Cycling is a wonderful way to get exercise while enjoying the outdoors. It can provide an effective fat-burning cardiovascular workout that sculpts great legs. Unfortunately, it can also be a pain in the butt -- literally. If you've ever spent an extended amount of time perched atop a tiny bicycle saddle, you know that they aren't exactly La-Z-Boys. If bottom woes have got you down, it's time to consider some of the causes of, and remedies for, saddle-induced butt pain.
Your saddle is the first thing to consider when riding is hurting your butt. People tend to equate large, soft, cushioned saddles with comfort and small, hard ones with pain -- but this is a misnomer. The fact is, a small, hard saddle is usually more comfortable for long rides. Because men and women are shaped differently, they need different saddles. Women's sit bones are farther apart, so they typically need a saddle that is wider than men do. Sometimes, finding the right saddle requires trial and error. Saddles come in different shapes, firmness and materials, and many bicycle shops have saddle rental programs that allow you to "test drive" a saddle before you buy it.
The position and tilt of your saddle could also be the culprit of pain. There are three main adjustments to consider: saddle height, fore/aft position and the tilt of the saddle. If a saddle is too high, your hips will rock side to side as you pedal, putting unnecessary pressure on your sit bones. An aggressive, "aero" position on a road or tri bike can place excessive pressure on your bottom as well. An incorrect fore or aft position is bad for the knees and can cause pain from poor weight distribution. If the nose of your saddle is tilted upward, it can place pressure on soft tissues. If it's angled downward, it will force weight distribution to your upper body, taking the pressure off your sit bones but causing potential neck, shoulder and hand pain.
Even if you have a great saddle and a bike that has been professionally fit, you can still experience sore sit bones and soft tissues. That's when a good pair of padded bicycle shorts comes in handy. They may not be the most fashionable or flattering, but the right shorts can make the difference between a painful and blissful ride. Look for shorts with a high-quality, seamless chamois. Never wear underwear under your shorts and always wash them between rides.
Chamois cream can also help ease saddle discomfort. On long rides, even the best bicycle shorts can cause friction and pain. Chamois creams prevent friction by acting as a light lubricant between the chamois and your skin. Chamois creams won't do anything to alleviate pressure, but if friction is causing saddle sores or skin irritation, these creams can help a lot.
Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Have your bicycle professionally fit before you start putting in a lot of mileage. Often, saddle pain can be prevented with slight tweaks in the fit of the bike. If you develop chafing or saddle sores, clean the area thoroughly and take some time off the bike. If signs of an infection develop, see your physician.
- Every Woman's Guide to Cycling; Selene Yeager
- Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, Road Cycling; Ed Pavelka
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.