How to prevent and relieve pain from indoor cycling
Stationary bikes and trainers are more popular than ever, but they don’t always come equipped for your best comfort out of the box. Check out these tips and tricks to help you ride happily and pain free for the long haul…
Many newcomers to indoor cycling are riding a Peloton bike, and riding hard
One welcome side-effect of the lockdowns and restrictions of 2020 is the number of people who turned to cycling for exercise and mental health, both outdoors and indoors. For many, indoor cycling has become a regular part of a new workout routine, and the Peloton stationary bike has launched thousands of new cyclists into a world of competitive, aggressive riding for fitness with a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, that sudden increase in demanding exercise on new equipment creates potential for a variety of injuries, aches and pains.
Most of the causes of pain riding a Peloton, or other indoor cycling equipment, are no different than issues affecting any other cyclist riding indoors or out, mostly to do with how the bike fits you, and how it is equipped.
However, Peloton cycling comes with competitive group dynamics and hard-charging leaders, and it’s easy to push yourself harder, more often, than you might if you were out for a ride around the lanes. That sets you up for overuse injuries, and if your bike and accessories are not set up correctly, it’s even more likely that something is going to hurt and spoil the fun.
Peloton muscle pain from overuse and sudden increase in exercise volume
Jumping into a new workout routine can bring on very painful aching muscles. That goes for any form of strenuous exercise, not just indoor cycling. If you find yourself hobbling around with sore muscles for a few days after starting a new regimen, or pushing yourself unusally hard, you are most likely suffering Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. That’s the result of stressed muscle fibers suffering many tiny tears, bringing pain, limited range of motion and temporary loss of strength.
Prevention involves building up gradually to more intense levels of exercise. Keep effort and duration at a lower level to start, increasing both over time until your muscles are adapted and resistant to injury.
Try mixing it up more too. Varied exercise is less likely to produce DOMS. Alternating workouts with yoga or stretching routines can help too, and foam rolling can make a big difference by helping to remove lactic acid immediately after hard exercise.
Treatment – rest is best, while the muscle tissue repairs itself. Ice packs and topical analgesics can help reduce inflammation and pain. Heat pads or warm baths can help circulation and relax everything.
Peloton pain from incorrect riding position
Getting your position on the bike right is a critical step. If you ride your regular bike with a roller or trainer setup, any pain you had from incorrect bike fit when riding outdoors may become worse with more intense indoor sessions. On the other hand, stationary bikes like the Peloton are made to adapt to riders of any shape and size, so it’s easy to end up with adjustments that are close enough to feel okay, but wrong enough to cause discomfort over time.
Particularly for new cyclists, it can be a little mystifying how a small tweak to your riding position can have such a big impact on your comfort. Whatever machine you’re riding indoors, if you have any of the following pain points you may benefit from some adjustments to get a better bike fit.
Pain points from incorrect saddle height
Pain in front of hip or groin pain
A saddle that’s much too low can lead to pinching in the hip joint and muscle strain as you lift your leg on the upstroke.
Pain in the middle of the knee, or quads and glutes
Can also be caused by a saddle that’s positioned too low, putting strain on the knee during the downstroke. A seat that’s much too low demands power from the quads and glutes without extending them fully, which can cause extra strain and pain.
Pain behind the knee
A saddle that’s too high can make you hyperextend your knee as you maintain force at the bottom of the pedal stroke. That can produce pain in the tendons behind the knee, or at the top of the calf muscles just where they join the knee.
Pain, tingling, or numbness in the saddle contact area:
A seat positioned too high can make you rotate your pelvis too far forward to reach the handlebars, producing too much pressure in the wrong places. Saddle pain can also be caused by a saddle that’s simply the wrong shape or padding for you. See also the section on saddle comfort.
How to adjust saddle height correctly
One simple way to get saddle height right is to place your heel on the pedal, in your usual cycling shoes, and adjust seat height so that your heel is in good contact at the bottom of the pedal stroke, with your leg straight and no tilting of the hips from side to side.
