Foot placement and body position
The other day I was working with a client on the big pump track at Valmont Bike Park, and we were having trouble getting him into a proper hinge. His form was perfect on the RipRow, but on the bike he was collapsing into the classic bad squat position: knees forward, butt forward, quads hot, glutes cold, shoulders high. As a result, his pumping was choppy and weak.
This guy was moving great off the bike. On the bike … not so well. I see that every day in classes, but I can usually fix the issues quickly. This was … different.
Then I noticed how his feet were on his pedals.
He was riding a flat pedal with a long body, and the arches of his feet were on the pedal spindles. People call this a “mid-foot” pedal position. It’s a thing: You can look it up.
Mid-foot pedal position: arch of foot on the pedal spindle.
This made me wonder a few things.
But first some background
Image is from Everything you think is wrong with your deadlift is probably right
In a squat movement:
• Your knees move forward relative to your base of support (your foot).
• Your hips drop downward.
• This puts more work on your quads. Do your quads burn on long downhills? Yep, I knew it. You’re probably squatting on your bike.
• Because the saddle limits how low you can squat, your shoulders stay high. High shoulders = straight arms = trail trauma.
When we ride we should not squat! Instead, we should hinge:
In a hinge (or deadlift) movement:
• Your knees stay over the back of your base of support (your foot). In a Romanian deadlift, your knees are above your heels. In a classic, more powerful deadlift, your knees are above the middle of your foot. They are never farther forward than this. Never.
• Your hips rotate backward and downward. They stay higher than in a squat.
• This puts more work in your glutes. Most of us are way stronger in a deadlift than in a squat.
• Your shoulders get low. This gives you tons of arm range for shredding.
Great riding happens in a hinge, not a squat.
Learn more about squatting vs. hinging:
Back to what I was wondering
1. This rider’s balance was great. Heavy feet, light hands. This means his center of mass was in a pretty much fixed position relative to his bottom bracket.
2. If your COG is in one position, and you shift your feet backward so the balls of your feet are on the pedals, would that place your knees farther back relative to your base of support? On the bike, your base is your cranks. The middle of that base is your bottom bracket. Would moving your feet backward move your knees backward — ideally over your bottom bracket?
3. Will moving the knees backward create a better hinge? Will this help the rider get more power out of his glutes? Will this give him more speed and control on the pump track?
Ball of foot on the pedal spindle. I consider this to be normal and effective.
It totally worked. When he put the balls of his feet on the pedal spindles, his hinge snapped to perfect, and he pumped the track smoothly and powerfully. As he said, “This feels more natural, more athletic.”
If you’re having trouble with your hinge, and you’re riding with a mid-foot pedal position, try putting the balls of your feet on your pedals, and see if that helps you.
Learn way more at the LLB MTB School: www.llbmtb.com
Have fun out there,
Know more. Have more fun!
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I love this article. Looks like I could use another session with you and the rip row!!!
I have been experimenting a lot with setup over the past couple of years and still feel like I have a lot of room for optimization. You mention going from mid foot to balls on spindle. I am about balls 1 inch forward on DH AND .5 on trail. I have found for sure balls on my feet get sore on long descents. 1 feels better but pedallind doesn’t feel quite right. Have you experienced this? I found the 1 inch forward by riding flats on DH. That is where I tend to go naturally. Have you experienced something like this? I don’t know if I am giving up anything in hinge? My typical descent is only about 5 min. Pump track feels okay too?? BMX I rode balls a bit forward too. It can’t remember how much. Maybe?? When I Deadlift the bar is about over the balls of my feet like you describe so I get what you are saying. I have deadlifted 400 with no pain with a coach so I think to am close on form here. Is there some optimum for what you are riding?
Thanks for writing. Some thoughts:
– Everything in life that I care about exists on a continuum. Love/hate, sweet/savory, balls of feet/midfoot.
– I think people think ball of the foot is farther forward than it is. Officially it runs between the heads of the metatarsals. When you raise your heels off the floor, you’re standing on the ball of your foot.
– When you jump over a log while chasing food or fleeing a predator, you’re explode off the ball of your foot. This is where the human is designed to express hip/knee/ankle power.
– When you ride, you can conceivably ride anywhere between the ball of your foot and your arch (or anywhere else, I suppose). In some situations, you might prefer to have your feet farther forward or backward on the pedals.
– Riders who are less fluid tend to prefer mid-foot pedals. Since this part of your foot is not designed for pedal violence, your feet might hurt.
– When I am pushing a big gear up my hill, and I’m in grunt mode, I tend to shift my feet forward so the pedal is toward the back of the balls of my feet. This yields brute torque, but I lose efficiency. When I pedal well, I’m on the balls of my feet, just like when I leave the ground for a box jump. When I descend I’m always on the balls of my feet. That fits my knowledge of biomechanics, and it feels good to me.
– See what works for you. If it works for you, who cares what I think?