Why You Get Arm Pump – And What You Can Do To Reduce It

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Ahhh the dreaded arm pump! Every motocrossers nightmare. What is it? How is it caused? And how can you reduce it?

The fact that you are reading this tells me you already know what it is… that frustrating lack of strength and control you unwillingly acquire in your forearms and hands while holding on for dear life to your handlebars. You know that feeling all too well when your forearms feel like they’re bursting at the seams and they resemble Popeyes after cracking open a tin of spinach. Your fingers no longer function properly (if at all), and your grip is about as strong as a 4 month old baby’s!

There have been plenty of times that I’ve come close to losing control of my bike due to arm pump. Once I actually fell off at pace because I could no longer hold onto it at all – not a good feeling. Fortunately I was unharmed but my brother’s KTM250 got a bit messed up. Sorry bout that bro.

Almost every dirt bike rider suffers from arm pump on varying levels at some stage, and it’s about as welcome as your soon-to-be mother-in-law on your bucks night. So, what can you do to reduce it? To fully understand the principals behind the methods I’m about to suggest, you firstly need to understand why it occurs.

The Cause of Arm Pump:

The reason your arms are reduced to this pathetic state is because of this.. When under extreme pressure, the blood circulating away from your arms cannot leave as quickly as the much-needed, oxygen-rich blood is coming into them, which creates a buildup of lactic acid. Pressure builds up in the forearms compressing the muscles and nerves which in turn lose their ability to function properly.

How To Reduce The Effects of Arm Pump:

While there is currently no magic pill, operation or cure to completely eliminate forearm pump, there are certain measures you can take to drastically reduce it. The goal here is to improve blood flow through your arms.

  • Ride Regularly: As with improving your overall motocross fitness, the best thing you can do is ride as much as possible. The more you ride, the more conditioned your arms become. When you feel your arms pumping up during a ride, back off the pace but don’t stop. This way you train your arms to push through it for longer periods and each time you ride you will last longer than before.
  • Stretch: Stretch your forearms, fingers and palms before, between and after racing/riding. This helps to keep the blood flowing freely through your arms.
  • Warm Up And Massage Your Forearms: Again, do this before, between and after racing/riding. Deep massaging encourages blood flow as will a hot towel or water bottle placed over your arms.
  • Improve Your Fitness/Cardiovascular System: You may be strong but if your heart can’t pump enough oxygen through your blood to feed your muscles, you will struggle to avoid arm pump. Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods to get the heart pumping! See my MOTOCROSS FITNESS PAGE and MOTOCROSS NUTRITION PAGE for some pointers.
  • Improve Your Riding Technique: Remember to utilize the sheer size and strength of your legs to grip your bike firmly. This will relieve your arms considerably when done right.
  • Tweak Your Bike Set-up: Having the handlebars, clutch and brake levers set in the wrong position can cause your forearms and hands to be at awkward angles restricting blood flow. Keep your levers/cables well lubricated and clean to ensure easy operation. Not doing so is a definite ticket to the arm pump show! Your suspension set-up makes a huge difference as well so don’t neglect this.
  • Keep Mentally Relaxed: When you are nervous or stressed (like at the beginning of a race) your muscles tighten up and blood flow becomes more restricted. Breathe properly and try to remain calm.
  • Avoid Tight Sleeves And Gloves: Sorry Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson fans, but wearing tight gloves or sleeves will slow blood circulation through your hands.
  • Choose Better Lines Around The Track: Obviously, the smoother and less physically demanding your ride is, the less pressure you put on your arms and body. Try to use ruts and berms etc to your advantage. Go with the flow.
  • Keep Hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during and after riding. H2O is the magic elixir that has more benefits than one!

I used to really struggle with arm pump, but after implementing the strategies above I can now ride far longer and cut way more laps in any given session.

So, next time you’re preparing for a race, or heading out with your mates for a bit of free-riding, try implementing some of these solutions and reap the benefits of a more enjoyable and safer ride.

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Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of Dirt Bike Planet. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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