Beating Arm Pump

May. 01, 2006 By ORC STAFF
A Sure-Fire Method to Fight Forearm Cramping

-----Original Message-----
From: Tim Siffel
Sent: Thursday, December 29, 2005 8:31 PM
Subject: Don'tAsk!

Mr Sieman,

A few months ago I emailed you for some advice on starting motocross racing at 38 years old. Well, I did it and now I have the bug. The first time out I was a bundle of nerves ( I had the worst arm pump I have ever had! ) but I did it and I finished. Last of course but I finished nonetheless. My wife thinks I am nuts but I love it. I went out twice this year and next season I am looking forward to participating a lot more. Thanks for the encouragement.

PS- any advice for arm pump?
Tim Siffel
Red Hill, PA

This is an actual email received from reader Tim Siffel, and this email caused me to think back in time. And how I beat the problem of arm pump. For the larger part of a year, I hadn't done any racing. All sorts of things contributed to this personal affairs and sheer laziness, mostly, and I found myself in wretched riding condition.

With the advent of cooler weather in the fall one year, I decided to get in shape for motocross once again. Oh, I'd been riding sporadically during that year, but only trail riding with some friends and messing around now and then at the local practice track for a few laps.

Before I even attempted the rigors of long motos, I knew some basic conditioning was needed. So I started training a bit with the weights at a local gym and ran a few days a week.

I figured that, combined with a couple of hours of riding, should do the trick.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Big W. Arrow pointing straight down. Double zero.

The very first actual race that I entered - which consisted of two 15-minute motos - my hands and forearms went completely away. Especially the throttle hand. I felt like Captain Hook. All the holding power in the right hand was gone. Zip-slantdoodley-squat.

My pace slowed dramatically. Riders zipped on by easily. Then, when a medium-sized butterfly passed me on the back straight, I knew it was time to pull off the track.

Dismayed, I drove home with my forearms and hands spasming like a hooked carp, and did some serious thinking. I wanted to race Pioneertown, which was only two weeks away. The Pioneertown race was almost an hour-long GP. Things looked grim.

It was my old buddy Tom who came to the rescue. He'd just recently resumed weight training, too, and had found out about a special new technique of overload training developed by Mike Mentzer, a famous bodybuilder. His system was called High Intensity Training and relied heavily on a trick technique called "Negative Resistance Training."

Negative Resistance Training

Tom had tried this system and made fantastic gains in a very short period of time. We sat down one evening, and incorporated some of the things from the Mentzer program, modifying it slightly to fit hand and arm training for racing.

It was worth a try. I only had two weeks to go before Pioneertown.

Those next two weeks went quickly, and before! knew it, the Dirt Diggers Motorcycle Club Grand Prix was there. I had only ridden twice during those two weeks due to a heavy work load, and had done absolutely no racing whatsoever.

When the flag dropped, I felt fresh, but tense. Alter crashing my brains out on the fifth turn and getting run over by the pack, I felt tired, battered, dejected and in last place. However, I had nearly an hour to go, so I picked the bike up and continued riding. At the 20-minute mark, the hands and forearms still felt OK. At the 30-minute mark, the legs were starting to hurt a bit, but still no trouble with gripping power.

By the end of the race, I was back in heavy traffic and still riding fairly hard. The body was tired, especially the legs, but not a hint of a problem with the hands and arms.

At the end of the race, both hands had a few blisters, indicating that I had worked hard. Even the next day, when the rest of my body was stiff and sore, I had no real stiffness in the arms and hands.

I attribute this totally to Negative Resistance Training.

How it Works

First, let's take one of the basic exercises and break it down. Most folk who have ever messed around with weights know what a curl is. You merely take a barbell in your hands, palms up, and hold it straight down by your thighs. Then, curl the bar slowly to chest level. Lower slowly and repeat. And so forth.

Positive Strength

Raising the weight from the bottom to the top position is called a Positive movement, or the Positive level of strength. Let's say that the most weight you can curl properly is 75 pounds. Maximum. That's the limit of your Positive strength level, in that particular movement.

Static Strength

Now, let's say that you were to hold this very same 75-pound bar at waist level and someone would quickly load another 25 pounds on the bar. They'd ask you to hold the bar in that halfway position for a few seconds. Chances are you could do that easily. After all you're merely holding the weight halfway up, not lifting it higher. Holding a weight without raising or lowering it is called the Static level of strength. As you can see, the Static level is considerably stronger than the Positive level.

Negative Strength?

Well, well, well. The plot thickens. Now we take it a step further. Hold the bar up to your chest the top position and somebody places 125 pounds on the bar. They then ask you to lower the bar slowly and under complete control to your thighs the bottom, or straight-armed position). Again, chances are that you could manage this, too. Lowering a weight from a supporting position to the bottom position - under control - is called the Negative level of strength.

