ALLI Sports Racer X Online MX Sports GNCC Racing Racer Productions The Racing Paper Racer X Brand

Arm Pump Solved: Part 1

by Dr. Patrick Cohn

RC has always had the mental toughness to win

Part 1: It's All in Your Head
It is my opinion that most people in motocross do not fully understand the cause of arm pump or why it happens. After studying the minds of athletes and racers for over fifteen years, I think most racers never consider what I think is the real cause of arm pump. My theory on arm pump is that it is all in the mind.

Imagine this scenario: You are on the start line ready for the next moto. You have trained hard, sweated out thirty-minute motos at home in practice, spent tons of money to get your bike just right, and are now ready to conquer the world. The gate drops and you grab the holeshot. Everything is going according to plan as you check out from the pack. However, on the second lap, arm pump begins to set in. Your arms feel as hard as bricks and you can’t work the clutch or brake because you can’t feel your hands. You start to lose speed and, just as quickly as you went to the front, you begin to fade toward the back.

Related Article : Arm Pump in Motocross

After the moto, you struggle with the fact that you can do thirty-minute motos in practice without getting arm pump, but in a twenty-minute race, you tighten up on the second lap. Everyone agrees that arm pump prohibits racers from riding up to their potential. However, it seems in motocross that no one fully agrees on the causes of arm pump or understands why arm pump happens. Most, if not all, racers and coaches think that arm pump is a physical inadequacy due to lack of fitness or poor riding technique. Therefore, many people in motocross explain the cause of arm pump and its cures with a purely physiological or equipment explanation. I am certain that poor fitness or riding technique will contribute to the severity of or how fast you get arm pump, but the real causes start in the mind.

From my perspective as a mental game coach to professional athletes and motocross racers, arm pump is caused by a change in the racer’s mindset or attitude from practice to race situations. I have worked with pro and amateur racers for over three years on the mental side of racing – confidence, focus, and mental preparation. Motocross is a sport that is late to adopt and embrace mental training as a means to peak performance. I am not sure why this is the case, but I know that I have helped my students reduce and, in many cases, eliminate arm pump from their racing and vocabulary by developing their mindset. It has been my experience that riders put more pressure on themselves during a race to succeed or win. This pressure causes mental tension or the need to try harder. When you try harder or race with high expectations, you try to be more perfect or correct, and this causes you to force the bike around the track, fight the track, and give the handlebars the death grip, which eventually leads to the physical symptoms of arm pump that many motocross racers have experienced.

Metal Coaching and conditioning are key components to a riders success both amateur and professional

What is Arm Pump?
Arm pump happens when lactic acid in the forearms, due to exercise, makes them feel like they are burning and tight. Therefore, as you exercise your muscles, lactic acid enters the muscle and gives a burning sensation when you are working beyond the anaerobic threshold – or the point at which lactic acid builds up in the muscles. For the motocross racer, the hands tense up on the grips and give a feeling that they cannot be moved. There is an overwhelming sense of stiffness in the hand and it is difficult to work the clutch and the gas to the full potential. One of my motocross students said when he gets off the bike after a moto, his fingers are so clenched on the grips that he has trouble moving them or taking them off the handlebars. Obviously, this is a major problem that prevents him from riding to his full potential.

When a rider gets arm pump, the issue becomes of greater mental concern. Once arm pump begins, it becomes a mental block as the rider thinks, I’ve got arm pump. I have the dreaded disease of arm pump and I can’t do anything about it—this moto is done and I am down and out for the day.

My Theory of Arm Pump
I have read many theories about arm pump and most if not all focus on the bike setup or your fitness level. A popular theory is that your bike may not be set up correctly. For example, the suspension is wrong, causing you to hold onto the bike too tightly or change your riding position. Nevertheless, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why do I get arm pump in races when it never or rarely happens in practice?’ Based on my experience, this is the most important question you have to ask yourself.

My theory on arm pump is that it begins in the mind, with your race mindset. If you can ride a thirty-minute practice moto and never or rarely get arm pump, but then only get arm pump in races, this tells me that arm pump starts in the mind with fear of failure, tension, or anxiety about the race. The reason it starts is that your mindset changes from practice to racing because practices do not count and the races do.

