Arm pump, if you’re a mountain biker you’ve probably experienced it. It’s the feeling you get when you are halfway down the trail and suddenly your arms begin to hurt and your grip starts to fail.

But what is arm pump and what can you do to mitigate it?

What is Arm Pump

It’s scientific name is chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS). This is when, during an activity, the muscles in the forearm swell, causing the blood vessels to restrict blood flow out of the forearms, while new blood is continuing to be pumped in. This causes the forearms to to ache, limiting control of the hands.

Why Do Mountain Bikers Get Arm Pump?

Arm pump is caused by excessive grip, vibration, and wrist movement. All bike riders are prone to it, but specifically riders in aggressive disciplines such as mountain bikers, dirt bikers, and MotoGP. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to deal with it ranging from bike set up to specific exercises. Here are six ways mountain bikers can stop arm pump.

How Mountain Bikers Can Stop Arm Pump

  1. Get Fit

There is an old motocross myth that says the less you use your forearms the less pump you will get. But all it takes is a quick look at today’s top mountain bike professionals to see that this is far from the truth.

The best way to mitigate arm pump is to devote 1 to 2 days a week to mountain bike specific strength training. Training and building strong arms will prolong the onset. During these sessions, focus on building strong forearms, grip strength, and a strong upper back. Here are some exercises to help you build this specific strength.

  1. Bike Set Up

A proper bike set up will help with arm pump. Check and make sure that your bike fits you properly, your handlebars are at the right height, and you are in the correct attack position. Next, set your suspension to the recommended sag with the right amount of rebound and compression. Finally check your tire pressures, since they are the first contact point with the ground they need to be set up correctly.

If this still does not help there are several upgrades you can consider. Consider CushCores or any tire inserts to dampen vibration. Also, products like Rev Grips and OneUp Components’ carbon fiber handlebars have built-in compliance designed to fight vibration.

  1. Warm Up

A simple way to fight arm pump is to warm up accordingly. Don’t dive into the steepest and roughest track right out of the gate. Start on a mellow trail to get your body used to the vibration. Doing some pre-ride stretches or a quick morning yoga flow can be a great way to warm up your body for the ride ahead.

  1. Recovery

Since arm pump is muscle related, proper recovery will drastically help reduce it. Make sure to focus on quality nutrition after your rides and gym sessions. Also, make sure you’re drinking enough water, at least half your body weight in ounces per day. Then at night make sure you get quality sleep. Your muscles will repair themselves overnight and you will feel refreshed and ready for your next ride.

  1. Avoid Over Use

Piggybacking on recovery, avoid over use. It’s easy to want to ride every day. But your muscles need time to recover. Take at least two days off per week. During these off days do some light aerobic work such as going for a walk to help with blood flow to that area.

  1. Arm Pump Surgery

Finally, if arm pump is ruining your life there is a medical procedure. Popular among professional motocross racers, a fasciotomy, is a surgery that goes into your forearms cutting open the fascia. This allows more blood to enter the forearms before the pump begins. This measure is extreme, but can be done.

An Unavoidable Part of Mountain Biking

Arm pump is an unavoidable part of mountain biking. But through getting stronger, setting up your bike correctly, and focusing on recovery you can prolong its onset and minimize its impact on your ride.

I'm Sean. Owner of MTBS&F and self-proclaimed ski/bike bum. Catch me on the trails on the weekends and working out during the week.

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