If your heel loses contact with the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, the saddle is too high. If you find your knee is bent at all at the bottom of the stroke, it is too low.
When pedaling normally this will give you the very slight bend in the knee that you need at full extension of the stroke.
Pain points from incorrect saddle position front to back
Pain in front of the knee, or quads
If the saddle is too far forward you may feel pain from extra stress at the front of the knee, particularly riding hard on the downstroke.
Pain in the lower back can be caused by a seat that’s too far back, as you strain to reach the bars.
How to adjust fore and aft position of your bike saddle
Once you have the height dialed in, use trial and error to move the saddle forward or backward, so that as you pedal comfortably your knee cap is directly over the pedal spindle at its forward position. That is halfway on the downstroke, when the cranks are horizontal.
Pain points from incorrect handlebar position
The height and reach of the handlebars should be adjusted so your weight is comfortably distributed between hands and seat. You will move around on the bars as you ride, but normal, endurance riding will bring you back to a position where you can relax. If you’re feeling strain in your back or arms, you know that’s not it.
Back, Neck, and Shoulder Pain
With handlebars positioned too low, you can find yourself leaning too far forward, with uncomfortable tension in your neck as you hold your head high enough to keep eyes on screen or coach. Most strains in upper back, shoulders and neck can be improved by raising the bars or shortening the reach.
Pain, tingling, or numbness toward the rear of the saddle contact area
If the bars are too high, you may be sitting more upright with more pressure on your sit bones and the rear of the saddle. See also the section on saddle comfort.
Read more about bike fitting:
Start Here for a Good Bike Fit
Peloton pain from unsuitable equipment and accessories
Stationery bikes of all kinds come equipped with stock saddles, pedals and handlebars. They are chosen for adequate performance and comfort for the average rider, at an acceptable cost to the manufacturer. However, these are the contact points between you, the cyclist, and the machine, and your entire indoor cycling experience depends on how those feel as you ride.
There is a lot of room for a mismatch between what comes out of the box and what would be the most comfortable equipment for your unique physique. If you are experiencing pain in your hands, feet and particularly the saddle contact area when cycling indoors, it will be worth some time and effort to find a better setup for your needs.
Peloton saddle pain
The choice of bike saddle is critical to comfort, and while many indoor stationery bikes, including the Peloton, may have a good quality seat as standard equipment, that does not mean it will be the right saddle for you. Most new indoor cyclists will be well served by trying a saddle upgrade to suit their individual shape and riding position. First make sure your bike fit and riding position is as correct and comfortable as possible, as many saddle pain issues are related to bike fit. If the fit is good but the seat still hurts, it’s time to search for a better saddle for you. Our saddle selector is a great place to start.
Read more about saddle selection and cycling comfort:
How Do I Find the Right Bike Saddle?
10,000 Miles On the Wrong Bike Saddle
Peloton hand pain
If your palms are sore or you get numbness in your hands from pressure on the bars, padded cycling gloves can really help. You may also need to check your position to make sure you’re not too far forward on the bike, putting extra weight on your hands.
Check out selection of cycling gloves.
Pain points from incorrect foot position, or poor shoe choice
Peloton foot pain
The pedals that came with your indoor bike will determine what kind of shoes you wear.
If the pedals are the clip in type, you will of course need cycling shoes with cleats to fit the pedal. Pedals with no clip mechanism allow you to ride in any shoe. You may have ended up riding many hours in shoes that don’t fit ideally, or let you feel too much of the pressure from the pedal in the ball of your foot.
Making sure your foot is positioned correctly, with the ball of your foot right over the spindle of the pedal, is important. Shoes that have a stiff sole help to eliminate pressure points from the pedal, and it’s essential to get a good comfortable fit with no tight spots.