Riders want the easy fix or a quick-fix solution to get rid of arm pump.  Just take a pill and no more arm pump! However, without concerted effort and digging at the root cause—the mental game issues—they will never find out how to solve arm pump forever. None of the physical or equipment solutions addresses the main underlying mental game breakdowns that I believe are the real cause of arm pump.

In part 2, I will discuss the real culprits to arm pump – the mental game breakdowns that lead to physical symptoms of arm pump. 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

Share on:


  1. Gravatar
    bob January 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    i get arm pump when i hit big triples and check my tire pressure.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Go around the triples and let someone else check your tire pressure. Problem solved.

  3. Gravatar
    Christian Sessink April 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I normally get arm pump through big "whooped out" sections. I find myself leaning back instead of in the attack position, and holding on as tight as I can. The only problem here is, you cant lean forward through these sections unless you want to loose a good 5 seconds a lap :( DARN SANDY TRACKS -___-

  4. Gravatar
    james May 03, 2011 at 1:58 am

    i get arm pump in my first race!!!! its so annnoying but in the 2nd and 3rd race i dont that much maybe a little bit at the end and thats it but i hear that if you exercise that muscle not enough blood flows through???? plz help

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer May 03, 2011 at 8:42 am

    You get arm pump in the first race and not subsequent motos because you are not properly warming up before your first moto. Think about it. What is the difference between the first moto and the rest? In moto 2 and 3 you are still warmed up from the first!

  6. Gravatar
    james May 04, 2011 at 12:17 am

    ok thank you! will do warming up in morning before moto's. but another thing is i practise 4 days a week arm pump exercises (and i do get arm pump while im doing the exercise). but aprently i hear that if you practise these exercises your muscle expands inside your arms and it doesnt let enough blood flow through and all the acid stays inside is that correct? or a just bull sh*t?. and i do under stand the morning exercise ill do that for now on and try to relax more. easy said than done though haha

  7. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer May 05, 2011 at 7:24 am

    James - Let's continue this discussion on the forum. See the link below.

  8. Gravatar
    matt May 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    i get pumped on 2 lap in every race im in .my arms go numb driving my truck to spring creek mn ,only 20 min drive..

  9. Gravatar
    dylan January 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    i get arm pump like the second lap of the first practice of the day and suffer all day after. how do i get rid of it or minimize it?

  10. Gravatar
    Matt February 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I usually get arm pump around the 3rd lap and i really need help with that. What Are good home workouts to do to do to stop my armpump for atleast 5 laps. Please help me anyone!!!!!!

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    You guys who are getting arm pump answer a few questions for me. 1. How often do you ride each week? 2. Do you warm up and if so what exactly do you do? 3. Do you notice that you get arm pump later in the day or is just the first time you go out?

  12. Gravatar
    Matt March 02, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for responding!!! i ride once a week, i dont warm up and i know im suppose to just i dont know what excirses exactly to do, and i notice it probably halfway into the day.

  13. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 05, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Okay, the first thing you need to do is warm up. It's not difficult, just do some form of cardio exercise (run, row, ride a stationary bike) for 15 minutes. After that, stretch your entire body. Once you get on the bike, take a few slower laps to warm up further. Each lap you should be ridden with more intensity than the last. Don't make it complicated. Oh and read these two articles.

  14. Gravatar
    Matt March 06, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks you an the websites you gave me helped alot!!!! bless you!

  15. Gravatar
    Anthony July 10, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I get armpump even in practice. Every moto that I do I get it about the 3rd or 4th lap. I do warm up also and stretch.

  16. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Anthony - How often do you ride and how often do you train?

  17. Gravatar
    Hansen September 16, 2013 at 4:13 am

    I've bin riding for 13 years now never had armpump UNTIL this season i get it even just by slow laps where i check the track in practice. My fitness level is very high, my bike got setup 110% for me. What do i do?.
    Sorry about my english (danish)

  18. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Let's talk more about this on the forum. Send me an email ( and I will get an account set up for you. thanks!

Leave a reply