Why Being On The Ball Of The Foot Is Bad Your Knees.

One of the biggest myths in the cycling world is the need to be on the ball of the foot on your pedals. We’re told that this leads to better pedaling power and agility on the bike so it’s easy to see why so many riders buy into this idea.

But what if I told you that this foot position was not only worse for power and agility on the bike but also a leading cause of knee pain?

Well, you’d probably call me crazy, which you’d have every right to do. How could so many coaches and experts be wrong about this fundamental thing?

That’s a big question and one that I’m not going to dive into with this post. Instead, I’ll refer you to my Mid-Foot Manifesto podcast where I cover the long, twisted path the cycling industry has taken to get here, how we got off track and the truth about what the science and movement principles really tell us about the best foot position on the bike.

You can also check out this video where I explain how putting someone onto the balls of the feet doesn’t help them with their Hip Hinge, a.k.a. The Attack Position, and instead just forces some compensations that look like an improvement but really puts riders in a less balanced and stable position.

In this post I want to address the 3 specific reasons that being on the ball of the foot is bad for your knees. Knee pain during and after rides is the #1 complaint among riders and this foot position is directly leading to a lot of it.

3 Reasons Being on the Ball of the Foot is Bad for Your Knees.

1 – No Heel Pressure = Less Hip Recruitment and More Knee Stress.

This is a basic movement principle that everyone knows in the gym but forgets on the bike.
This is why a good trainer will coach you to drive through your heels when doing your lower body exercises in the gym.

Without pressure on both ends of the arch of the foot you literally can’t recruit your hips properly, which places more stress on the knees. Imagine doing all of your squats, deadlifts and lunges on the ball of your feet and how quickly you would blow your knees out.

Pushing through the ball of the foot without any support under the heel so it can also apply pressure is placing shearing forces on the knee with every pedal stroke, which leads to excessive wear and tear on this sensitive joint. The mid-foot position with a pedal that can support both ends of the arch eliminates this issue.

2 – Foot can’t spiral into the pedal and forces unnatural lower body movement.

Another basic movement principle that gets overlooked on the bike is that your foot doesn’t apply force into the ground or pedal in a straight line. Instead, it spirals and “screws” into and out of the ground, which helps create and apply more force with less effort.

But this can only happen if you have pressure on both ends of the arch and a solid surface under the foot. Your foot can’t spiral into small pedals as efficiently and “float” on clipless pedals just allows the foot itself to turn, which is an unnatural movement and wastes energy.

This forces the lower body to start moving in an unnatural way to compensate for these things. By not letting the foot spiral naturally the forces running through the knee are more linear, which again places excessive wear and tear on them.

3 – Less stable foot makes it harder to stand up, resulting in more seated pedaling which is bad for your knees.

One of the best things you can do for healthy knees on your bike if to stand up more to pedal. When you stand up you get full knee extension and a co-contraction between the hamstring and quad to stabilize the knee, both of which are much better for your knees than what happens during seated pedaling.

During seated pedaling you get neither of these things, which means that you are running stress through an unstable joint. No bike fit in the world can fix this problem, which is why despite spending more than ever on them more riders than ever still have knee pain.

The problem with being perched on the balls of your feet is that it is an unbalanced foot position and hard for your feet and calves to hold. This leads to less standing and more seated pedaling, which increases the unnatural stress on your knees.

Taken together, these three things result in a lot of stress on the knees, which leads to knee pain during and after rides. This can also aggravate previous knee injuries that may have nothing to do with the bike but flair up when exposed to this unnatural stress on the pedals.

The problem is that every pedal on the market – except one – is designed to support the ball of the foot and not the whole arch. You can move your cleats back in your clipless pedals or move your foot back on your flat pedals and you still won’t get the foot stable and balanced enough to take the stress off the knees.

To do this you have to stabilize both ends of the arch, allowing you to apply force through the whole arch. This allows for better hip recruitment and less stress on the knees.

Which is the magic behind the design of the Catalyst Pedal. By giving you a longer platform to stand on, I designed it to mimic how your foot interacts with the ground, which includes stabilizing the both ends of the arch so you can drive with the whole foot and even out the stress through the lower body between the hips and knees.

Of course, you don’t just have to take my word for it. There are a lot of medical professionals who are recommending the Catalyst Pedals to their patients for these same reasons.

