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Arm Pump Solved: Part 2

by Dr. Patrick Cohn

MC never had a problem with mental toughness even when he was figting for championships with RC and others who were trying to take his crown.

Causes of Arm Pump
In part one, I discussed my theory on arm pump and why I believe your mind plays a major role. Many theories about arm pump exist, most revolving around poor fitness, inadequate bike setup, or bad nutrition as the underlying factors. Based on my experience working with racers, arm pump begins in the mind, and then shows up as a physical problem on the track. If you can ride a relaxed and tension-free 30-minute practice moto, but then get arm pump in a race or at the nationals – this is a sure sign that arm pump is caused by mental breakdowns when you go from practice to race situations. The added pressure to perform well in races brings on these mental breakdowns.

Admittedly, if you are not in good shape or race with the wrong technique, this will influence the severity and how fast your get arm pump. If you are out of shape for example, the lactic acid that builds in your muscles will build faster, causing you to tire more quickly. The same is true with poor riding technique and bike setup. I’m not here to solve or address those problems; my role is to help racers develop a mindset for racing success. I help racers identify self-sabotaging behaviors such as fear of failure, tension, doubt, and indecision.

Several mental breakdowns, between practice and racing, can cause you to get arm pump. If this is happening to you, then you need to learn how to develop a better mental approach so you can have a relaxed, tension-free race. You need to learn to control your mindset for racing. This is what I teach racers to do everyday.

Mental Breakdown: Trying too hard
If you can ride relaxed (without arm pump) for a 30-minute practice moto, yet you tense up and get arm pump in races, most likely you are stressing your muscles to induce fatigue. Mental tension can lead to arm pump even if you have the best conditioning program in place, ride flawlessly, and your bike is setup perfectly. Mental tension will ultimately lead directly to physical tension. If you have tension on the track, mental or physical, your muscles will not work together, therefore fighting one another and causing fatigue.

One of the big mental breakdowns that can cause excess tension on the track and then lead to arm pump is trying too hard in a race. In practice motos, you ride relaxed and carefree because you don’t have to win practice. Results don’t matter and you can always get back on the bike and repeat a section if you mess up. No one knows what you did and no comparisons are made to other racers.

However, when you race, it’s a different story. In a race setting such as a national or big race like Loretta Lynn’s, you want to do well and everyone sees the results including sponsors. This can cause a lot of pressure for some racers and prevent them from performing at their best. You start thinking, "I need to impress the manufacturers so I can get sponsorship" or "I need to run up front to make my parents or team happy." This self-induced pressure turns into "I need to give 110% and try really hard." This sounds like a good approach, however, sometimes trying too hard can have a negative result.

The problem comes when you go out and give 110%, this causes you to force the bike around the track to get extra speed. For example, if you force each turn and try to go faster than what you are capable of doing, your muscles react to this and tire quickly. You end up making more mistakes because of trying too hard - little bobbles happen – and you actually go slower.

As I said, when you are trying too hard you are in a state of tension. When your muscles are tense, your arms get fatigued. When your arms get too much lactic acid build up, the forearms and hands will go into a fixed contraction and tighten up as you try to hold on tighter. Thus, arm pump feels like it is physical when the muscles begin to cramp and get fatigued, but it all started a long time ago, even before the race when you wanted to impress others or badly wanted to win.

In part 3, of Arm Pump Solved, I discuss some solutions to arm pump – the mental game strategies that will help you race tension-free. Contact Dr. Cohn.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    PJ Jacobsen October 04, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Wanted to chat about arm pump and what to do to help. I have raced my entire career and only have had arm pump twice. If you have time I would like to speak with you about your thoughts on this.

    Thank You
    PJ Jacobsen

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer October 05, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Sure. Send me an email and we can set up a time to talk.

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