This is part two of a three part series on the psychology of arm pump by Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D. an expert in mental training for motocross.
In part one, I discussed my theory of arm pump. Many theories about arm pump exist, but most of them say that arm pump is caused by poor fitness, having the wrong bike set up, or poor nutrition on race day. Based on my experience working with racers, arm pump begins in the mind, but then shows up as a physical problem on the track. Why would racers only have arm pump in races or big races and not in practice?
Arm pump begins in the mind. If you can ride a relaxed and tension-free 30-minute practice moto, but only get arm pump in races or nationals – this is a sure sign that arm pump is caused by mental breakdowns when you go from practice to race situations. Why? Your performance counts in races!
I have to admit that 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. However, my real expertise is helping 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 I am right and arm pump starts in the mind, then you can learn how to develop a better mental approach so you can have relaxed a tension-free race. You can learn to control your mindset for racing. This is what I teach racers to do everyday.
Trying too Hard – Mental Breakdown #1
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. What would cause you to stress your muscles if you are in good shape? My answer would be mental tension, which then causes physical tension. If you have tension on the track, mental or physical, your muscles are not working together – they are fighting one another.
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 do every week, you are relaxed and care-free because you don’t have to win practice! In practice, results don’t matter because you can get on the bike and go do another moto. 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 to excel. “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,” you think to yourself. This self-induced pressure turns into “I need to give 110% and try really hard. This sounds like a good approach right? Negative. What is wrong with trying hard?
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 get spent quickly. You will even make more errors because of you trying to hard – little bobbles happen – and you actually go slower.
And as I said, when you 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 and give greater grip pressure. 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.
This article was based on Dr. Patrick Cohn’s new CD program titled, “Arm Pump Solved: Mental Skills for Motocross Racers.” For more information and to sign up for a free mental game e-course, visit www.racingpsychology.com.