Table of Contents
If you’ve been a cyclist for some time now, then you’re all too familiar with the effects of arm pump. This is perhaps one of the most dreaded instances for riders, especially when their grip begins to fade.
Then follows the swelling, the pain, the markings, and the insurmountable tightness. Although difficult to deal with, there are ways of reducing and even stopping it altogether. In this article, we explore what arm pump is, its causes, as well as ways to prevent and eliminate it.
What Is Arm Pump?
Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS) or arm pump is a condition that results from prolonged periods of strenuous exercise. This mostly impacts athletes involved in activities that require extended gripping, namely mountain bikers and road cyclists. After continuous exertion, blood starts backing up in the forearm. While this restriction in blood vessels occurs, the heart keeps pumping more blood.
Since there’s very little space for the blood to circulate, considering the length of forearms, it results in muscle swelling. Moreover, the thin connective tissue that surrounds the muscle, called fascia, isn’t all that stretchy. As a result, improper circulation creates a pressure build-up inside the forearms.
Ultimately, the blood tries to flow back to the heart, but it fails to leave the forearms fast enough. So the individual develops sporadically marked pain in their forearm.
What Causes Arm Pump?
This condition typically affects young adults, men in particular. Arm pump is mainly attributed to motorsports, mountain biking, and road racing.
With that said, arm pump isn’t exclusive to those activities alone. In fact, it can be a common issue for weightlifters and paddlers too. Riders are especially subject to this condition due to a combination of factors. Some of the most popular causes being the continuous rigid grip, extended vibrations, as well as frequent wrist movements. All of these elements are way too strenuous on forearm muscles.
So the more muscle energy demand increases, the more blood it requires, which, in turn, expands the muscle. The forearm then becomes rock hard solid and eventually results in too much pain and discomfort. The chronic arm pump entails serious inflammation and tightness from the recurring friction.
If left untreated, this condition can result in painful scar tissue that could call for surgical intervention.
4 Ways to Stop Arm Pump
Do Some Warm-Ups And Stretching
Warm-ups and stretching are probably the most undervalued tools when it comes to riding. So before you venture into the dirt road, make sure you warm up your muscles to get the blood pumping.
In fact, many pro riders use stationary bikes to get ready and prepare their bodies for the race to come. (Read our article about the best indoor
However, it’s not always easy to access a stationary bike at the track. Instead, you can opt for stretching, running in place, jogging, or skipping rope. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a dynamic exercise that engages all your muscles. It’s also worth mentioning that using a hot water bottle or towel to massage your arms can also help tremendously. This is not only a great preventative measure, but you can also count on it for instant relief after riding.
Just make sure you try these tips both prior to and following a race or motocross session.
Fix Your Riding Technique
The way you ride and the technique you often rely on can have a huge impact on arm pump. For instance, gripping the handlebars too tightly, sitting down for far too long, or even using the wrong gear.
These are all probable causes of why you might develop this condition. So the best way to counter this is to perfect your technique. Next time, try to focus on using your legs more and gripping the bike with your knees and stand up on your pedals as often as possible. This will help take the pressure off of your arms so you don’t fall prey to the death grip.
In addition to that, make a habit of loosening your grasp over the handlebars whenever going over rough ground. Keep in mind that your muscles will only get an adequate blood circulation if they’re sufficiently relaxed. Moreover, you can also rely on your body to move forward as you accelerate. This is so that the bike pushes you without any laborious efforts on your part.
On the other hand, moving your body backward while you brake will allow your feet to take that braking power. Just remember to reduce the weight and strain on your arms and redistribute that force as needed.
An overactive lifestyle can be just as bad as a sedentary one. This means if you ride/ train every single day, chances are you’re not giving your body enough time to recover.
Since arm pump can be a result of strenuous activity, you need to seriously consider eliminating overexertion. Working your muscles to exhaustion won’t do you nor your physical health any good. In addition to pain, swelling, and cramping, exercising too much makes those toxins trapped inside. One of the most notorious toxins is lactic acid.
Over time, this builds up in your muscles and results in an irrepressible burning sensation. So if you don’t allow your body the time it needs to recuperate, you could potentially suffer from arm pump.
Listening to your body and meeting its needs is essential, especially in this case.
Try Strength Training
There is no evidence that proves a denser muscle mass can prevent arm pump. However, all evidence shows that too much muscle mass will inevitably slow you down on the track. Weight training can help you build strength instead of bulking up.
If you want to improve as a rider and minimize the chances of arm pump, you need to exercise accordingly. This means you should choose a strength training program that engages the same muscles as riding a bike.
Focus on movements that can enhance your grasp. For instance, deadlifts, weighted pull-ups, and farmers walks can be quite effective in boosting your grip. In addition to that, implementing exercises that engage your lower body and core can also alleviate strain on your arms. This includes squats, kettle-bell, and dumbbell stability workouts.
Moreover, you should also focus on building up your endurance. Strength is great, but only when you can maintain it over a given period of time.
So every now and then, decrease the weight you’re holding and increase the duration you’re lifting it for.
Arm pump is a painful and irritating condition to say the least. If you apply the techniques above to your training and riding technique, you should experience this condition less often and enjoy your rides more!
I’m James Duff, a 29-year-old from Orange, California, fueled by a lifelong passion for bikes. From childhood pedaling to exploring BMX tricks and tackling mountain trails, biking has been my constant. Now, I’m translating that love into words on this blog. Join me in discovering the thrilling world of biking, as I share insights, gear essentials, and personal adventures. Let’s journey together through the exhilarating realm of cycling.