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Toe or Heel? Question on the IDEAL Pedal Stroke....(24 posts)

Toe or Heel? Question on the IDEAL Pedal Stroke....Delia
Oct 1, 2001 8:28 AM
One thing I can work on now that I'm doing the trainer thing more often is my pedal stroke. How does the IDEAL pedal stroke work? I know we've discussed this before but I did a search on 'pedal' and I could not find the thread. Can someone tell me how to find the thread/threads? Where ideally should the pressure be applied? Should the force go through the heel on the downstroke causing it to dip slightly below the pedal itself--(the scraping mud technique)? Or the opposite where the pressure is applied to the pedal from the upper-sole so that the heel is above the pedal on the downstroke? Or is the foot supposed to be flat (completely horizontal)at all times?
Your ideal, is just that....yours...Savoirfaire
Oct 1, 2001 8:51 AM
If you are referring to "ankling", whether this technique has any performance benfits has not been proven.



I suggest you go with whatever feels comfortable for you. Whether that is heels up, down, or by "ankling". Listen to your body, it will tell you what to do...
Avoid toe downjtolleson
Oct 1, 2001 8:58 AM
While I agree that the "mud scraping" and "heel down" and "paintbrush" (pick your description) analysis of pedal stroke is debated, I do think that virtually all sources say that toeing down creates calf fatigue and can even cause foot pain (unless your shoe is pefectly rigid, ie., carbon, you are torquing you plantar fascii and entire foot in fact by toeing down while pedaling).

Ditto on the suggestion (below) for one legged practice. A real eye opener!
Oct 1, 2001 10:19 AM
ever see Pantani climbing? He's got the most dramatic toe down form... his foot points just about striaght down at the top of the stroke- very weird. But then again, he's a weirdo.
out of the saddle is differentDog
Oct 1, 2001 10:23 AM
Your body is doing completely different things out of the saddle compared to sitting. You are driving with your whole leg and body weight, and may need the support of extended (stiff) ankles to handle the power. It's a theory.

recipe for hyperextensionmr_spin
Oct 1, 2001 11:45 AM
Toe down, out of the saddle climbing can easily cause hyperextension injuries. When your leg is fully extended and your toes are down, you are essentially doing the same thing as a ballerina, and subject to all of the same injuries. Unless you are wearing a tutu, too much toe down is bad.

I used to be a toe down climber, and had lots of knee injuries. I flattened out my stroke two years ago and haven't had any knee problems since. Best thing I ever did.
so if I wear a tutu...Dog
Oct 1, 2001 11:58 AM
So, you are saying that climbing toes down is ok if wearing tutu? Gee whiz, we look goofy enough already in tights. :-)

Thanks for the image !Delia
Oct 1, 2001 12:15 PM
Just remember Dog, the rules for wearing a tutuSpinchick
Oct 1, 2001 1:58 PM
are the same as the rules for wearing a kilt.
what's that?Dog
Oct 1, 2001 2:11 PM
What's that, don't wear one unless you are playing bagpipes?

Lycra is bad enough, thank you.

Och, but ye'd be doin' withait the lycra if yer werin' a kilt!Spinchick
Oct 1, 2001 2:32 PM
recipe for hyperextensionWoof the dog
Oct 2, 2001 3:18 AM
well, when climbing out of saddle I naturally start pulling hard on the upstroke while pushing on the downstoke. Most weight is obviously concentrated on the leg that is down and pretty flat, or at least almost flat. Following this, I don't see how you could have a knee injury because on the upstroke your toe is pointing down. Its just a hamstring that really shortens pulling your leg up. You are probably referring to having excessive toe-down pointing in your lower leg that is doing the downstroke, right? Mind to elaborate? What kind of knee injury did you have (where around the knee)

See, you don't want to think pedaling circles. You have to think pedaling triangles, which will help imitate a more efficient stroke. Your foot position at the bottom of the stroke depends on your saddle height. Some people have it lower, so when going hard, you can see their heel lower than the toe. If your seat is too high, you will feel that when you push hard, your leg extension limits you. In any case, saddle height matters. The key to developing a smooth stroke is learning to pedal with one leg, although it is a bit different than doing it with two. When pedaling with one, you would tend to put your heel lower than toes at the bottome of the stroke and then quickly pulling that heel way up tightening up your calf muscle. If you don't raise your heel on the upstorke, you will have an empty/no power applied spot at the top. When pedaling with your two legs you obviously don't "ankle" as much and don't get your legs all tired. What works for me so far is a lot of toe-down on the upstoke. The key is to train your calves not to get tired and cramp, which will result in additional power not only through just the down and bottom of the stoke but also when you actually pull up. I imagine thats why higher cat riders have that mean look to their can see every friggin ligament?/muscle. Yes, you may even cramp up when doing a lot of hill climbing, but it does get better with time. When you pull up with your foot flat, you stretch out your calf (or not use it) while tightening that other muscle in front of your leg, but I think that is less efficient 'cause your calf muscle is bigger and stronger by default...why not use it then?

Am i making any kind of sense?
I just love typing, don't I?

Woof the dog.
Oct 1, 2001 10:15 AM
Don't you agree that sometimes you can get used to 'the wrong' form and it 'feels' right ... then when you try 'the right' or 'more correct' form it seems unusual until you do it enough that your body adapts to the new form? What feels comfortable to the body is what it's used to...just like some people learn to unclip the left foot first and then when asked to unclip with the right foot remark that it feels awkward and unnatural.

The links you sent were really informative. Thanks :)

Oct 1, 2001 2:24 PM
Everyone is different, and there is no proven perfomance advantage of one style over the other for the general public. And what works best for you, may not be suitable for someone else.

