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Are you even vascular? Do you even know what that means? Becoming more vascular is one of the more fringe topics that is only found in the world of bodybuilding. By “fringe’, we don’t mean there’s anything weird about it; instead, we suggest that the idea of having prominent veins popping through your skin is only something bodybuilders have ever thought about. That being said, “being vascular” is a state of conditioning which many wish to achieve. Therefore, we’re going to tell you what you need to do and answer all of your questions.
Let’s get vascular!
The body hosts a circulatory system that consists of a heart and an insane amount of blood vessels that run through the body. Some of these vessels carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the muscles and organs (arteries), while others bring deoxygenated blood from the muscles and organs back to the heart (veins). In fact, some estimates even suggest if you were to lay out all the blood vessels, you would have a line that stretches 60,000 miles.
When talking about vascularity, we want to discuss one of these blood vessels; the veins. Vascularity simply refers to the condition of having many easily visible and pronounced veins that can be seen running up and down your body. They are generally most prominent on the arms, shoulders, and legs. However, those with extreme conditioning can also have a vascular chest and back. Have you ever seen some of those guys whose body looks like a road map? That’s being vascular.
In the world of bodybuilding, being vascular is generally associated with heightened levels of conditioning and physique. This is due to the fact that there is an inverse relationship between the level of vascularity and body fat %. In other words, the less body fat you have, the more vascular you become.
As mentioned above, vascularity has visible veins on your body. However, not every vein can be seen. The veins that are prominent and can be seen are known as “superficial veins”. These are veins that sit close to the skin and are generally independent of other blood vessels. This contrasts to “deep veins,” which are almost always paired with an artery and sit farther beneath the skin.
The appearance of these superficial veins will depend on several factors.
Like all things related to health and the human body, genetics play a significant role in how vascular you are and how vascular you can get. It’s difficult to say what percentage your genetics can play in your vascularity, but there are several mechanisms in which it functions.
The first variable that genetics can affect is the placement of your veins. While we all have the general layout, no mechanism ensures our veins follow the same path through our bodies. In other words, the guy from above who looks like a road map most likely has more veins that run closer to the skin. Even if you had the exact same level of conditioning and muscle mass, you wouldn’t look as vascular since your veins sit deeper under the skin.
Another factor that could affect your vascularity is the circumference of your veins. Some people simply have veins with a larger circumference which are going to be easier to see. Not much you can do about either of these. You either have ’em or you don’t.
Your testosterone levels can also play a role in your surface veins. For example, this study noted that women with higher levels of estradiol are known to have higher amounts of varicose veins. Therefore, they wanted to see if any relationship existed between varicose veins in men and testosterone levels. They, too, discovered a relationship and found that men with higher levels of serum testosterone had a higher amount of varicose veins.
While varicose veins aren’t precisely the same as vascularity (see below), in the sense we’re talking about, there is a relationship in that both are veins that sit close to the skin and can be seen.
Now we’re getting into what we really want to talk about, muscle mass. As mentioned, superficial veins are the veins that sit on top of muscles close to the skin. Therefore, when you build a large amount of muscle mass, it will push the vein closer to the surface. If large enough, it will eventually push the vein up in the skin, causing it to protrude out.
It doesn’t matter how big your muscles are if you have too much body fat, specifically subcutaneous fat, you won't be vascular. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that sits on top of your muscles and beneath your skin. Quite obviously, if you have too much fat sitting on your muscle, your veins are not going to be seen. This begs the question of “at what body fat percentage can I see veins?”. Yet again, there’s no direct answer.
One of the most significant factors is your body’s fat distribution. Actually, this is another variable of your genetics, as you have no control as to where your body likes to store fat. If you hold all of your fat in your legs and stomach, then you’ll be able to see vascularity in your arms at a higher body fat percentage. This can be applied to any other scenario of fat distribution.
That being said, most guys will likely start seeing some vascularity around 15% body fat. However, if you’re talking about being legit vascular in several limbs, you’ll probably need to get lower to at least 12% body fat.
Vasodilation refers to the widening of your blood vessels. This is a physiological process that occurs during times when muscles require more oxygen and nutrients. Basically, a wider blood vessel allows more transfer. Being so, having vasodilation is going to increase your vascularity as your blood vessels are going to be larger, making them more pronounced.
Many factors can increase vasodilation, such as warming the internal body temperature and engaging in intense exercise.