For example, in this blog post from regenerative medicine specialist Dr. Chris Centeno, M.D. he shares the results one of his patients had and why he recommends the Catalyst Pedals to patients with kneecap pain.

You can also read this blog post from Dr. Marty Hughes and Dr. Robyn Hughes on why they recommend the Catalyst Pedal as the best foot and knee healthy option for riding.

As far as I know, the Catalyst Pedal is the only pedal being specifically recommended by medical professionals to patients for the express purpose of improving cycling related knee pain. And as more and more people experience the almost immediate results from switching to a more natural foot position and the pedal stroke that is a result from it I expect this trend to continue.

But you don’t have to wait. If you have knee pain during your rides or that flares up as a result of riding then you can change your foot position today no matter what pedals you are riding.

And if that doesn’t work then take me up on the 30 day money back guarantee we offer on the Catalyst Pedals. If you give them 4-6 rides I expect that you’ll be riding with less pain and having more fun…and if you don’t then send them back and we’ll give you your money back no matter what condition they are in.

Look, I know I’m pushing hard on this subject and why I think the Catalyst Pedals represent your best option. My motivation isn’t trying to sell the pedal to you as much as the concept that applying natural movement to the bike will result in less pain.

And until someone else is willing to stand up to the industry and challenge the status quo when it comes to pedal design the Catalyst is simply the only pedal designed from this viewpoint.

If you disagree then that is fine, I know that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But if you do have knee pain and are at least curious about what I’ve discussed in this post then I’d like to challenge you to try the Catalyst Pedal and see if there aren’t some assumptions that have been causing you problems and pain on the bike.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson
Pedaling Innovations

The Catalyst Pedal

The Catalyst PedalThe Catalyst Pedal from Pedaling Innovations is the world’s best performing, most comfortable pedal. It is the first pedal that looks first at how the foot and lower leg optimally move then applies that insight to the bike. The result is a patent pending design that supports your foot the way that nature intended, increasing power, efficiency, stability and comfort. Backed with a no questions asked 30 day money back guarantee, this is the pedal that gives you the performance of clipless pedals with the fun, safety and comfort of flat pedals.
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  1. I have self-diagnosed Morton’s Toe, which leads to some pretty harsh pain in the ball of the foot with some shoes. I can wear “minimalist” running shoes for walking and running for hours on end, but those are not durable enough for standing on a spikey mountain bike pedal.

    I recently bought some Vans and, unlike my minimalist running shoes, they cause agony within a minute of putting them on. I hoped to use these as my mountain biking shoes, but they’re horrible. I think they are not wide enough at the toe for me.

    I am reluctant to spend $100-150 on modern flat mtb shoes without knowing how they will fit. What mtb flat shoes have the widest toe box? I have my doubts about Five Ten at the moment.

    Reply • August 3 at 12:14 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’d recommend using your minimalist shoes with the Catalyst Pedals, which I designed to work more naturally with the foot. Since the foot is supported on both ends you don’t have the same durability issues you get with normal pedals and minimalist shoes.

      You can also check out this video that Natural Foot Gear did on the pedal to explain the foot health benefits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C30JhrugpWk&feature=youtu.be

      Reply • August 3 at 1:10 pm
  2. Adele says:

    Hi James! Thanks for the interestimg and informative articles! I’m very new to biking and have just started using a stationary recumbent bike at the gym. The peddles are more in front than under you on this type of bike so I was wondering if your recommendation for using midfoot peddling also applies to this type of bike or only normal type bikes? (And does it apply to stationary bikes in general or just moving ones?). If it does apply to recumbant stationary bikes , just to clarify, does using your mid foot simply mean you are pushing the peddles down from the part of your foot where your arch is? (Sorry probably an obvious question just wanted to make sure I havent oversimplified it or missed the point!)
    Additionally, do you have any advice on foot and knee pointing position when using a recumbent bike? I find my feet automatically  point outwards slightly on the recumbant peddles, which also means my knees are going outwards (though inline with my outwards feet); but I’m concerned this tendency could lead to knee and/or hip issues if its knocking everything out of line? When I try to point my feet forwards my knees tend to go inwards slightly when peddling. Is this ok or going to cause me long term knee problems? Should I aim to keep my feet and knees pointing forwards as much as possible or does it really not matter if the ankles and knees point in or out when peddling? Would really appreciate your advice as you seem genuinely passionate about getting the most out of bike rides! Many thanks, Adele 😊

    Reply • August 25 at 5:02 pm

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