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'Splain This To Me (toe scrunching question)...(13 posts)

'Splain This To Me (toe scrunching question)...Kristin
Aug 15, 2001 7:28 AM
...or should I say toe flaying? I made a concerted effort to stop tightening my foot while pedaling. The result is that I began only pushing down on the pedals. According to my cycling doc, this causes too much upper torso action. He challenged me to use my calves more, spin faster and focus on quieting my upper vertibrae. Whenever I try to use my calf muscles and pull thru the bottom of the stroke, I tighten and flex my toes. I just don't get how to keep my toes relaxed while engaging these muscles. Its like trying to learn the Vulcan prosperity sign. What am I doing wrong???
Thinking, worrying, stressing.MB1
Aug 15, 2001 7:40 AM
Remember to have fun. But don't think about it......:-)
re: 'Splain This To Me (toe scrunching question)...steeveo
Aug 15, 2001 7:45 AM
I've done the same thing for 20 years. No biggie. I just have damm strong toes because of it.
Live Long and Prosper...MeDotOrg
Aug 15, 2001 7:58 AM
One of the most difficult things to describe in words is how the operation of certain muscle groups seems to be somehow "attached" to other muscles. In other words, you seemingly "have" to splay or tighten your toes when you use your calf muscles.

When humans get into the realm of describing what their body does on auto-pilot, words begin to fail us. So when you ask how to keep your does relaxed while engaging your calf muscles, it's tempting to say "I dunno, just do it." Your body has "learned" that using your calf muscles should be accompanied by splaying your toes. (My guess is it has something to do with using your calf muscles more while walking or running over uneven or shaky terrain.)

I'm pretty ignorant about human physiology, so I can't tell you exactly what you need to do to "unlearn" this behavior. I would say you need to describe to your cycling doc exactly how the process of how tightening your calves is "tied" to your toes. Maybe there are some exercise you can do to help separate these things...
cycling doc?Hank
Aug 15, 2001 8:14 AM
wow. cool. Um, I think you just need to work on your spin more and try to relax a bit. Also, what shoes are you using? I've found that going with a very stiff and supportive shoe like Carnac (and I use a custom insole with them) allowed my feet to spread out and relax quite a bit.
Aug 15, 2001 8:42 AM
I think Hank's on to the right answer with the shoes. If your shoes are stiff enough, and your foot is anchored well within the shoe, everything moves as a unit. I've found that three-strap shoes with a good heel cup and a stiff sole make a big difference over my two-strap MTB shoes, which are also flexier.
Try this...UncleMoe
Aug 15, 2001 8:31 AM
I tend to do the same thing you describe, usually when I'm climbing or on a long ride and I get tired and lazy. The result is my toes go numb. These methods seems to work for me, sometimes better than others. Try one or all of the following:

- Cross your big toe with the second toe in a relaxed manner just slightly. This kind of forces you to relax your toes, especially on the downstroke. Just don't cross them tightly (like you would your fingers) or you just make it worse.

- Push and pull from your heal, not the ball of your foot or your toes. Think of your ankle as the axes, even though the ball of your foot connects to the peddle.

- Try to keep your feet parrallel to the ground.

With these methods, I lose a little bit of power and speed in the short run, but in the long run I am more comfortable and (I think) I improve my technique.
forgot to say what shoes I useKristin
Aug 15, 2001 9:06 AM
I think it does makes some difference. I'm riding SPD pedals with Look MS shoes. They are not as stiff or snug as a road shoe. They fit well when I first got them, but after a season of use, they're loose. My feet have plenty of room to move around in there. I'm buying speedplays & new shoes in the spring. I am keeping it fun. Well, now I am. I changed my focus this week because I was stressing too much and beginning to hate cycling. So, no more goals this season. I'm just riding for enjoyment now. But I couldn't help it--I just had to ask one more technical question!! Figuring out cycling is like solving a puzzle--a puzzle that hurts. That's fun...isn't it?
the loose shoes won't helplonefrontranger
Aug 15, 2001 9:47 AM
Part of your toe-scrunch is probably coming from trying to stabilize your foot. I've had this problem with running shoes - I have wide feet and have to go big with my shoes unless I can find wide sizes.

Maybe try a couple relaxation drills at the start of your ride. While coasting on a slight downhill slope in a parking lot or *very* quiet road, clip out one, then the other leg and stretch /relax your leg from the hip all the way down. Shake your foot out to the side a bit, then switch legs. Maintain enough forward momentum that you don't have to think about balancing. If you feel safe enough, try unclipping both feet and just balance the bike with your hips, with your legs dangling loose. The idea is to get away from feeling helpless when you don't have your feet engaged.

While spinning, try visualizing your knees coming up and over the top of the pedalstroke. I had problems with mashing and stiffness when my coaches told me to visualize "scraping mud". Concentrating on lightening the legs instead (by thinking about lifting the knees) really helped relax and engage my lower leg.
Before I answer, answer me this.........Len J
Aug 15, 2001 9:10 AM
does it also happen when you use an easier gear? or is only when you are trying to push a higher gear for more speed? When I worry about speed, I can get my entire body tense, when I worry about form & technique & relaxing, eventually the speed comes. I am not smart enough to concentrate on both.

Remember, you are trying to learn a new behavior, that is smooth circular relaxed pedaling, get this down first & the speed will come.

My .02
Good luck
re: 'Splain This To Me (toe scrunching question)...LC
Aug 15, 2001 9:35 AM
Your doc is right, you have to spin and keep your torso quiet. I wish I could say it is easy, but it takes quite a while to learn. It took more than a year before my stomach, back and leg muscles became strong enough to maintain it more than a few miles. I even read that pros have to relearn how to do the perfect pedal stoke every year if they take a few months off. Concentrate on doing 90-120 rpm while being relaxed and not bouncing. Also try some one legged pedaling either in a stationary trainer or even on a quiet road to learn how to use your whole leg and body to pedal.
Cool idea....UncleMoe
Aug 15, 2001 10:13 AM
That is a cool idea about spinning with just one leg. Can't exactly get away with not pulling up thru the rotation too.
Pull back more, pull up lessmr_spin
Aug 15, 2001 10:57 AM
Instead of trying to pull UP on the up stroke, pull BACK more when you are coming off the down stroke. In a sense, drag or "slide" your foot along the bottom of the circle. Think of it as finishing off the down stroke rather than starting the up stroke. The up action will follow automatically, and your toes won't have time to tense up. After the up stroke has started, pull it up and over. Repeat.

Learning the Vulcan prosperity sign is easy compared to this stuff.