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The Ultimate Guide to Getting More Vascular

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Matthew Smith

Staff Writer


Introduction

There is an argument that can be made that looking vascular is pure vanity, there aren’t really any physiological benefits to looking more vascular. It just looks cool. But since when has looking cool been a bad thing? In this article we will provide the ultimate guide to getting more vascular, teaching you how to craft the perfect, vascular body and maintain it for as long as you want.

What Is Vascularity?

The term vascular isn’t really a scientific term, it’s a bodybuilding term. In medical science vascular means “relating to or affecting, or consisting of a vessel, or vessels, especially those which carry blood” [1]. Calling yourself vascular is like calling yourself muscular. Everyone has muscles and everyone has blood vessels.

What the term means in bodybuilding is: Having blood vessels that are visible under your skin. In that they stick out, we’re not talking about people who are so pale you can see their blood vessels.

There are no real benefits to being vascular, it is more a sign that you are muscular and that you have very low body fat. It is a purely aesthetic goal. Being vascular tells the world that you know how to train and diet properly.

There are many factors that affect how vascular a person is, and we will go through each of them in this article. However, it is important to note that genetics does have a large part to play in how easy it is to get vascular.

What Factors Determine Your Vascularity?

There are four main factors that determine your vascularity, though not all of them affect your vascularity equally.

1. Genetics

Sadly, as with many things in life, your genetics can make a huge difference to how vascular you look. Or we guess that a better way of putting it would be that genetics make a huge difference to how easy it is to look vascular. Skin thickness is one genetic factor that will make massively affect vascularity. Having a thick skin may be useful when it comes to taking insults, but it certainly does not help you look more vascular. Blame your parents! They won’t mind, they’re pretty thick skinned too.

2. Muscle Mass

Luckily, there are things that you can do to increase your vascularity that are not influenced by genetics. Build enough muscle mass and you should start to see an increase. This is because the more muscle you have, the more blood needs to be supplied to them. This leads to an increase in the number of blood vessels surrounding them, as well as the surface area of these vessels. Leading to a more vascular look.

3. Short-term Measures

There are ways to temporarily increase your vascularity, such as nitric oxide supplements, high-volume weights workouts, dehydration, and creatine monohydrate. However, for these to work you still need to have decent muscle mass as well as the following factor …

4. Body Fat Percentage

More than anything, you need to have a low body fat percentage if you want to appear vascular. This is because the majority of fat is stored subcutaneously, which means it is stored under the skin. To be able to see your veins a male would need a body fat percentage that was in the single figures, while a woman would need a body fat percentage of around 12-15%.

Training for vascularity is basically training for extreme fat loss, and if you are planning on getting vascular then you will need to accept this. A vascular diet is just an intense weight loss diet which focuses on maintaining muscle mass.

How To Get Vascular

Getting vascular can take a lot of time, it really depends on your genetics and where you are currently in your training. A 40-year-old 300lb guy who hasn’t lifted since High school is going to take longer to reach this goal than a guy who already has visible abs and has trained 5 times per week for a decade. So, giving out specific advice for getting vascular is a difficult task.

With that in mind we are going to create a scenario that we believe would suit most people. If you are very overweight, then you probably aren’t reading an article on vascularity. If you already have a fine set of abs, then you are 90% of the way there and you can jump in at the end of this section where things become relevant.

We are going to aim this at an average gym goer, attends the gym three times per week and has been going for a year. This guy has lost some weight and built some muscle but is still at around 16% body fat, he weighs 90kg meaning that he has 14.4kg of fat. If this sounds in any way familiar congratulations! This section is going to be perfectly suited to you.

Your vascular program is going to be split into three sections, each lasting 12 weeks. Yes, that is right, you are going to spend nine months trying to get vascular. In fact, there are provisions to make this program even longer. 20% body fat is a lot to deal with, and there is no cutting corners here.

The three phases are going to be:

  1. Strength & Hypertrophy Phase
  2. Fat Loss Phase
  3. Shredding

Starting at 20% body fat and aiming to lower your body fat percentage to 8% body fat is absolutely doable. Most experts agree that a loss of 1% body fat per month is perfectly safe, we’re being a little more aggressive here, and looking to lose 12% body fat in 9 months. But we are also going to extend the time if needed.

1. Strength & Hypertrophy Phase (12 weeks)

Getting vascular can take a lot of time, it really depends on your genetics and where you are currently in your training. A 40-year-old 300lb guy who hasn’t lifted since High school is going to take longer to reach this goal than a guy who already has visible abs and has trained 5 times per week for a decade. So, giving out specific advice for getting vascular is a difficult task.

