Rider: RideLogic Master Coach Patrick Carey, Photo by Rachel Carey


By Lee McCormack

Imagine the gnarliest trail you can. Great riders flow like water. Lesser riders (maybe including you) strain and struggle. The difference: Great riders know how to pump terrain.

This article shows you the essential concepts of mountain bike pumping, but pumping is a dynamic motion, and words and images only go so far. I strongly recommend you go to, click the “Online School” tab, and sign up for a free month with the code “MBApump.” Check out the animations and videos in the “Pumping Bumps” course.

Whenever you’re between bumps, extend tall. This gives you maximum leg range to absorb the next frontside. Rider: RideLogic Master Coach Patrick Carey, Photo by Rachel Carey


What is pumping?

Pumping is the act of synchronizing your body and bike with the trail. Put simply, you reduce down pressure on faces that point at you (the jagged front of a death rock) and increase down pressure on faces that point where you want to go (the delicious backside of a round roller). This helps you generate and maintain more speed with less effort.

Pumping is a universal skill. That’s one reason a great BMXer, skateboarder, snowboarder, skier, motocrosser or surfer is generally very good on a mountain bike. You might be thinking that learning to pump a bike improves your skills in those other sports as well. You’re right. I was off skis for over a decade. During that time, I became a world-class pumper on a bike. When I retried skiing, I decided to ski the way I ride. My kids’ ski instructor thought I was a pro skier!

Bonus: The way I teach pumping taps into archetypal movements that are programmed deeply into your body. When you wake those up, everything you do with your body—everything—is easier, less painful and just plain better. Not to mention, you end up with less body fat and more muscle. Really.
Here’s the progression I use when teaching people to pump bumps.

As your bike dips through a trough, pull your hands toward you. Rider: RideLogic Master Coach Patrick Carey, Photo by Rachel Carey


Step 1: Arms

While you balance safely on your pedals, your arms actively manage the handlebars to match the angle of your bike with the trail and thus keep you balanced safely on your pedals. This is important: When you are balanced on your feet, you cannot be flung over your handlebars. The most “flowy” tracks and trails are built like waves. Each wave has two parts:

1. Trough. As your bike rolls through the hole, the bars rotate backward towards you. That’s gonna happen no matter what, so you might as well actively pull them towards you. The harder you pull, the more you lever the rear wheel into the ground. This is one source of pumping propulsion.

2. Crest. As your bike rolls across the top, the bars rotate forward away from you. That’s gonna happen no matter what, so you might as well actively push them away from you. The faster you push, the more you lever the rear wheel off the ground. This makes you way smoother in roots and rocks.
This arm action is mandatory, because it prevents you from being thrown over your handlebars. It also has the bonus of generating some pumping power. Start here.

Whenever you’re on top of any bump, retract your legs into a low hinge. This gives you maximum leg range to extend into the next backside. Rider: RideLogic Master Coach Patrick Carey, Photo by Rachel Carey


Step 2: Legs

Arms handle angles. Legs handle elevation. When you ride through bumps, you want your head and torso to flow straight and level, like a mogul skier. Use your legs to 1) absorb the fronts of bumps and 2) apply pressure to the backs of bumps. This is a source of more pumping power.

Review the article on “Hinging”.  As you skim across the crest of a bump, fold into your lowest hinge. As you press into the trough between bumps, extend into your highest hinge.

The more range of motion you have in your hips and hamstrings, the bigger the bumps you can handle smoothly. The more powerfully you push down with your glutes (not your quads), the more pumping power you generate. As you can imagine, your hips make a lot more power than your arms.

As your bike crosses over the top of a bump, push your hands away. Rider: RideLogic Master Coach Patrick Carey, Photo by Rachel Carey


Step 3: Arms and legs together

Here’s where things get interesting. At this level, we’re looking for a linear row/anti-row cycle.
Row through every trough. Pull back with your arms and push down with your legs at the same time. This manages the angle of the bike and produces mega pumping power. All the biggest muscles in your body—your posterior chain—are working together as designed.

Anti-row across every crest. At the same time, push forward with your arms and pull up with your legs. This flicks the bike across the top of the bump and prevents the rear wheel from hanging up. Rowing is a strength move. That’s where pumping power comes from. Anti-rowing is a speed move. It resets you for the next row. When you can execute linear row/anti-row on the trails, you’ll be one of the best riders around, but that’s just the beginning.

Step 4: Ellipses of love

In real life, the timing of your arms and legs is offset. Arms are in sync with crests and troughs. Legs are in sync with ups and downs. When your hands are moving forward and back and your feet are moving up and down, and their timing is out of phase, the resulting hand motion is round.

Your brain can’t consciously manage the precise timing of every muscle in your body. Don’t sweat the details. After you have a solid linear pump, think roundness and you’ll start to feel it. For a jump-start, see the lessons and animated gif inside

Practice your pump

As with every skill, you only master what you do intentionally and frequently. The two best places to learn pump technique are:

1. A pump track. They are popping up all over the world. Focus on the straights for now. While the ideal bike is a hardtail or short-travel trail bike, ride whatever you have.

2. A RipRow. I invented this machine to help my own riding. Since then, we’ve sold almost 1000 units. This thing is even more effective than a pump track because there is no bike and no bumps, and weather and darkness are not issues. It’s just you—and you. When you get back on your bike, watch out!

I remember when I first learned to pump terrain. Rocks I had been avoiding suddenly became sweet little bursts of backside speed. Every ride got faster, smoother and way more fun. As I get better and better at this skill, my riding is getting better and better, too. What fun. I hope the same for you. Have fun out there!

Editor’s note: Lee McCormack is a world renowned MTB skills author and instructor, as well as inventor of the RipRow training tool and the RideLogic bike-fit and skills-training system. Learn more at

Be sure to check out the rest of Lee’s Appetite for Instruction stories on the Hinge, the essentials of cornering parts one, two, three and how to properly brake on a mountain bike.

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