Not all veins that cause vascularity are good. In fact, above when we talked about what vascularity is, we were speaking about vascularity in the context of bodybuilding. That being said, “vascularity” in the sense that you can see your veins is not always a sign of fitness; in fact, it indicates a serious health condition. From a medical viewpoint, there are many issues that are collectively known as “vascular disease” or “vascular conditions”. These can be serious issues such as deep vein thrombosis and peripheral vascular disease.
One vascular condition is known as “varicose veins,” and people often wonder if they’re the same as being “vascular”. The short answer is “no”. Varicose veins are actually their own medical condition that result from the enlargement of veins due to malfunction of their valves. As a result, blood is unable to flow freely and pools.
A person with varicose veins will have noticeable veins like a vascular trainee, except they will look completely different. Varicose veins will generally be dark blue and appear twisted and are often bunched up with other veins. This can sometimes result in what looks like tangled nets.
Vascular veins are veins that are clearly distinct and run smoothly up and down the limbs and body. While you may be able to see a lot, they are free from others and prominent on their own. Further, while they may have a blue tinge, they more or less just look like something is pushing through the skin rather than having a distinct blue color.
Further, varicose veins can cause itching, slight burning, or general pain. Not so with being vascular. The only reason you’ll know you’re looking extra vascular is that all your gym bros will tell you.
Related: How To Get Rid of Varicose Veins
Let’s get to it. We know what vascularity is and what causes it. Now’s time to learn what you can do to make it happen. This list is going to include a variety of things that you can do for chronic change as well as acute. In other words, practices you can follow to create lasting improvements and also ways to manipulate your appearance short term.
The list will be structured so that the beginning includes the method to follow for substantial, long-term changes. These are big changes that mainly deal with your body comp and diet.
The list will then gradually turn into things that you can do for acute changes. Things you can do for a “quick-fix”. Perhaps you want to take a photo for Instagram or to send your favorite lady friend. Maybe you’re getting ready for a show or photoshoot. Or, let’s say you’re about to hit the town and want to be looking as vascular as ever.
Regardless, here are ways to dramatically increase your vascularity.
The first thing you need to do is add more muscle. As mentioned above, having a larger muscle mass pushes the vein farther up into the skin. Further, it’s going to create tighter skin, making the veins easier to see and more pronounced. As you’re a lifter, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.
The best way to put on muscle mass is to follow a progressive program that puts emphasis on muscular hypertrophy. While we feel strongly about everyone including elements of both strength and hypertrophy in their program, you can still favor one over the other. For example, stick to one strength movement a session and then focus on hypertrophy. Below are some general guidelines to follow.
The other no-brainer is to burn fat. Similar to muscles, you’re just not going to be vascular if you have fat laying on top of your veins. Therefore, get on a diet. We believe that every diet can work if done properly. There are no such things as “better” diets, just that different people are better suited for different diets. That being said, here are some general guidelines that everyone should follow.
One diet which can help is known as intermittent fasting. Well, it’s more of a food timing schedule rather than diet as it tells you when you can eat, not what you can eat. It works by creating short “feeding windows” and “fasting windows” to create an eating schedule. Check out this article for a more in depth explanation.
Regardless, the most important variable is to be patient. Losing weight is a slow process, and it actually takes longer the trimmer you are. Relax and trust the process.
Including some low-intensity, steady-state cardio can go a long way in improving your vascularity. First, it will burn a significant amount of calories which we just discussed is needed to improve your body comp. However, engaging in long, steady-state cardio regularly can have chronic, physiological effects on your body that will make you look more vascular. Studies have found that completing hour-long sessions can increase capillary density by 25%.
You know we are keen on having variety to optimize your training. Therefore, as both can give you great results, be sure to throw both in your training program.
Nitric oxide is a gaseous compound synthesized from various substances and used for cell signaling in your body. Studies have found that one of its roles is that of the endothelium (the inner lining of the blood vessel) to tell surrounding muscles to relax. This results in vasodilation which is a good thing for vascularity.
One way to increase your body’s nitric oxide content is by consuming a diet high in dietary nitrates. Here are some of the best foods you can start eating to improve your nitric oxide levels.
As we had mentioned above, one influential aspect of being vascular is getting your pump on. Getting in an intense workout will blow up your veins and make them pop out like they’re about to break your skin. But to be clear, when we say intense, we mean using lightweight and repping down to failure (in pure strength and conditioning terms, “intense” means using a heavy load). You can also use an array of special sets, but drop sets seem to be ideal for maximizing your pump.