With that in mind we are going to create a scenario that we believe would suit most people. If you are very overweight, then you probably aren’t reading an article on vascularity. If you already have a fine set of abs, then you are 90% of the way there and you can jump in at the end of this section where things become relevant.

We are going to aim this at an average gym goer, attends the gym three times per week and has been going for a year. This guy has lost some weight and built some muscle but is still at around 16% body fat, he weighs 90kg meaning that he has 14.4kg of fat. If this sounds in any way familiar congratulations! This section is going to be perfectly suited to you.

Your vascular program is going to be split into three sections, each lasting 12 weeks. Yes, that is right, you are going to spend nine months trying to get vascular. In fact, there are provisions to make this program even longer. 20% body fat is a lot to deal with, and there is no cutting corners here.

The three phases are going to be:

  1. Strength & Hypertrophy Phase
  2. Fat Loss Phase
  3. Shredding

Starting at 20% body fat and aiming to lower your body fat percentage to 8% body fat is absolutely doable. Most experts agree that a loss of 1% body fat per month is perfectly safe, we’re being a little more aggressive here, and looking to lose 12% body fat in 9 months. But we are also going to extend the time if needed.

1. Strength & Hypertrophy Phase (12 weeks)

If we are looking to lose as much body fat as possible, then why is there a strength and hypertrophy phase? There are two reasons.

Firstly, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, increasing your muscle mass is essential for increasing vascularity. It is very difficult to increase muscle mass while in a calorie deficit. So, this needs to happen before the calorie deficit is dropped too far.

Secondly, if you are currently 20% body fat, then you can still lose body fat while building muscle. This does not last very long; three months is pushing it. But why not take advantage of it? This strength and hypertrophy phase will also work as an introduction, allowing you to build muscle, improve coordination, and increase muscular endurance. You’ll need this during the latter two stages.

If you are already in good shape, then you can skip this phase completely. You’ve already been participating in this phase by going to the gym regularly for months and years.

The strength and hypertrophy phase is going to involve mostly compound movements with a few strategically placed isolation movements (got to get some bicep curls in, right?). Think deadlifts, squats, bench presses etc …

We’re going to keep this example training program as simple as possible, it will work fine, but you are more than welcome to change things around to suit your needs/desires.

Full Body Workout 3 x per week

  • Bench Press
  • T-Bar Row
  • Military Press
  • Bicep Curls
  • Cable Tricep Pulldown
  • Barbell Squats
  • Lunges
  • Crunches

You would perform this at high reps for 4 weeks, then lower the reps for the next 4 weeks, and then the final 4 weeks would see you lowering the reps each week until the final week you’re only performing 1-3 reps.

  • Weeks 1-4: 3 x 15-20 reps per exercise
  • Weeks 5-8: 3 x 8-12 reps per exercise
  • Week 9: 3 x 6-8 reps per exercise
  • Week 10: 3 x 4-6 reps per exercise*
  • Week 11: 3 x 2-4 reps per exercise*
  • Week 12: 3 x 1-3 reps per exercise*

* Crunches should be 3 x 20 reps regardless of the other exercise rep ranges.

The final week should have you lifting the heaviest weights yet. Make sure that your rest between sets is 3 minutes, and that you are using the full range of motion for each rep.

Diet: You don’t really need to change your calories much, create a small deficit if you are 20% or more body fat (100-200 calories per day) but remember the goal here is to build muscle mass and strength. Due to the increase in exercise activity you should see a drop in body fat anyway.

2. Fat Loss Phase (12 weeks +)

Now that you’ve built up your strength and muscle mass it is time to start concentrating on burning some body fat! In the last phase the exercises took precedent, but in this phase, it really is all about the nutrition. You could follow any form of training program provided your calorie targets are hit.

By now you should know how to track your calories, and you should have a good idea of what your daily calorie expenditure is. If not, then please use this online calculator [2]. Work out your maintenance calories, this is the number of calories you could consume per day and neither gain nor lose weight. Now you want to create a calorie deficit of 500.

This is a rough number that suits most men and women. However, it is not suitable for everyone – particularly the very large or very small. Find out your maintenance calorie target and multiply it by 0.8 which will give you a 20% deficit. This is a good starting point.

So, if your maintenance calories per day is 2,500 your new calorie target is 2,000. Simple enough! Remember to weigh yourself, take measurements of your chest, abdominals, legs, arms, and hips, and take some “before” photos before starting.