Unless you have some exaggerated style, I would not worry too much about, and as long as you are not having trouble with your feet or ankles. I think you will find that for different situations, your pedaling style will change. i.e. spinning lightly, sprinting, hills, or time trialing.

Cleat position can have an effect on this also, so can saddle position. There can be many variables in the mix, so it is always best done with a little experimentation, and sense what your body is telling you.

The one leg drills as others suggested are probably a good way to get input, and help train your pedaling mechanics.
re: Toe or Heel? Question on the IDEAL Pedal Stroke....Jack S
Oct 1, 2001 8:55 AM
think "perfect circles" and smoothness. For a real eye-opener, drop into a very low gear and do some one-legged drills.
another referenceDog
Oct 1, 2001 9:07 AM

For me, on long rides I mix it up, as it uses different muscles. So, no *one* thing may be "ideal." Ideally, you'd probably develop several types of strokes, to maximize power, efficiency, and comfort over the long haul. My pedalling up easy hills, steep hills, and flat ground is completely different.

Question about the reference.Delia
Oct 1, 2001 10:01 AM

About the link, am I right in concluding that the shorter the 'shin length' the greater the wattage? In that case, the inverse pedal stroke where the heal is pointing down and the toes are pointing up would be the most powerful, no?

that's the conclusion I gotDog
Oct 1, 2001 10:20 AM
Yup, in fact I think there is another link down on that page that draws that conclusion, heal down is more powerful.

But, in the real world, things aren't constant or ideal. While a certain position may make more power for a while, you may have to switch around now and then to take advantage of other muscles and give some a rest. Flexibility (in the sense of being able to do multiple styles), may help. The human body is not like a car motor, in that it does not work the same way every time, and unlike a car motor (for the most part), it fatigues.

But, that is not to say we should not seek out better styles of riding. My point is that no one style will likely be ideal. It may take several.

Also, the pedaling stroke is not necessarily static. Even if heal down is ideal for a portion of the stroke, one might make more power by transitioning to toes down at the bottom of the stroke to ankle through the stroke, and then toes down on the up stroke, transitioning back to heal down over the top.

re: whatever works for you...dzrider
Oct 1, 2001 9:07 AM
I seldom focus on pedaling while I'm riding. There are so many more pleasant things to consider. When I do think about pedalling, I just try to keep my feet as light on the pedals as I can which I usually accomplish by flexing my foot from a toe down position at the bottom of the stroke to a toe up position at the top then letting gravity take my foot to the bottom. I don't pretend to know if this is ideal for me, much less anybody else.
References and TechniqueJon
Oct 1, 2001 9:32 AM
In Ed Burke's "Serious Cycling" there's a useful discussion of pedalling mechanics. Also, on Kevin
Lippert's website at he had an article the pedal stroke. The above post regard-
ing toeing down is correct. Not only does that technique stress the calf muscles, it also results in a
loss of power for most people. In addition to the one-legged workouts suggested I'd strongly recommend
you get a set of rollers and learn how to use them. For me, roller work taught me to use my hip flexors
and hamstrings in the pedal stroke and improved my cycling economy enormously. Developing good
pedalling mechanics and cadence takes a long, long time and is something that has to be worked
at on a continual basis.
Delia, I think that the debates over "ideal" pedal stroke arebill
Oct 1, 2001 11:18 AM
beyond your level of experience (before you call me uppity -- beyond mine, too). What I think helped my stroke before I even got to thinking about ankling or toeing or whatever is circles. Circles, baby. I think about moving my little ankle bones in circles while keeping the pressure on the balls of my feet as even as possible. Then, you start feeling your hips and lower back worked into the program, and then just more of your leg, period. I think that, until you have a really good stroke and are using your lower body efficiently, trying to wring that last little bit of power out by focussing on a small aspect of your stroke (ankling or whatever) and what little thing to do with your calves is going to lead you into bad habits sooner than anything you can do by not even thinking about it. Right now, I don't even think about my foot as a plane; I just try to keep the pressure even and spin with as much of my lower body as possible.
And, think about rollers. I'll say it again. I know that you've invested in the trainer and don't feel like anyone's telling you that you may have spent your money better elsewhere, but that's what I really think.
You know're right...Delia
Oct 1, 2001 12:10 PM
It's just that on the trainer, it gets so boring...even with my music/tv on. I begin to notice (in my bored state) the little things : pedal stroke, seat position, hand position....and then I begin to wonder...and wondering brings up questions...questions that I ask my fellow board members. Since I really don't have to concentrate on what's in front of me or the grade of the road, I notice more when my muscles get fatigued i.e. what position I'm in and then begin to think about ways ride/sit/pedal more efficiently. I know it won't make a difference right now since I'm so new to this sport... I just can't help but be curious.

As to my choice of trainers/rollers: they both have their pluses...I chose to go the trainer route (ideally it would be nice to have both but unfortunately the 'funds' variable does exist in the equation).

Oh and thanks for making such an effort to be considerate in your response :)

trainers are incredibly boring...JJ
Oct 1, 2001 12:26 PM
try a trainer party (BYOB&T) or take up cyclo-cross and really suffer
I am/was an "ankler"Neo
Oct 1, 2001 2:18 PM
I always heard from Greg LeMond to drop your ankle for better endurance, point toes/heel up for sprinting power. So thats what I did. I then attended an Eddie B camp, where he stated that i was "loosing power" by dropping my ankle during video analysis. I was confused. It just goes to show, not everything works for everyone. I now drop the ankle again, not as embellished as before, which seems to work fine for me.