Ever wondered if your riding position is efficient?

There has been lots of research into rider position, bike geometry and technique, but until recently the effect of the position of the ankle joint has rarely been considered. New research reveals some startling results.

The evidence

A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the effect of pedalling technique on muscle activity and cycling efficiency. Eleven trained cyclists were taught to cycle with their ankles in dorsi- (top of the foot moving towards the body) or planta- (top of the foot moving away from the body) flexed positions, maintaining a pedalling rate of approximately 90rpm at a high intensity.

Each foot position was roughly seven degrees from neutral. Three trials then began (one in each condition), each comprising of a warm-up and then six minutes at a power output equalling 80 per cent of maximum.

Results showed oxygen consumption (a measure of energy expenditure) was two per cent greater during the dorsi-flexed ankle condition when compared with the neutral position.

EMG data showed greater muscle activity at the same work rate, explaining this decrease in efficiency.

A second piece of research linked dorsi-flexion with increased muscle damage during high-intensity cycling, corroborating evidence that the muscles in the lower leg are placed under increased stress when cycling in this position.

Layman Lowdown

This study illustrates that in trained cyclists, cycling with the foot at 90 degrees to the lower leg, or with up to seven degrees of movement of the foot away from the body, is more economical and causes less muscle damage than a position where the end of the foot is flexed towards the body.

CW says

It may be worth checking out your pedal position to ensure your ankle is not over-flexing towards the body on the downstroke. Correcting bad technique is an easy way to improve efficiency, but go carefully when changing a well-rehearsed foot position.