After 4 weeks you need to re-measure yourself to see how much (if any) weight you have lost. You then need to decide whether this is too much, too little, or just right. Think about other factors other than your physique. Are you constantly tired? Is training becoming way too difficult? Has your libido dropped? These could all be indications that you have dropped too many calories.

On the other hand, if your fat loss is non-existent then you’ll need to examine why. A 500-calorie deficit is too big to not see results. So, the most likely cause is bad calorie tracking on your part. Are you weighing your food? Are you tracking everything? Have you remembered to track the oil you use when you cook? All of this could mean that your 500-calorie deficit is actually a 0-calorie deficit.

If you are tracking perfectly then you may want to consider increasing the deficit. Remember, if you have lost weight, then your metabolism will have been reduced. It is now time to recalibrate and reset your targets. Repeat this every four weeks (but take measurements at the end of every week).

By the end of this phase you should have dropped a significant amount of body fat. A calorie deficit of 500 per day should lead to a drop in body weight of 12lbs or 5kg. If we assume that in this time you will lose some muscle (let’s say 1kg) the rest is pure fat loss.

If we go back to our example of a 90kg man with 16% body fat (14.4kg fat). He would now weigh 85kg with 10.4kg of fat which is round about 12% body fat. Not bad at all. You should be able to see your abdominals now, though they may not be perfectly defined. This is an excellent body fat percentage to live on by the way. The next phase will show you how to drop your body fat percentage even further, but it is unhealthy to stay below 10% body fat for a long period of time. You’ll want to eventually get back to around the 12% mark.

Before we move on to the final phase, we thought we’d give you an example workout to follow. Remember though, that when in the fat loss phase, it doesn’t really matter what program you follow it’s mostly about diet.

Full Body Workout 4 x per week

Session One (Push)

  • Bench Press 3 x 8-12
  • Cable Chest Flyes 3 x 15-20
  • Barbell Push Press 3 x 8-12
  • Skull Crushers 3 x 12
  • Leg Press 3 x 12-15
  • Leg Extension 3 x 8-12
  • Crunches 3 x 20

Session Two (Pull)

  • Deadlift 3 x 6
  • Lying Leg curls 3 x 12-15
  • Lat Pulldown 3 x 12-15
  • Seated Cable Row 3 x 8-12
  • Barbell Bicep Curls 3 x 12-15
  • Crunches 3 x 20

Session Three (Push)

  • Bench Press 3 x 8-12
  • Cable Chest Flyes 3 x 15-20
  • Barbell Push Press 3 x 8-12
  • Skull Crushers 3 x 12
  • Leg Press 3 x 12-15
  • Leg Extension 3 x 8-12
  • Crunches 3 x 20

Session Four (Pull)

  • Deadlift 3 x 6
  • Lying Leg curls 3 x 12-15
  • Lat Pulldown 3 x 12-15
  • Seated Cable Row 3 x 8-12
  • Barbell Bicep Curls 3 x 12-15
  • Crunches 3 x 20

You can add in some HIIT or low intensity cardio if you want, perhaps on your rest days? Rest periods should be around 45-60 seconds between sets.

3. Shredding Phase (12 weeks)

Usually the shredding phase is very short, this is because you don’t want to spend too much time with sub 10% body fat. However, we are doing this slowly remember, and should be at around 12% body fat according to our example. If you are lower than this then you will require less time to reach sub 8% which is where your vascularity becomes obvious.

To be honest, there isn’t much difference between the fat loss phase and the shredding phase. All you are going to do is increase the calorie deficit by 100 calories each week. As your body fat drops you may want to reduce the intensity of your training, but other than that you can keep it the same.

Keep assessing yourself, but this time you should be doing it every week. This is because 1) you will have learnt so much about your body and weight fluctuations by now that you can tell quicker whether your calories are too high, just right, or too low. 2) Now that the deficit is getting larger results may start to come quicker. There is no guarantee, fat loss is never linear in the way we would like, but basically this is true.

It is about now that the short term measures for vascularity can begin to be used. Nitric oxide enhancing supplements (any pre-workout that mentions “pump”), very high rep sets, creatine monohydrate etc … will all help you to look more vascular. Take lots of photos, enjoy looking like a human roadmap, and then start to consider reintroducing calories. You can get yourself back up to 12% body fat and then make decisions on whether you want to build more muscle or cycle back to low body fat again. It really is your choice. Just remember that being consistently sub 10% body fat will lead to reduced testosterone, bad sleep, loss of muscle, and a rubbish mood. Being vascular is cool, being healthy is cooler.

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