efficiently. Most people in the UK and America are chronically dehydrated so make sure you are drinking lots and drinking regularly. Your pee shouldn’t be yellow and pungent. If you pee is currently like thick honey, drinking more water will be how to increase vascularity quickly.

You also need to make sure you are balancing your electrolytes which for most people is going to mean consuming less sodium and more potassium. Stop putting salt on your eggs and start eating more bananas.

Another tip is to supplement with creatine. Creatine increases water retention in the muscles and not under the skin, meaning it can help to push your veins to the surface.

Exercise and Increasing Capillary Density

We know that veins and arteries can respond to training, seeing as studies have shown how exercise is able to increase capillary density and function. The capillaries are small blood vessels that transport nutrients and waste in and out of tissues – including muscle. Exercise increases the actual number of capillaries and can even cause them to grow.

Increase vascularity like Majin Vegeta

Interestingly, it seems that low intensity aerobic exercise seems particularly beneficial for this purpose (study) and this could potentially improve the resistance training performance and recovery by enhancing blood flow. Likewise, interval training is also beneficial for improving

Now it’s important not to confuse capillary density with vascularity. These are two different things and you wouldn’t want your capillaries to be visible because they look blue and delicate when they appear close to the surface of the skin.

BUT it makes sense that increasing capillary density might correlate with increased vascularity as it means you’ll be able to deliver more nutrients to the muscles.

In Summary: How to Increase Vascularity

Okay, so as ever this article got way longer than I intended. What are the takehomes? How can you increase vascularity and performance with a super protocol? Here are the best tips:

  • Drink plenty of water – This will also improve your performance and health overall, and I’ll be talking more about that in future!
  • Train for high reps using drop sets
  • Train the forearms
  • Lower body fat
  • Consider trying tourniquet training
  • Consider using NO boosting supplements
  • Consider contrast showers
  • Throw in some low-intensity steady-state cardio OR some interval training

Oh and wait for old age…

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. RichK says:

    How much garlic and how much vitamin

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