Most shoes made to accept cleats will have a stiff enough sole, but you may need to fine tune the position of the cleats to make sure your foot is not too far forward or back. The rotation of your foot is important too. It can help to set the cleats just loose enough for them to move as you test pedal for a few revs, so your foot can find a comfortable, natural position, then tighten them up all the way once it’s feeling good. If your foot is twisted even a little away from its natural position, you can end up with ankle or knee pain after riding for a while.
If your foot is too far back on the pedal you will be using your calf muscles more to compensate, and potentially straining the achilles tendon.
Ready for an upgrade? Shop our selection of cycling shoes here.
Good bike fit is essential for any cyclist to get the most enjoyment out of cycling, but it’s especially important if you ride hard and often. Intense Peloton workouts and Zwift sessions can magnify problems, causing enough pain to derail you from your routine.
Don’t let that happen – with a little time and effort to fine tune your position on the bike, and choose the optimum equipment and accessories for your indoor setup, you can happily crush your workouts far into the future.
Jessica Lyman says
I have experienced hip joint pain. Very internal. I am not a cyclist. My position could be wrong so I am trying to adjust to find the correct position.
If the seat is too high my legs feel like they have a better range of motion. If it’s too low my knees come in closer contact with my abdomen.
I’m starting with beginner rides of no more than 20-30 minutes and do not push myself.
I do regularly exercise so I’m confused as to why this is giving me so much pain.
Colin D. says
Sorry to hear about your hip joint pain from cycling, Jessica. I have a few thoughts based on what you wrote about finding your correct position.
First, you say you feel a better range of motion when your seat’s too high. You would have the best range of motion in the correct position, so I’m wondering if that might actually be where you need to be. If your legs are just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and your hips are not rotating (moving up and down, side to side) to maintain contact with the pedal, you’ve got it right.
I think seat height issues would typically cause pain at other points before your hip joints. That said, a very low position can make the muscles in front of the hip, or top front of your leg, hurt, and maybe the joints themselves in your case?
I would suggest doing what you can to get your seat height dialed in, and make sure you’re comfortable with front to back position also. This is how you check that: When your foot is as far forward as it goes, with the crank horizontal, the pedal spindle will be right vertically below your kneecap.
If you can, try shorter workouts more often, for a week or two. Stick to pedaling faster with very low resistance.
If your hips don’t feel any better soon, I’d look for help from your doctor and a physical therapist. Good luck!
I have recently been experiencing pain in my large toe on my right foot. I have no idea where this is coming from and ride the peloton hard at least 3-4 times a week. Any ideas?
Colin D. says
Hi Brent, sorry to hear you have pain in the toe when riding your Peloton. I have a few thoughts, but really all I would do is ask a few questions to see if there’s something you can do easily to make it better, or if you would be better off seeking help from your doctor and a physical therapist.
Where is the pain precisely? Is it from rubbing on the shoe, so from a pressure point? Is it in a tendon, top or bottom of the toe, or internal, like inside a joint? Is it like a cramp?
Does it hurt only when you ride, or can you reproduce the discomfort in other activities? Is it persistent afterwards?
If it was related to something like arthritis I would expect more prolonged pain and in other circumstances. If only on Peloton I would look at your shoes, and the position of your foot during the pedal stroke.
What shoes are you using? If you’re riding in trainers, you may need the support of a stiff-soled cycling shoe. If you’re already using cycling shoes, it’s possible the curve of the sole, tightness of the toe box or mid section is not quite right for your foot. Can you swap your shoes out for a few rides, to see if that affects the pain?
Also think about riding position. Make sure your seat height and fore-and-aft position is dialed in. If you’re off a bit, it’s possible you have too much pressure on your toes during the power stroke. Same if your foot is too far forward or back relative to the pedal spindle. Make sure the ball of your foot is centered over the spindle. You may need to loosen your cleats a little so you can adjust the position of your foot, and be careful to keep the corrected position accurately when you tighten them back down. If you’re not clipped in when riding, be conscious of that foot position as you pedal.
I hope something here helps you ride pain-free. Thank for your comment, and good luck!