I recently had a rider post a question about the need for the mid-foot position that I advocate. What made this question different was that he was talking about his experience with Pro Motocross and the foot position he used for it.

I know that there is still a lot of confusion about the need for a mid-foot position on the bike and so I wanted to share my answer with you…

Q: I like new innovations and great ideas as that’s what moves the sport forward and this pedal is another example of this. The large platform would be nice and I can see having a larger platform giving your foot more stability and more power on the down stroke. But I disagree with the comments regarding riding on the balls of your feet in this video, I wouldn’t be so quick to totally ditch that technique or make the claim that it is a bad technique for mountain biking.

For me it didn’t come from Road biking, it came from all my years of Pro motocross racing where it’s almost mandatory to ride on the balls of your feet for control and if you want to go fast.

There are several reasons to ride on the balls of your feet in motocross but the primary one for me (and I believe it works on the mountain bike as well) is it allows the bike to work freely as a pivot underneath my feet especially through whoops and rough terrain. It also allows my feet and legs to absorb the hard hits better than the forces just going straight through my heels, kind of like an added suspension and control.

The other major advantage especially if you have junk knees like I do is it minimizes the risk you will catch your toe on the ground and tear your foot off the peg damaging your knee. That being said, that’s not an issue in mountain biking and I guess one could argue that the pedal acts as the pivot to allow the bike to work underneath you. But when I ride or race my mountain bike, I feel it’s just an extension of my motocross riding technique and the most control I have of the bike over rough terrain is from the balls of my feet.

Anyway, just my two cents on that subject and I am in absolutely no way disagreeing with the benefit of a larger platform, the added stability and for that to give you the ability to have more power pushing down on your pedal stroke if you like riding on flaps.

A: Thanks for the insights and I would have a few thoughts on it. First, you are correct that the pedals moving on an axle allow the bike to float under you in a way that standing on static pegs do not, which will fundamentally change the foot position needs. You also have stiff boots that help brace and support the ankle, which also changes the stresses on the foot and lower leg.

Second, the seat of a moto is also higher, which limits the action of the hips and might necessitate more movement from the ankles. But the hips are the major shock absorbers of the lower body and limiting their movement and adding movement to the more sensitive ankle joint is not a best-case-scenario. You want to limit the stress on the ankle joint as much as possible and try to use the hips as much as possible, which you can do more effectively on the smaller mountain bike.

Lastly, you will use what your body has become used to and so if you have a lot of time riding on the balls of your feet with motocross then that is what will feel most natural on the mountain bike as well. But, like you pointed out, that can have more to do with habits than what is necessarily the best.

As a strength coach who specializes in movement based coaching, I know that being on the balls of your feet…

1) Makes it harder to recruit your hips (which are the main power producers and shock absorbers in the lower body)

2) It makes the arch of your foot unstable (which reduces power transfer into the pedals)

3) It places a lot of stress on the ankle and Achilles tendon (which are small, sensitive joint structures that are prone to overuse injuries).

None of these things are helpful to you as an athlete which is why I will continue to advocate that the mid-foot position is better on the bike.

The main problem for cyclists is that we have handlebars that, once we grab onto, allow us to “feel” balanced even though our feet aren’t really balanced. This is why if you took your hands off the handlebars while standing your feet would have to shift to a mid-foot position to keep you stable – without the crutch of the handlebars, your body is forced to find its naturally most balanced position, which is mid-foot.

So even though you can’t feel it, that unbalanced foot position is costing you on the trail. Those upper body muscles that are compensating for that lack of balance now can’t react and help power movement and they are metabolically more active, wasting energy. Get the foot into a more stable position – i.e. mid-foot – and the upper body muscles can now relax and be available to help power movement instead of being locked up trying to stabilize.

Think about it – you don’t do swings, deadlifts or squats on the balls of your feet. If someone truly believed that this was the best position for your foot, then they would do these things on the balls of their feet but no sane coach would have you do that because it will tear up your knees and ankles while teaching you bad movement habits.

You also don’t see any other athlete being asked to balance on the balls of their feet for extended periods and some almost never go to the balls of their feet. Surfers and skateboarders are two examples of highly mobile, athletic athletes that don’t balance on the balls of their feet and rely on a mid-foot balance point to keep them stable and mobile and the same time.

At the end of the day if we just look at what is strongest and most stable off of the bike and then try to figure out how to apply that knowledge to the bike we can’t go wrong. Giant, cushy running shoes so we can lengthen our running stride instead causing injuries is a good example of humans trying to outsmart Mother Nature and paying the price.

The human body is an amazing organism and if we can learn to work with it instead of trying to impose our own theories on it things usually work out better.

Again, thanks for the well thought out post and I hope that this reply might help explain why I still think the mid-foot position is better when on a bike.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems & Pedaling Innovations

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