The Beautiful (Foot) Cycle
I realize it’s been a while since I last blogged, but wanted to touch quickly on my last blog about foot mechanics and how it applies to cycling. For those of you that are curious about how the gait cycle pertains to cycling, let’s go over some quick background information about the basics. We have three phases of movement in the foot when it is contacting the ground: heel strike, mid-foot stance, and toe-off.
Unfortunately, when riding on a bike the biomechanics become completely altered. Riding a bike most likely resembles mid-foot stance because of the non-weightbearing act of being on a bike. It’s at this stage of the cycle where the ligaments of our foot became very marginally slack to allow for shock absorption from the ground to the rest of the kinematic chain. Unlike walking or running, your foot does not have to switch on and off from shock absorption-to-stability-to-energy transfer. Since cyclists don’t have to deal with the ground contact time that runners do, the foot becomes slightly vulnerable and unstable at this point.
Shock absorption is usually a good thing, but in this case it’s terrible. The foot needs to be a rigid lever during the pedal stroke to transfer every little bit of energy from the foot-pedal interface into the bottom bracket and frame of the bike. Our foot is the only connection from the body to the bike that actually propels the bike forward. So if there is energy lost in the foot, the rest of the body has to play catch up to make up for it. If you look at any elite or pro-level cyclist, you are going to see stability on the saddle because they are efficiently transferring energy from the pelvis to the foot with each pedal stroke. Wasted movement is increased demand on your metabolic system. For people that have horrible hot spots in their shoe or experience foot pain, I will sometimes recommend adding in a wedge or a custom made orthotic but I am still an advocate for properly addressing the source of the problem. Addressing the way the cleat is placed on the shoe is critical for tracking of the knee to set the lower limb up for success. But more importantly, seeing how your leg dynamically moves during the pedal stroke will indicate if there are some motor control issues going on up the chain from the glutes and core. More often than not, I find that the real source is coming from the glutes and core. Power is generated from up top and transferred to down below. The glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus, isometrically contract to transfer energy from our core to the power phase of the pedal stroke. Understanding this co-contraction and coordination of different muscle groups is what makes the body efficient on the bike. Setting up the bike with biomechanical reasoning is what will allow for successful cycling without pain. This is why I will continue to advocate that having a proper bike fit from a physical therapist or someone that really knows the body is essential to address the off-the-bike issues. Unfortunately it takes time and hard effort to address the source of the problem, but the results will speak for themselves.