Solve the Sore Bum Conundrum and Prevent Saddle Sores with These Tips
Here’s what’s causing the pain in your butt when biking, and how to prevent and manage the problem.
By Dana Meltzer Zepeda, Team Peloton•
It's a common complaint among new cyclists: Riding in and out of the saddle, especially if you're cranking up the resistance knob, can sometimes leave your seat feeling sore for days afterward. Most of the time, it’s a simple case of bum pain that goes away over time. Other times, the irritation you’re experiencing might be saddle sores (aka skin lesions that develop from chafing).
Thankfully, the old adage “no pain, no gain” doesn't necessarily have to apply here. Instead, you can be proactive about preventing saddle sores by implementing simple solutions to combat this unpleasant side effect. We turned to Peloton instructor and Masters World Champion track cyclist Christine D'Ercole—as well as real-life Peloton Members—to get the inside scoop on how to solve (and prevent!) the sore bum conundrum for good. Here’s everything you need to know about saddle sores, how to prevent them, and how to treat saddle sores at home safely.
What Are Saddle Sores?
First, how can you tell the difference between regular bum aches and more serious saddle sores? Let’s dive in.
When you first start riding a Peloton Bike or if you’ve taken an extended break due to illness or vacation, you’re probably psyched to get in the saddle. But the next time you clip in, you might be unpleasantly surprised by discomfort in the areas of your body where your butt rests on the saddle. Your upper thighs, crotch, and butt might feel sore and tender — not exactly ideal riding conditions.
Good news though: These uncomfortable sensations are just your run-of-the-mill case of sore bum, and that’s nothing to be concerned about. A few simple tweaks to your bike (which we’ll get into) will ease that pain. After a day or two off to recover, you’re good to clip in.
But there’s a different, more serious pain that you should know about if you’re a frequent rider: saddle sores. Saddle sores typically come from infected hair follicles (which look like little red spots), and they can look like chafing, pimples, or abscesses, all around your genital area. If the infected hair follicles don’t heal properly, the mild inflammations can transform into boils—aka fluid-filled bumps that can have the capacity to become abscesses or lesions. Since abscesses or lesions are open wounds, they’re susceptible to infections and require immediate medical attention.
As far as what causes saddle sores, it’s the ugly combination of friction, sweat, heat, and reduced blood flow. These factors create a perfect storm of ideal bacterial breeding grounds (if saddle sores were The Bachelor, the friction-sweat-heat combo would be the Fantasy Suites).
But good news—saddle sores ARE preventable. Also worth noting, they’re more common amongst competitive cyclists than everyday riders, so if you’re not spending hours in the saddle each day and sticking to the tips below, you have little to worry about.
How to Prevent Saddle Sores and Sore Bums
With saddle sores, the best offense is a good defense; that is, they’re easier to prevent than to treat. Luckily, we have the best advice from Christine and Peloton Members about how to prevent saddle sores, even when you’re a daily rider logging dozens of miles a week.
Make Sure Your Bike is Level
Making sure your saddle is even should help solve most of your sore seat problems. “If your saddle isn't level, you will feel uncomfortable pressure on the soft tissues,” Christine explains.
To fix it, grab an adjustable wrench and download a leveling app on your phone. Under your saddle, there’s a nut and bolt on each side; loosen them just enough to adjust the angle of the seat. Once you’ve made sure that it’s level, tighten the bolts back up. Voila! Your bike seat is level, and you’re ready to ride pain-free.
Adjust Your Bike Settings
The proper bike set up can make or break a great ride. “If the saddle is too high or low, too far back or forward, it can get uncomfortable,” Christine says. Remember: Saddle height should allow a soft bend in the knee when the foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Similarly, “at the bottom of the pedal stroke, if your toes are dropping, knees are locking and hips are rocking, your saddle is too high, adding pressure to your seat,” Christine says. (Don’t forget to check your cycling form, too.)
Another pro tip? Keep your handlebars even with or slightly above the saddle’s level. That way, your weight is distributed more evenly in your sit bones, rather than concentrated around your genital area, making them prone to numbness and chafing. You shouldn’t feel like you’re leaning over the handlebars and putting all your weight in them. To make sure your Bike settings are correct, follow these Peloton support instructions for easy adjustment.
