September
12

Killing the “deadspot” in your pedal stroke with Barefoot Pedaling

I got some requests from people after my original Barefoot Pedaling post about how to pedal with the aid of the clipless interface. After thinking about it I realized it should be exactly how you run but clipless pedals allow you to change that natural rhythm. This video explains exactly how you should pedal, how clipless pedals allow you to change that and why this also means that there is no “dead spot” in a pedal stroke.


-James Wilson

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  1. BB says:

    From the way you describe the power portion of the pedal stroke, I wonder if a more forward seat position would put you in a better position for this (for seated pedaling). Any thoughts on this?

    Reply • September 12 at 6:46 am
  2. Jon Laterveer says:

    I 110 % agree with how clipless pedals teaches you how to cheat. Clipless pedals helped me cheat myself and caused many mechanical and muscle imbalances. In the cycling world running is considered not an applicable cross training method because “it uses different muscles”. Your post makes sense and running would help cycling right?

    Reply • September 12 at 6:54 am
  3. Tony says:

    Coach…Very useful info…I don’t use clip-less and I am interested in utilizing the gluts in the power stroke, over use of the quads has caused me some IT Band issues, but not quite sure what to concentrate on to make sure the gluts get fired instead of the quads. Any quick suggestions? I will re-run your video. Maybe a future demo actually using a bike on a stand as you have done in the past could clear things up.

    Reply • September 12 at 7:18 am
  4. Al says:

    Great post, James. BB has it right….geometry would seem to play a role in being able to apply these principles on a bike. A more traditional road set up with 72-74deg seat tube angle, would by definition, put a rider into more of an “over-striding” position. Tri-bikes, with a less slack seat tube, would be more advantageous actually, provided the other aspects of fit were accounted for, e.g. position of the trunk and anterior hip angle.

    Jon, as for running helping cycling, I can say that it definitely works that way more so than the other way around, e.g. cycling helping running. The key differences between the two sports are the amount of eccentric load on the body. Running is nearly entirely eccentric (in terms of load on the body) vs. cycling being more concentric…

    Around PAP, we’re using a Razor scooter to practice. Works both hips in just the right way, provided the supporting knee is bent to keep the hips horizontal. Self limiting all the way! Our bikes should be designed the same way! :)

    Good stuff James! Keep up the great work…

    Reply • September 12 at 8:03 am
  5. John K. says:

    James, I have a question for you. I stand for 80% of my riding and have grown to love standing pedaling (thanks to this blog). However, I’m running into situations where I’m wondering if seated pedaling is better – specifically when the trail gets steeper and the traction is a bit lower (think of a steep hill with loose rocks and soil).

    My hypothesis is that when you stand to pedal, there are two peaks of power during the pedal cycle: when you push down with each leg, there is a sudden spike in power delivered to the pedals. I find this sudden spike in power applied to the pedal can result in the rear wheel breaking loose and spinning out. I’m working on controlling that, but it’s hard. Conversely, if you sit and pedal, and incorporate your weaker hip muscles into the pedal cycle, your pedaling is weaker but also does not have those power spikes. I find this results in better traction for my rear wheel, and wonder if seated pedaling is actually a good technique for those short, steep, loose climbs on the trail. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Reply • September 12 at 11:16 am
    • Mark N says:

      John K. – I ride opposite of you, and sit 80% of the time, however I stand up for most short punchy sections. I think about pedaling as smooth as possible and keeping hips level and creating tenstion in the glutes. To avoid mashing and loosing traction I pull my knees to the handlebars and stay loose with very little weight on my hands, almost like im balancing on the pedals. Trackstanding is a great skill that will help this also. If you wanted to stay seated, pull your leg back with your heel at the bottom of the stroke like your scraping mud off your shoe and bring your heel to your butt. that keeps my hamstrings and glutes more involved in my pedal stroke. Hope this is able to help you out. Cheers

      Reply • September 12 at 1:03 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Seated pedaling does have its place and while you can train your self to keep traction in some pretty steep sections there will be times that sitting down is the best way. The advice from Mark N is right on as well.

      Reply • September 13 at 1:22 pm
  6. Mike says:

    I made the switch to flat pedals, but I’m not quite getting the hang of pedaling through the bottom of the stroke like you have demonstrated. Could the height of my saddle be a factor? I’m not rocking in the saddle which would indicate that it’s too high, but I’m thinking that lowering it might be helpful. What do you think?

    Reply • September 12 at 2:17 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m afraid the video gave the wrong impression – this action happens naturally and I was trying to explain why it “kills” the idea of this deadspot. This hip action can be approved through training but it isn’t something you can consciously apply on the trail very effectively.

