Knowing where to place your foot on the pedal of a bike and how to employ the proper pedal stroke can make you a more efficient rider. Todd Carver, a biomechanist at Colorado's Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, says that having proper pedaling technique can help you ride at the same pace but with a heart rate of five beats lower per minute. Just a few slight adjustments and you’ll be cruising along in no time.
Proper Foot Placement
To get the maximum amount of power when riding a bike, the ball of your foot should be the contact point on the bike pedal. This should be right above the middle of the pedal. Having proper foot placement helps stabilize the foot and reduces the risk of injury to your Achilles tendon, your calf muscles and your knee joint. It also increases the efficiency of your pedal stroke, so you produce more power using the same amount of energy on each stroke.
If you wear clip-in pedals, then the position of the cleat on your shoe determines your foot’s placement. If your cleat needs adjusting, ask an experienced professional at a bike store to properly fit your cleat. When cleats are adjusted properly, your hip joint, knee and ankle should all remain in the same plane. Any deviation, either inward or outward, results in a loss of power and an increase in the risk of injury.
As your foot makes a full rotation around the pedal, you need to rotate your ankle to keep the ball of your foot correctly placed on the pedal. This helps you maintain a smooth and fluid pedal stroke throughout the entire rotation. Your flexibility and basic biomechanics affect how high and low you can rotate your ankle when cycling. More specifically, trying to change your heel height too high or too low when it doesn’t feel natural can lead to injury.
Pedal Stroke Basics
Visualize that your pedal stroke is the face of a clock. When you are at the 12 o’clock position, you want to keep your heel down and your toes up. As you start to go down, push forward and downward as you straighten your leg. Your foot should be parallel with the ground until you are at 3 o’clock. When you are at 3 o’clock, continue rotating your ankle by pushing with your toes. This will make your heel start to rise up. As you come through 5 o’clock, pull back your foot in a motion that mimics wiping mud off the bottom of your shoe. This will cause your heel to rise up even further. From 7 o’clock through 12 o’clock, as your foot is on the upstroke, lift your toes to help take weight off the pedal.
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.