Clearly, the Negative level is capable of handling the heaviest weights. This means that if you can devise a way to train on the Negative level, you can load a specific muscle group far more efficiently than you can with any conventional training method known This means that we not only can duplicate the stresses and strains of holding onto a set of violently wrenching bars, but can actually exceed those conditions.

Our prime concern here is not to build giant muscles. We want to get the hands and forearms in absolute killer shape in the shortest time possible.

The Exercise

Here's how the Negative exercise works. First warm up a bit before you do any heavy exercise. This not only goes for this program, but for any. A. few push-ups, jumping jacks, some running in place, or whatever, should do the job.

Then, take a regular old barbell and load it up with enough weight to allow you to do about six or seven very strict curls. You'll probably have to experiment to find out what weight will be right for you. Most riders of average strength, and weighing in at the 150 to 165 range, should be able to use about 75 pounds or so for seven repetitions. Find out what is right for you before you start.

Start the curls. Do the reps as strictly as you can and shoot for six or seven reps, as we mentioned. However if you can squeeze out a few extra reps, then by all means, crank them out. When you can no longer perform the reps in a strict fashion and have gone to the point of failure, squeeze out a few more reps in a cheating or swinging fashion. This can best be accomplished by swinging the bar with a slight leg kick from the bottom position, and leaning back when fighting the bar through the sticking point.

Starting the curl. Keep the arms straight, palms up and legs comfortably apart.

Slowly curl the bar upward, keeping the arms tucked in fairly close to the sides.

The curl is completed at the top. To repeat, lower slowly at start again.

When you can no longer do any more strict curls, swing the body a bit to get through the sticking point.


Now, without resting at all, you have to get into the second part of the exercise. You should have some sort of a chinning bar set up near where you're doing the curls. You can use anything, a tree branch, a pipe hung from the ceiling; anything that will support you safely and that you can get a decent grip on.

Place a box, chair or milk crate under the chinning bar. What you want to do now is stand up on the box, grab the chinning bar and lower yourself slowly down until the arms are straight. When we say lower slowly, we mean very, very slowly. Take at least five or six seconds to go from the top to full extension.

Then, put your feet on the box again, raise yourself up with leg power only, and repeat. After only a very few repetitions, the forearms will start to burn. A few more reps, and the hands will start to cramp badly and you'll have to give it your all just to hang on. At six or seven repetitions, the forearms and hands will be screaming at you. But keep it up, until you can no longer control the downward motion. If you can get to the point where you can do 12 to 15 reps, you should be set for anything!


Immediately after completing the curl, go to the chinning bar. Use a box to get your body up to the top (or starting) position.

Start lowering your body very slowly down, taking five or six seconds to get the job done.

As you get near the bottom, you'll probably have to swing the knees out to clear the box. Go all the way down, until the arms are fully straight.

To start another rep, use your legs to get to the top position again. Remember, you're only doing half of the chin-up. Chin-down, maybe?


Reemphasizing, you must go right to the Negative chins directly after you complete the curls. If you wait even as long as ten seconds, you'll recover more than half of your strength and the Negatives will be less effective.

Why it Works

A brief explanation of what's happening with this dual exercise is in order. When you do those curls, you work the Positive level of the biceps, forearms and hands. When you can no longer do any more curls, you have exhausted your Positive level of strength.

Immediately, go to the chinning bar, and start lowering your body weight down under control. Guess what muscles are working now? You got it ? the hands, forearms and biceps. Except, they are being partially assisted by some upper back muscles.

As soon as you start doing those lowering chin movements, you are working on the Negative level of strength. And from all we just explained to you, that is the highest level of strength in the human body. Because this exercise is of such a brutal nature, your workouts, of necessity, must be very short. You simply will not have the energy to work out long, if the nature of the workout is of such high intensity. This exercise should take no longer than 10 or 15 minutes, and most of this will be recovery time that you spend catching your breath. Twice a week is enough. Ideally, if you plan to race on Sunday, you would exercise on Tuesday and Thursday.

You might want to include some running, also but we won't get into that other area of conditioning at this time.

A Word of Warning

Performing these Negative exercises can be brutal You're concentrating hours of riding punishment into a very short period of time, How well you do at this program depends largely on your ability to grit your teeth and ignore the incredible burning sensations in the hands and forearms. However, the more you can dig in and fight off the pain, the more it'll pay off when the flag drops.

Before attempting something as arduous as Negative training, make sure that you're in an excellent state of health, and it would be wise to do some general conditioning if you're in terrible shape. If you don't, you are going to be so sore the day after you first attempt Negatives that you may want to retire from the human race. This is serious stuff that works. Treat it so. Newsletter
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