Arm pump, it's no fun. Your arms are like those of a three year old, it hurts, and you can barely hang on to the bike. It's a common problem for all dirt riders whether you are into Motocross, Extreme Enduro or just Trail riding, and whether you are a pro or learning to ride. There's isn't a magic cure, but the good news is there's a pile of strategies that will reduce or eliminate arm pump.
What is arm pump?
Technically it's called Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS). In a nutshell, your arm muscles pump up with blood within a confined space when working hard. The pressure means blood has trouble leaving your arms, your muscles start to fail as they are deprived of oxygen. Solutions aim at two things:
- Letting your arms do less work
- Increasing that blood flow.
The less you need to hang off the bars the better. Your body should be toward the rear when braking or going downhill, and toward the front under acceleration or in the attack position.
Grip the bike with your legs
Your legs are much stronger than your arms so grip that bike firmly to stay balanced. Also an incredibly useful bit of bling can be Stegz Pegz which anchor you to the bike. Most riders rave about them, some hate them. See our review here.
Avoid the death grip
Most of us hold the bars tighter than we need to, and constant muscle contraction means less blood leaves the arms. Keep reminding yourself to relax your grip and only tighten it when needed. A good rider doesn't try to control the bike too much, but to an extent lets the bike do its own thing and works with it, not against it.
A lot of Motocross riders say they only get arm pump during the race, but never practice. When the adrenalin kicks in, so does the death grip. Remind yourself to chill out and pace yourself - remember often you'll be just as fast riding at 80 to 90% compared to flat out when you'll make more mistakes and get tired faster.
Exercise helps in two ways. In the long term cardiovascular routines will help improve your blood flow, and toning your leg and core muscles will help you grip the bike better. In the short term, getting your blood flowing and arms warmed up just before an event will help too. Some riders even apply warm towels to their arms before a race to get blood vessels dilated.
Good hydration plays its part. Scrap those energy drinks with caffeine and sugar which won't help at all. Use electrolytes in hot weather. Start hydrating the day before.
We've already mentioned Stegz Pegz working for some riders. Make sure your handlebars and hand levers are set up properly to make less work for your arms. Good suspension setup will mean less hanging on tightly. Some riders find a sticky pair of hand grips work well as they don't need to hang on so tightly. Some believe that a thick pair of hand grips will help but top riders generally state that standard size hand grips are best for minimising arm pump.
Do you get arm pump mainly in your left arm? If you have a cable clutch, consider going to a hydraulic one. If you have a hydraulic clutch and use it a lot, consider an ultra light clutch setup like the Clake One Light Clutch if you have cash to spare.
It's always a good idea to see your doctor about pain in your arms when riding, as what appears to be a simple case of arm pump could be a more serious medical condition.
To watch a video on arm pump, click here.