One of the biggest complaints when starting to use an indoor bike regularly is that it hurts. Not your muscles, not the sweat. But down there. Your a$$. And maybe your undercarriage too.
What causes it?
There are different types of discomfort that can arise when you start indoor cycling.
When you first start doing a new exercise or changing your level of activity you may end up with ‘DOMS’ – "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness". This is the kind of pain that makes it difficult to sit down on the toilet and get back up again after a hard workout. But that’s a good kind of pain, right?
The bigger problem, and the one most commonly complained about, is usually a ‘bruised bum’ as it may be described. The general discomfort that can feel like light bruising comes from prolonged contact between the saddle and your ‘sit bones’ (the bottom of your pelvis) when your body isn’t used to it. Your bodyweight is being focused on a smaller surface area (compared to when you sit in a chair for example and it is spread across your whole backside) and that will take a little time to adjust to.
You could also suffer from some chaffing which we’ll discuss too. But to begin with, let’s work on the sore ass issue.
How do you stop it?
Well, to be honest, you can’t stop it completely. A big part is just getting used to it. You’re getting your body to position itself in a different way, and to begin with it will be uncomfortable. But it does get better! So a better question to answer is how can you minimize the pain?
First of all - make sure you have set up your bike correctly! Incorrect posture and position can make things worse, or just be downright dangerous. Check out our guide here on how to set up your bike, and make sure that is done first. If you are rocking or moving around too much that can add to the pain!
In line with ensuring your bike is set up correctly, make sure you are set up correctly! Sit back with your bum back on the widest part of the saddle, hinge (bend) at the hip keeping your spine neutral and long - imagine a thread from the top of your bum crease up your back and out the top of your head being gently pulled up.
Engage your core - meaning you can still breathe but feel solid and grounded, and keep light on the handlebars, with soft elbows and relaxed shoulders. Your weight should be on the seat and in your legs not your upper body. Bouncing in the saddle when you increase pace (which means you should add some resistance) or sitting down heavily on the saddle after standing (take it a little slower) can make things worse. Focus on holding your form and building up your ride times as you are able to hold form for longer.
The more you do it, the more you’ll get used to it. This doesn’t mean you should do three back-to-back multi-hour sessions! Start with 10 minutes each day for a week, build up to 15 minutes. Then half an hour three times a week. For most people it takes a few weeks of regular use for it to stop being uncomfortable. When you begin riding, shifting between seated and standing positions (if you are comfortable doing so) can help build your endurance as your undercarriage gets used to the seat.
You can get padded seat toppers and padded shorts. Although the padded shorts can feel a little like a strange adult nappy, the extra fabric does reduce the direct pressure from sitting on the seat. You can start with both (ensure you have them on the bike and on you when doing your setup as they will impact the appropriate seat height when you set up) and then work towards just having the padded seat, finally moving to just the regular seat for example.
As with your bike, ensure they do fit properly so they aren’t creating any sores or blisters from moving around too much. It is also recommended that you ahem go commando under your cycling shorts or leggings! Underwear, particularly cotton, can hold moisture and also rub against your skin as you move creating additional soreness. You might just want to ensure they’re squat proof if you’re not working out at home 😉
You can get different styles of saddles, many marketed as ‘male’ or ‘female’ specific – but you may wish to try a few different styles to see if there is a difference for you. The width of your pelvis will impact how far apart the sit bones on which you’re resting are, and the seat width that will be most comfortable. I’d recommend spending more money on this only if the discomfort doesn’t ease up after 2-3 weeks.
Ensure you stretch
Most of the uncomfortable feeling comes from the pressure on parts of your pelvis that wouldn’t have such direct pressure. However, tightness from working out if you are changing your levels of fitness significantly can also contribute to general ‘pain’ which, let’s be honest, makes you regret the decision to start riding and definitely not want to rush back. So doing some gentle stretching can help to counteract that (and any DOMS from your change in activity). Focus on your hip flexors and upper (thoracic) back to help your posture, and thus position on the bike.
This can come from friction between bare skin (the ‘thigh self-love’ or ‘chub rub’), or from your inner thighs rubbing against parts of the saddle or saddle stem. Personally I always wear full length leggings rather than shorts to minimise this.
It’s also worth trying to test out bikes with your set up to ensure nothing is poking you! (For example, my Schwinn IC3 had a very awkwardly positioned handle which I only discovered after emailing them I could adjust the position of whilst tightened! If I hadn’t I would have had a horribly bruised thigh)
You may also want to get an anti-chafing cream for any particularly sensitive areas, and as mentioned above – consider going commando!!
Although uncomfortable to begin with, I promise it is worth the pain! Once you’re lost in the music, you won’t worry about anything else 😊
What worked for you? Let us know below!