Help: I’m dragging my heels

Dragging one’s heels is never desirable — metaphorically or literally. Eric is hitting his heels on rocks and hard landings. We can help:


I’ve enjoyed the site and your book thoroughly. I also just listened to your interview on the James Wilson site and I’m so impressed by your overall approach to life, the universe and mtb coaching.

As someone who is pretty analytical (I’m an engineer) himself, I really enjoy your take on things as opposed to the “dude, just ride it and stop being such a pussy” advice you get elsewhere. Riding with heavy feet and light hands and orienting my hips (sudden parking lot discovery. yes, turn the hips! it’s not about trying to point your knees! it’s the hips!) in the direction of the turns has helped my riding a ton already, which brings me to my question …

I find myself, as I’m weighting my feet, dropping my heels on the pedals to sort of “dig in.” Riding this way I’ve occasionally caught my heel on rocks and the like along the trail and had a bit of a sore ankle following a drop where the ball of my foot was a little bit far back and my ankle wound up hyperextending. So, should I try to keep my ankles more firm or does it sound like things are as they should be? Thanks.


Hey Eric,

Thanks for the kind words. It’s so weird to hear myself talk — what a spaz! I must have been nervous; I ended every statement with a question?

Here’s the interview on James’ new training blog.


As you’re discovering, the A-1 key to riding a bike well is heavy feet and light hands. When you hit a steep descent, the brakes and/or obstacles, you must rotate your body backward around the bottom bracket and drop your heels to drive the forces into your pedal spindles. As long as that red dotted line is going from your belly button to your bottom bracket, perpendicular to your cranks, you are fine.

This is the base of what I teach in my clinics, and it’s amazing to see that simple idea transform struggling strugglers into studly studs.

If you’re braking with proper kung fu, your rear heel will be pretty low. Avoid doing this in the middle of a rock garden.

No matter how crazy it gets, try to ride with Tea Party fingers.

If you’re hitting your heels on the ground, something isn’t right. Possibilities:

– Your suspension is too soft.

– You’re rotating your cranks back too far. On rough terrain, most riders tend to collapse onto one foot, and their cranks end up vertical. Not only does that make for sucky riding, it puts that bottom heel at risk.

– You might not be strong enough to do the things you’re doing. Sorry. Riding a bike well takes real strength: The kind that is dynamic and supple, yet firm and controlled. My high school strength coach always said: “Anything a weak muscle can do, a strong muscle can do better.” And you know what, my coach was a wimp compared to James Wilson!

– I’m going to guess that you’re a bit tense and defensive on the back of the bike. I’m also guessing that when you get stressed you extend your legs and try to push your head away from danger. That’s normal. Try to relax and find your feet. Bounce and play. Keep your hands neutral — no pushing or pulling.

– The trails you ride are just too gnarly, bro. But seriously, try to brake in smooth spots. When you hit the rocks, you should be pumping like a playful porpoise.

– You need a newer, more expensive bike. The more you spend, the better you ride. … Kidding!

Have fun, and tell us how it goes.


— Lee

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