In any sport, there are certain injuries that are considered “badges of honor” — unavoidable misfortunes that we can chalk up to experience and the journey toward becoming serious athletes in our favorite pursuits.
For cyclists, IT band soreness and broken collarbones are ones we encounter from time to time. But there’s one that’s much more common — and a little harder to discuss with your friends: saddle sores.
Yup, that skin irritation in the, well, most sensitive part of your gear. In some ways, saddle sores are inevitable, but the good news is they don’t need to be a frequent part of your cycling experience. Here are three tips to minimize their effect and keep you riding in comfort.
1. Get out of your chamois.
There’s always that one person who will tell you stories about how he wears his chamois all day and never gets saddle sores. Ultimately, it’s good practice to get out of your wet cycling gear as soon as possible so your skin can start healing in a dry and clean environment. There’s a great book on this topic by MapMyFitness contributor Molly Hurford (and, full disclosure, my fiancée!) entitled Saddle, Sore: A Women-Only Guide to You and Your Bike. One of its suggestions is to change out of your bike shorts as soon as you’re done riding, especially if you’re prone to irritation or infections.
Evan Guthrie of the Norco Factory Team has found a huge benefit to getting out of his chamois and showering as soon as possible after a ride. “I’ll grab a recovery shake, then go get clean to help reduce the chances of needing extra recovery days due to something like a saddle sore,” he says, “which helps me achieve more quality workouts over the course of a season.”
2. Stand up.
As a coach, this is an area I often ask about, as many cyclists are told to never stand up because it’s inefficient. In fact, the standing motion makes steep climbs easier and also has the benefit of letting pressure off your saddle area. (In other words, if your butt hurts, stop sitting on it so much!) If you find yourself inside or on very flat, monotonous terrain, try setting a timer to remind you to stand or, better yet, try searching for more variety in your rides to challenge skills like cornering, climbing and standing. The key to standing is learning to transfer your weight from one pedal to the other to find balance twice per pedal stroke. Try pausing at the bottom of each pedal stroke while looking ahead and feeling your all your weight over that pedal.
3. Check your laundry detergent.
If your saddle sores are more of a rash and worsen regardless of how much you clean up or how much fiddling you do with your bike setup, it might be good to try a hypoallergenic detergent. One of the key changes Hurford recommends in Saddle, Sore is washing your shorts with the chamois facing out and using an extra rinse to make sure all the detergent is removed before drying and wearing.
If you find your sores aren’t gone within a few rides, it’s worth taking a day or two off from riding. If they still don’t improve, visit your doctor to ensure you don’t require a more advanced topical treatment. Respecting your tissue will help you prevent extended periods off your bike or, worse, surgery. And that’s way more uncomfortable than just talking about it.