      Reply • September 13 at 1:19 pm
  7. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    I had the same question as BB. I’ve always preferred much slacker than normal STAs, but now wonder if that put me at a disadvantage for using the hips correctly. I guess I should just try moving my seat forward, and see how it affects my ride.

    Reply • September 12 at 5:46 pm
  8. Tony says:

    Coach….Again yesterday afternoon I tried to apply the “power through pedal stroke” on some fairly steep climbs (platforms and 5/10′s being used). Sorry but I just don’t get it. Try as I must engaging the gluts at through point of the down pedal stroke did nothing but cause a momentary loss of power prior to the other leg taking over.

    Reply • September 13 at 6:59 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I think that you may be overthinking it a bit, this is something that happens without conscious thought. The point of the video is to explain that there is no deadspot at the bottom of the pedal stroke because of this natural movement but that movement can be improved through training.

      Reply • September 13 at 1:16 pm
  9. Philip Madeley says:

    Having never ridden in clipless my aha after watching your video explains why I had no idea what the dead spot was!!

    I love you teachings… as my strength increases I find myself standing more and more on my rides…

    Also just got a foam roller and it is awesome for recovery…

    Thank You for your passion
    Philip

    Reply • September 14 at 8:15 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Philip, glad the info has paid off for you. Knowing that riders are enjoying the trail more because of my work is what keeps me fired up.

      Reply • September 17 at 10:44 am
  10. Jose says:

    I have been riding clipless for years, and not yet mastered them. I have fallen very hard at the most technical parts of the trails, I even fell down a very steep hill that I was climbing, and took the bike down with me for a very painful hairline fracture below my knee. I am stubborn and I will die before giving up, but I was starting to have my doubts about these pedals, this is how I found you. Tomorrow 1st thing in the morning I am ordering the 5-10′s and some flat pedals, will follow your advice because it makes a lot of sense. THANK YOU

    Reply • January 7 at 9:14 pm
  11. DaveH says:

    I switched to flats in the Fall and definitely feel more natural in both stroke and foot position — thanks James! It did however, expose my weaknesses. At first this was discouraging. But I realize I was only covering up these with clip-less pedals — cheating. I may be a bit worse now, but now I know my specific weaknesses and can work on them. It’s much easier to do off-bike workouts when you have a purpose and can directly correlate them to riding.

    Reply • February 21 at 6:52 am
  12. Will says:

    As a single speeder I frequently move in and out of the saddle. I have moved my cleats back (towards the heal); this seems to help engage the posterior leg musculature, hips and glutes (better approximating the drive/explosion the kettlebell swings train). I have also started using a zero off-set seatpost that seems to help me move my position forward in relationship to the BB a little, again, helping me engage the posterior musculature when seated.

    Reply • February 21 at 8:54 am
  13. Steve says:

    Hey James, for seven years I’ve been riding clipless and as I’ve increased distance and intensity I’ve encountered more and more injuries. My physio has identified my problems to be exactly as you describe, overuse of quads and hip flexors and under use of the glutes. Your video really helps explain all this really well and I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike (now with flats).

    BTW one of the exercises I have found to be really useful is “the running man”. Any thoughts on this as a training exercise?

    Reply • February 21 at 11:35 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad your physio pointed that out to you and this video helped. I’m not familiar with that exercise – or at least that name for it – but if you describe it a bit I can give you my thoughts.

      Reply • February 24 at 9:39 am
  14. Lisa says:

    James-

    I’m slowly getting on board with the flat pedal idea however I have one thing I can’t quite get over. I feel more secure over rough terrain being “attached” to my bike. On flat pedals I feel like I’ll lose contact with my pedals and do the dreaded top tube crunch to the groin.

    If you are going to educate us on flat pedal efficiency how about a little tutorial on how to stay on the bike with flat pedals.

    Thanks,

    Lisa

    Reply • February 24 at 9:02 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Everything you need to know if in my Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto, including a video on the best foot position for flats. Check it out and let me know if you have any more questions, I’ve probably done a post or video answering it I can point you towards.

      Reply • February 24 at 9:41 am
  15. Glute dominance is vital, but we rarely if ever stand completely erect on a bicycle. Even in your videos of standing climbing you have significant hip flexion at the bottom of your stroke. This is of course necessary to maintain traction and balance while climbing. The scraping mud of the bottom of the shoes training cue, does activate the glutes, but also activates the curling motion as the hamstring crosses both the hip and knee joints. I use all of the muscles to modulate the power throughout the stroke, Hip Flexors, hamstring and calves to even out the power spike of the glutes and quads. Often backing off the glute pulse to prevent tire spin, standing or seated. Although I felt like I was running on the pedals today. :-) Thanks to James, proper KB technique is retraining my muscles to fire in the proper sequence:Glutes first

    Reply • March 1 at 12:17 am

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