Another method you can use is blood flow restriction training. This is a method of training that has you use a band of some sort to restrict blood flow to your muscles. In effect, blood flow restriction training causes increased metabolic damage that allows you to use lightweight for maximal hypertrophy. At the same time, it causes a “back-up” and blows up your veins which is what we want. If you have never done blood flow restriction training, be sure to seek out guidance your first time.
There seem to be supplements for everything these days and you’d be right for assuming there are supplements to bring out your vascularity. In fact, there is a specific branch of supplements that do these known as “vasodilators”. While they may not specifically have the purpose of causing your veins to stick out, they do work by causing vasodilation.
With the information above about vasodilation, you could probably guess that these supplements cause your veins to widen to allow more blood flow which will cause your veins to be more pronounced. To be clear, these supplements cause acute changes, so these are not long-term changes. That being said, here are the most effective vasodilators
L-citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that is actually not used to make protein but instead works as a vasodilator among other benefits. Through a series of processes, L-citrulline is broken down into L-arginine, which then is broken down into nitric oxide. It is this nitric oxide that then acts as a vasodilator. L-citrulline is used to treat many conditions, but when speaking of a vasodilator, studies have shown it is an effective supplement to improve erectile dysfunction due to allowing more blood flow.
If it can cure ED I’m sure it can get your veins to pop.
L-arginine is another non-essential amino acid found in the body. In fact, as mentioned above, it is synthesized from L-citrulline and then becomes nitric oxide. Therefore, its mechanism as a vasodilator is the same and has been used by trainees for years to get a massive pump. In fact, L-arginine was the active ingredient in the very popular nitric oxide booster, NO-Xplode.
You can learn more about l arginine and its benefits in our article: Does L Arginine Increase Testosterone?
Some may find use from creatine as it simply improves your muscle mass. More muscle mass means more vascularity. Not much to say here. Creatine works, and you should be taking it.
If you go to Amazon and search “nitric oxide booster", you’ll find a ton of supplements. You’ll notice that most of these actually use L-citrulline or L-arginine, but there are others as well. Regardless, if you can increase your nitric oxide content, you will see more vascularity.
As mentioned above, one way to increase your vasodilation is by increasing your internal body temperature. One way to do this is by taking a thermogenic supplement that can raise your internal body composition. Some of the most popular and effective are:
When taking a thermogenic, start with the smallest dose to monitor your body’s reaction. Once you have determined you can handle it, you can then slowly increase your dose.
Now you’ve done all you can to make your veins pop out of your skin, but you’re still looking for that little extra. Here are some easy ways you can manipulate the appearance of your vascularity.
Final section. Is being vascular healthy? Or maybe being vascular is dangerous?
In short, being vascular is almost solely an aesthetic attribute, so it’s not necessarily healthy in that it provides any benefits. At the same time, there’s nothing dangerous about it either. However, there is some nuance.
While being vascular isn’t healthy in its own right, it can act as an indicator of fitness. As we’ve seen, to be vascular means you need to have good muscle development as well as low levels of body fat. That sounds pretty healthy to me. Now, there can obviously be underlying issues, but for general purposes, it’s safe to say that a vascular person is (most likely) healthy(er)..
On the other hand, there are some instances where it may be dangerous. Since vascularity depends on a low percentage of body fat, some people may take that too far if they are trying to look like the aforementioned road map guy. Being at extremely low levels of body fat for an extended period of time can have unwanted side effects. At the same time, we would also want to assume that your vascularity isn’t more pronounced due to a vascular condition. Even if you don’t have varicose veins, there could still be some issues with your vein’s function that could cause your vascularity to be more pronounced.
In order to stay safe, don’t have ridiculous goals or use dangerous means to reach them. Oh, and remember to get your health checks. That being said, being vascular isn’t healthy nor is it dangerous.
Being vascular is being vascular.
That’s all you need to know about increasing your vascularity. As seen, at the end of the day, improving vascularity boils down to increasing muscle mass and enhancing your body comp. In other words, it’s a long process. Sure, you have the little tricks to manipulate your appearance, but true, long-term changes take a while.
None of that matters, as you’ll get the vascularity you want in due time. As always, the most important thing is to trust the process.
At SET FOR SET, we strive to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed for your fitness journey. Our team of experts, including certified trainers, dietitians, and athletes, brings over a decade of industry expertise. Our goal is to be your primary resource for all fitness inquiries, guiding you toward a stronger and healthier life. Sign up to stay up-to-date!