Are multiple riders enjoying the same bike? “My wife and I switch back and forth all the time,” says Member Tari H., who has also relied on Christine’s online Bike fit tutorial. “The seat settings are very easy to adjust. Just figure out first where you need them to be.”
Want a visual cue? Use a piece of tape or a silver permanent marker to subtly note where each Member’s settings are. That way, you’ll be able to easily find your perfect fit before every single ride.
Wear Padded Bike Shorts
If your seat still hurts, try investing in a few products to stay on track with your fitness goals. Christine recommends padded cycling shorts, which come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses. (And to reduce chafing, you’ll want to wear them without underwear.)
When Member Gwendelyn K. started her Peloton journey, she quickly discovered that padded bike shorts were a lifesaver. “Shout out to all the people who told me to get padded bike pants and shorts when I asked for the best advice they could give me as a newbie,” she says. “You guys are the real MVPs!” Make sure that you wash your shorts every time you wear them to get rid of any bacteria that might increase the risk of an infection, and invest in a seamless pair that fits properly (any extra material can cause chafing and saddle sores).
“Also, applying a chamois cream can help tremendously to further reduce friction,” Christine says. A chamois cream, FYI, is a thick cream that provides a barrier between your body and the fabric of your shorts, and it often has soothing ingredients like aloe vera or shea butter. Look for one with pain-relieving and anti-bacterial properties.
Try a Bike Seat or Saddle Cover
“I recommend padded shorts over the saddle covers because they tend to slip off and are quite bulky,” Christine says. But if all else fails, purchasing a seat cover can also make a world of difference to help prevent saddle sores. Some have extra padding, some have unique shapes, and some have cutouts—the key is trying out a few options to understand what works best for you.
Member Juan O. swears by saddle covers. “Love it,” he says. “I've been using one for about 10-plus years now. I can’t ride without one.” Make sure you find one that’s compatible with your Peloton Bike. We recommend the Schwinn Cruiser Gel Seat Cover.
Increase Your Rides Slowly
Sometimes, saddle sores develop when you get a little too enthused about riding. Instead of diving into hour-long rides every single day, start slowly to build up your endurance and allow your body to get used to the movement of cycling. Then, once you’ve adjusted, you can gradually increase the duration and frequency of your rides.
How to Treat Saddle Sores
If you feel a saddle sore developing, there are measures you can take to make sure it doesn’t develop into anything more serious. Here’s how to treat saddle sores.
Take a Break
First and foremost, take a break from your bike for as long as it takes your saddle sores to heal. No ifs, ands, or buts; this is an essential step in preventing saddle sores from worsening (and potentially landing you in the doctor’s office).
Avoid Getting Your Saddle Sores Wet
The key to treating your saddle sores is keeping the area dry, clean, and ventilated. During your time off, wear loose, flowy clothing that lets any affected areas breathe. Now’s not the time to frequent steam rooms or other moist areas, and stay away from tight, suffocating fabrics around your saddle sores. “Easy breezy” is your new lifestyle.
When you’re in the shower, wash the area with antibacterial soap, and dry it thoroughly. Otherwise, leave saddle sores alone. Avoid any picking, popping, squeezing, or pressing, as tempting as it may be. The more you mess with saddle sores, the more likely they are to develop bacterial infections.
Apply Antibacterial Cream
Help your body speed up the healing process by regularly applying an antibacterial cream to any potential saddle sores. Sudocrem is a popular over-the-counter option among cyclists, or you can look for creams with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Dab on a thin layer a couple of times a day to see if it helps treat saddle sores.
Know When to See Your Doctor
If your saddle sores are still lingering after a week, or they worsen (think: they become more painful or develop into open lesions), it’s time to seek medical help. You might need a prescription antibiotic cream, or in the most serious circumstances, a doctor may put you on an oral antibiotic or drain your saddle sore surgically.
So yes, you’d much rather avoid saddle sores in the first place by wearing fitted cycling shorts, setting up your bike correctly, riding with proper form, or using a saddle cover. With these tips for preventing saddle sores, you can coast to PRs without worrying about your sore bum.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
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