10

I notice that when I pedal that I mostly seat the pedal in the arches of my foot naturally. I also notice that the cycling shoes tend to seat the cleats in the balls of the foot area, as do other cyclists. I was curious about the justification or pro/cons of either. When I try to pedal in the balls of the foot location I find it a bit better to be aggressively pedaling, but my foot slowly drifts back to the arches position. I ride flat pedals only.

1
  • 3
    If your feet want to rest the arch over the pedal, consider raising your saddle by 5mm or so and see if the pedal moves to the ball of your foot. Also, see if your power output changes. – Criggie Jul 21 '18 at 9:50
10

The ball of the foot gives a large, strong, stable area to use on the pedal, and gives you a nice lever to use your muscles effectively. Conversely, the arch of your foot is soft, elastic and not stable.

Picture your foot as you walk slowly barefoot, you push down hard on the ground with the ball of your foot, and the arch acts as a big rubber band to help spring the heel up and launch you forwards. You can walk or run solely (ahem) on the balls of your feet, without using your heel, thanks to this elasticity.

So what... Well, the ball of the foot is a strong, stable fulcrum for your foot while the arch is not, which is why you've noticed the ball is a better location for "aggressively pedalling" i.e. better power transfer. You probably also recruit lower leg muscles more naturally and powerfully using the ball.

I don't know if there is risk to you using the arches on the pedals (maybe someone else does) but there are definitely benefits in learning to use the balls of the feet. You'll use your joints and muscles more naturally, be more powerful for the effort you put in and look super cool too.

5

When you push the pedal down your calf muscles have to work to keep your foot roughly parallel to the ground.

Placing the foot forward on the pedal, near the ball, increases the lever your calves have to work against. Placing the pedal further aft on you foot, towards the arches reduces the lever, and in turn the strain on your calves.

There are a couple of consequences that make both positions useful for different riders.

For high power output over a short time it might be better to place the forefoot over the pedal axle (keep it still behind the first two metatarsal heads). As this allows another muscle group, calves to push through the stroke.

For endurance placing the foot further aft, towards the arches, has several advantages. One may expect the calves to tire more quickly than thigh muscles (less muscle volume). There is also an argument that calf muscles are not as well provided with oxygen and nutrients since they are further 'downstream' in the cardiovascular system. (I did not find reliable sources, and am sceptical about that.)

Foot placement further aft also allows a more powerful downstroke. Contrary to cyclings old traditions, where a 'round' stroke is considered an ideal, it is much more efficient to apply force to the cranks at angles where the mechanical advantage is best, ie at the downstroke.

Most cyclists with clipless pedals tend to mount their cleats too far forward on the foot. One may observe that when watching cyclists form on popular climbs: Fatigue of calf muscles leads to heel drop. During the downstroke the heel drops below level. Taking away force from the downstroke. Riders sometimes compensate this by pointing the forefoot downward all the time. Both are very visible from the side.

What may be a consequence for you?

Please consider to ride as you like, without any attempts to train yourself to use a different foot position. Your foot hurts because of pushing near the arches, where the foot is not as strong, as Swifty pointed out in their answer. If that happens, move your foot further forward. (For example, I have to place my cleats too far forward, otherwise I get unbearable pain in my right foot.)

Since you are riding flats you don't even need to think about foot position. You will simply get to the optimum position by feel.

8
  • Hey, your arguement that balls of the foot are easier on the calf muscles seems backwards. The further from the heel that the pedal is, the higher the torque that the calf muscles would have to oppose to keep the foot flat. Indeed this is probably why it is more comfortable to keep it on the arches. – Karthik T Jul 21 '18 at 12:26
  • There is also an argument that calf muscles are not as well provided with oxygen and nutrients since they are further 'downstream' in the cardiovascular system. When my left calf muscle was crushed when I was hit by car, my orthopedic surgeon told me that if any of the open wounds got infected I'd probably lose my leg "because there's not much blood flow down there." Yes, that's anecdotal, but it was coming from someone who should know. And neither "not well provided ..." nor "not much blood flow down there" are objective measures anyway, but that does support the idea. – Andrew Henle Jul 21 '18 at 15:23
  • @KarthikT I think you got my argument the wrong. Would you be so kind to read it again and point me to the part that needs clarification? – gschenk Jul 21 '18 at 18:30
  • 1
    Also can you elaborate on why "Foot placement further aft also allows a more powerful downstroke"? Also also, I don't think I've disclosed my gender so far on this site – Swifty Jul 21 '18 at 19:22
  • 2
    @gschenk heh no apology needed, it isn’t an issue for me but good habits etc. – Swifty Jul 21 '18 at 21:40
1

The lever effect of the foot means that:

  • placing the pedal spindle closer to the toes results in high sprint power but lowered endurance
  • placing the pedal spindle closer to the heel results in lower peak power but better endurance

It's up to each rider to determine which is best according to their cycling discipline. For a track racer, forwards is probably better. For a crit racer, forwards-ish is good. For MTB though, you pretty much want to go as far back as your shoes will let you. Your calves will thank you! Some pro MTB riders even go so far as to extend the slots in their shoes with a dremel so they can mount their cleats farther back.

0

Well, how about instead of opinion, we use some real science?

"The practical implication of these findings is that adjusting the anterior-posterior foot position on the pedal does not affect cycling economy in competitive cyclists pedaling at a steady-state power output eliciting approximately 90% of VT."

Both positions are equally efficient. Ball of foot is used because... it's just the way things were always done.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6886747_Is_economy_of_competitive_cyclists_affected_by_the_anterior-posterior_foot_position_on_the_pedal

6
  • Only shifting the placement of the foot is only half the story. You put the pedal under the balls of your feet to allow for a higher saddle. This is what makes your legs so much more efficient. If you leave the saddle at a height that allows for mid-foot cycling, your legs are positively cramped when you put your forefoot on the pedals. – cmaster - reinstate monica Jul 14 '20 at 9:17
  • Another critique to the paper you cite is, that they didn't measure what the riders were capable of doing, they told them to produce a fixed power output to measure their metabolic efficiency. Placing the forefoot on the pedals has nothing to do with increasing efficiency, it has all to do with increasing power output. Especially in combination with a sufficiently high saddle. – cmaster - reinstate monica Jul 14 '20 at 9:22
  • 1
    So, while I really appreciate that you actually cite some science :-) the paper that you found does not really cut it, unfortunately. – cmaster - reinstate monica Jul 14 '20 at 9:23
  • 2
    From the study: "The subject continued riding for 7 min at 90% of their VT and 90 rpm. Data were collected for the last 3 min of the interval while the subject was at steady state." Meh. In a sport where rides are measured in hours, the study collected data for all of 3 minutes. How "efficient" are the different foot positions three hours into a hard ride? – Andrew Henle Jul 14 '20 at 10:14
  • 1
    @Andrew makes a good point, and for me one of the downsides of clipless pedals is that they make it harder to put the foot in a less good but different position for a couple of minutes as a relief position after a few unbroken hours in the saddle (though not really hard hours normally). Harder, not impossible, as I use SPDs and choose shoes+pedals to allow me to get moving nicely before I clip in, but it's less secure than flats – Chris H Jul 14 '20 at 12:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.