Last updated: August 15th, 2023
From muscle fatigue to saddle issues to poor mobility, a few common culprits may leave you with a sore butt after biking.
This article will look at common causes of buttock pain after cycling, and more importantly, what you can do about it.
This is my opinion based on my experience and research. Always consult a medical professional for personal advice.
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Why do my glutes hurt from cycling?
The most common cause is delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), especially for new cyclists. This is harmless and usually resolves itself in a couple days.
Other common issues are saddle position, saddle pressure, and/or stiff hip rotators (especially the piriformis muscle). These are not normal to experience, so it’s important to approach them differently from regular DOMS.
A quick tip to distinguish DOMS
The characteristic sign of DOMS is a generalized ache throughout your backside, and even the upper sides of your legs. The soreness is often diffuse because your glutes actually comprise four adjacent muscles—the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus plus the tensor fascie latae.
DOMS is the same thing you’ve experienced after a tough workout—especially if you went overboard or had just come back from a hiatus. Pedaling and squats even use similar muscles, so both can cause similar soreness.
But if the discomfort is sharp, highly localized, or truly painful, then there’s probably something else going on. We’ll come back to this later.
Does cycling work glutes?
Cycling always works your glutes to some degree. Generally, it works your glutes hardest when you lean farther forward.
That’s one of the main reasons that forward-leaning bicycles (think: typical road racing bikes) are significantly faster than upright ones. The smaller the angle between your torso and legs, the more power your glutes can contribute, but the sorer they may get.
How pedaling causes glute soreness
Consider what happens during the downward part of each pedal stroke:
- Your quadriceps work to straighten your leg.
- Your glutes work to pull your leg down and back.
- Your calves (soleus and gastrocnemius) work to keep your ankles slightly flexed.
Our quads have the most mechanical advantage at the top of the pedal stroke. We tend to over-use on them while under-using our glutes, especially on gentler rides. It’s not the most efficient, but it’s what most of us naturally do.
Harder pedaling requires all the strength we can muster, so we tend to recruit more glute strength as our effort increases. That racks up more micro-damage to individual glute muscle fibers, resulting in localized inflammation that we perceive as soreness.
Now, this kind of inflammation isn’t bad. In fact, it’s what triggers muscles to “grow back” stronger.
Besides taking it easy, what can you do about it?
How to reduce & soothe soreness
You cannot prevent glute soreness altogether, but it will diminish or disappear as those muscles get used to your riding style.
And that leads to my first tip:
1. Ride consistently
You can keep glute soreness at bay by cycling at least a couple times a week at moderate intensity. Increase your intensity gradually, since sudden intensity (like chasing personal records on sprints or climbs) drastically increases soreness.
Our muscles are amazingly adaptable, but it goes both ways. They get accustomed to regular use…but also to regular dis-use. That’s why a break can leave us sorer when we’re back in the saddle.
Naturally, harder efforts mean more DOMS. Cruising along the beach won’t leave your glutes aching. Your first time pushing a stiff gear up a two-mile climb while seated probably will.
Consistent time and effort on the bike—even if brief—will keep those excess aches to a minimum.
2. Try to pedal around 90 rpm
Would you believe that pedaling faster may reduce glute soreness?
A slower cadence often means we’re pushing hard in a high gear. That demands more from our stronger but quicker-fatiguing type II muscle fibers, so we run out of steam sooner—and wind up sorer to boot.
But if we pedal closer to 90 rpm (in an easier gear), we rely more on higher-endurance type I muscle fibers. That cadence may feel strangely quick to a casual cyclist, but it’s the best way to avoid unnecessary exertion, exhaustion, and glute soreness.
Of course, it’s possible to go too far. Ultra-high cadences can become taxing in their own right. For most of us, roughly 90 rpm is a good balance of not straining during the pedal stroke and not wasting energy spinning.
To put it another way:
A slow cadence and stiff gear is like lifting a 5-lb weight 30 times.
A quick cadence and modest gear is like lifting a 30-lb weight 5 times.
The former will cause more soreness for the average person who hasn’t trained specifically for it.
3. Foam-roll & stretch every day
Foam-rolling and stretching are the most powerful off-bike tactics to minimize soreness.
A few minutes before riding, they’ll increase circulation and maximize your range of motion.
From a few minutes to a few days after riding, they’ll reduce muscle adhesions and help combat any stiffness caused by cycling posture (not to mention sitting through the day).
Other common reasons your butt hurts from cycling
Although delayed-onset muscle soreness is the most common cause, it’s far from the only one.
Sharper or more localized pain could indicate tight or strained hip rotators (especially the piriformis), lower back issues, or even just saddle pain.
In my experience, here are the main signs that something else is going on:
- The pain feel sharper or more focused on a single point, as opposed to an overall ache
- It hurts exclusively in a certain range of motion
- The pain seems to radiate up your back or down your leg
It’s critical to see a physical therapist in these cases. Unlike simply muscle soreness, they don’t always resolve themselves.
Unless It’s often related to tightness and immobility.
Cycling involves essentially no hip rotation, inward or outward. Most of us also spend a lot of time seated off the bike, again with no hip rotation, so we’re prone to tightness in the first place.
Could your bike saddle be the problem?
If the pain is in the skin on top of your glutes, not deeper inside the muscles, it may actually be a saddle issue.
Most often, we’re talking about saddle sores. It’s common—and surprisingly painful—to deal with these tender red areas on your skin.
They should heal themselves with a few days off the bike. Good hygiene and moisture-wicking underwear often prevent recurrence. You can also wear biking shorts, but they’re overkill for casual riding.
There’s also the matter of the saddle itself.
Ideally, your sit bones bear your weight. But the wrong size, shape, or angle may cause saddle pain due to pressure on tissue that wasn’t meant to support you. This is especially common if you’ve switched riding posture from forward-leaning to upright posture or vice-versa. That changes your pelvic tilt and weight distribution, which call for a saddle to match.
Ironically, squishy saddles can also pause pain near your glutes. They feel pleasant at first, but the overly soft material deforms and compresses soft tissue on longer rides.
Fortunately, quick adjustments and/or a better-fitting saddle can solve these issues. It will take some experimentation, so don’t be shy to ask your local bike shop for advice!
Cycling glute pain: causes & solutions
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (known as DOMS) is the main cause of cycling glute pain. It’s the same sort of diffuse ache we experience after workouts or physical labor. While unpleasant, it’s usually not a problem, and should diminish over 2-3 days.
But if the pain feels very pointed or intense, spreads far beyond your butt, or doesn’t go away quickly, then it may reflect anything from posture problems to deep hip muscle strains. See your doctor or physical therapist for diagnosis and treatment.
Finally, if your glute pain only happens while on the saddle, then I’d suspect saddle sores or a fundamentally ill-fitting saddle. Both are annoying, but both are quick fixes, too!