5 top tips for dealing with arm pump

© Reuben Krabbe
Sick and tired of suffering from arm pump? Here are five tips to help you out when the going gets tough.
Written by Richard BennettPublished on
Arm pump is a condition surrounded in myth and controversy, with many old wives' tales regarding what causes it and how to cure it. But one thing’s for sure, if you’ve ever experienced that searing pain in your hands and arms, it’s pretty nasty, often coming on without warning.
Fear not, here are five ways to help you deal with the dreaded arm pump next time it hits.

1. Relax the death grip

Curtis Keene riding in California
Curtis Keene riding in California
Riders often talk about experiencing arm pump most when the trails get steep and gnarly, or they’re riding on unfamiliar terrain. When things get tough, you start holding on for dear life with a vice-like grip. This restricts the blood flow through your arms, starving them of oxygen.
That’s when the arm pump sets in. So the next time you’re riding those tricky trails, repeat the mantra ‘relax’ and work on easing off your grip, therefore enhancing the blood flow around your arms.

2. Adjust your lever reach and position

Shimano Saint shifters and brake levers
Shimano Saint shifters and brake levers
Having your brake lever position and reach set up wrong can be a cause of arm pump; what’s more, fixing it should only take five minutes. Ideally, you want to start with your brake levers running in line with your wrists and hands, as this is the strongest position. If they’re too steep or too flat you’ll end up putting unwanted strain on your arms.
If your brakes allow, think about dialling in the reach, so you’re not stretching out your fingers when slamming on the anchors. Again, this provides you with a stronger position for those gnarly descents.

3. Fine-tune your suspension setup

A view of the Suspension on the Specialized Enduro Comp
Specialized Enduro Comp Suspension
These days we’re spoilt for choice with fantastic suspension, all designed to make our lives easier, safer and ultimately more fun. So it’s important to take advantage of that technology by setting it up right.
If you have your suspension set up too hard, the hits go straight into your arms, too soft and the front end packs down, pitching you over the handlebars; again, putting more pressure on your arms. Setting up suspension correctly can seem like a dark art, but it’s actually pretty simple with a bit of practice.

4. Weight on the legs not the arms

Troy Brosnan stands to attention on his pedals
Troy Brosnan stands to attention on his pedals
Our engine-propelled friends over in motocross are the kings of suffering and dealing with arm pump, which isn’t surprising when you consider they’re flying about on a 220-pound monster. One of the key techniques is learning to soak up hits using more of your legs/feet and not your arms. This is the case in mountain biking too, helping to take the pressure off your arms and hands. Just watch any pro downhill rider to see this technique in action.

5. Ride lots!

Steve Peat and Claudio Caluori navigate the rock garden during the Lenzerheide Course Preview run on July 6, 2016
Gnarly terrain makes the best practice ground
Much like anything in mountain biking, perhaps the biggest thing you can do to prevent arm pump is to get fitter by riding a lot. It’s certainly not a quick fix, but many riders have said their arm pump improved the most when they worked hard on their cardio and spent lots of time riding gnarly terrain. So remember, while all the tricks and small tips will help, becoming more efficient, stronger and fitter through riding cannot be overlooked.