What is the cause of arm pump and is there a cure?

The age-old debate over arm pump has fascinated many people with lots of gimmicks and ideas about how to stop or reduce arm pump created along the way.

Here is my 10 pence worth and you might not like it – there is no such thing as arm pump!


If it was real then everybody would get it, right? How is it possible that one rider never has it when the rider next to him gets it all the time? Furthermore, how can one rider have their arms pump up during racing yet be fine at practice tracks when riding the same bike?

So, let’s say it does exist – now how do you get rid of it? I know professional riders who have had operations to relieve the pressure on the muscles – by cutting the outer sheath to allow the muscles to expand further and eliminate arm pump – only for them to find out that, back on the track, the same thing happens and their arms are rock solid. On the other hand, I’ve also heard comments about riders who have either used gyroscopic balls – which you move by rotating your wrists – or taken certain nutritional powders and have got rid of arm pump. Brilliant!

So where does it come from and what can you do about it? The first challenge is to consider what you are focusing on. Using remedies to treat the effects of arm pump is a quick fix. Sometimes you can get great results but shifting your attention to the cause is how you will find your answers and get long-term results.

Basically, it all boils down to the good old, universal law of ‘Cause and Effect’. The operations, exercises and powders are all treating the effect. It’s no different to getting a headache and taking painkillers. Sometimes the painkillers will take the headache away but how many people stop to think: ‘Oh, that noise is causing my headache so what can I do to stop or reduce the noise?’ This is dealing with the cause. Which do you think has the most powerful, lasting impact? If you deal with the cause, then arm pump is already a thing of the past.

This begs the next question – what causes arm pump? There are a couple of things. Firstly, it could be your bike set up. For example, if the rear suspension is too hard and the front too soft then, naturally, you will have to pull on the handle bars like Popeye to get the bike to ride balanced and level. This extra effort on your arms is a short-cut to Armpumpville!

Another cause of arm pump is poor technique. Many riders ride with their wrists low at the back of the grips – you know, with their elbows down too. This means they are gripping the handle bars with their fingers, rather than having their wrists high, resting on the back of the palms and being able to relax the fingers. If you’ve been on a training school with me then you will know the exercise, which we use to demonstrate this.

At this point, it’s also worth mentioning that when riders come back from a lengthy time off the bike they say they get arm pump too. Bear in mind that if you are getting back into the swing of things you may need to allow yourself a bit of settling-in time before making any decisions about arm pump.

Great! So if you can get your bike set up and learn to use an effective technique then Terminator forearms should be a thing of the past, right? Well how come GP riders suffer from it then? Surely these guys are riding well set-up bikes, have the skill to ride faster than anyone else in the world and have the fitness to do so? Yet these guys suffer occasionally too.

Going back to ‘Cause and Effect’ if you can ride your bike fine sometimes and get arm pump at other times the solution can be found by asking yourself the question, ‘What caused me to choose to get arm pump?’ It’s a tough question to answer because it may well be linked to fear. The reason for creating arm pump may be to prevent yourself from achieving a different result – good or bad – which is in conflict with something else in your mind. It could be a restrictive belief, deep-seated value or even your identity as an individual.

By eliminating bike set up and technique as causes you are left with your perception of racing and riding. A common experience for riders is practising without arm pump and then going to a race and suffering with it, or doing really well at club level and then suffering at national level. So what’s the difference?

The chances are that you have a different picture in your mind when you think of each of these circumstances and each picture has a different meaning to you. They’re your pictures and you can change them – and their meanings – if you choose to. There is nothing stopping you from seeing yourself as larger than life, laughing and having fun, feeling relaxed and in control, safe and fast and much, much more at all events.

One key thing to help you race at your best is to have a clear goal, initiated by yourself, so that you are aiming for a realistic position. It should be just above your reach – meaning that the goal is a challenge for your level of skill. If your perception – what you think – of a race is that the challenge is too high for your skill, then the likelihood is that you will experience anxiety. This on its own can cause arm pump. If you can get this right you are well on your way to producing your best results yet!

Another thing to give some thought to is your beliefs. If someone you look up to tells you that you will get arm pump because you are riding with a certain type of grip, handlebar, tyre or sticker, or that it is genetic or caused by you trailing your leg around corners – and you choose to buy into these limiting beliefs – then you will create arm pump because you believe you have a reason for it.

Choose to disregard the BS! If you 100 per cent believe that a certain exercise or powder is going to make your arm pump disappear or that you are doing all the right things and the arm pump is only temporary then guess what? It will disappear and be a thing of the past.

It’s your choice. What do you want to believe and how do you want things to be?