Should I Pedal with my Toes or Heels?

‘As easy as riding a bike’ is a saying used to describe simple tasks, however, we think this undermines the art of cycling as there is more to it than simply ‘riding a bike’. 

If you’re a hobbyist cyclist, then you might not have noticed or questioned your positioning on a bike or maybe the way that you pedal. Whilst there is no definite way to how you should pedal a bicycle, different foot positions may improve your cycling efficiency and also provide a more comfortable riding experience. 

We’ll be clearing up the confusion of whether you should pedal with your toes or your heels in this article and hopefully give you some tips of what foot positions will suit what style of cycling that you do.

Is it better to pedal with your toes or your heels?

There is no proven ‘best’ way to pedal, it all depends on the rider's style and also how they can efficiently pedal their bike while still being comfortable at the same time. 

There is no particular pedaling style that is defined as the winning style, if you look back on some of the greatest cyclists of our time, you’ll see that all their styles vary but they’ve all achieved great moments of excellence.

You cannot train to learn a new pedaling technique as soon as you’re put into highly demanding situations such as if you’re working hard on the bike and your heart rate is high, then your technique will start to slip anyway and you’ll return to your regular pedaling style.

If you’re not sure that your pedaling style is not providing you with optimum performances, then try going to a cyclist center where they can monitor your positioning and movement on the bike as you pedal. Maybe your seat is positioned too high making your legs not being able to function as efficiently as they should when pedaling.

So your inefficient pedaling may not be as a result of where you’re positioning your feet on the pedals, but due to the position of the rest of your body or your posture on the bike. 

Your pedaling style may change depending on what equipment you use and you may even see alterations in your pedaling style over time as you age or if you experience any injuries which could cause you to pedal differently for comfort. 

What types of pedaling styles are there?

The three main pedaling styles are the toe dipper, the heel dropper, and the average or regular pedaling style.

The toe dipper style is when the cyclist points their toe throughout the pedal stroke. The toe dipper will also have a longer pedaling stroke and they’ll find they sit further back on the seat and predominantly use their legs as their lever to pedal instead of their feet as the powering tool. 

The heel dropper pedaling style will drop their heel between 12 and 6 am positions on the clock shape of the pedaling motion. Some cyclists who have a heel dropper pedaling style will raise the heels slightly after the 6 mark of the motion and they’ll often use their feet more to lever the pedals in comparison to the toe dipper or average pedaling styles.

The average pedaling style is the most common and is prevalent amongst infrequent cyclists who’ve not come too familiar with their positioning and natural movement on a bike. The foot will be nearly flat on the pedal stroke and then there will be a little heel dip on the downstroke. 

Your pedaling style may change frequently throughout your ride depending on what terrains you’re cycling on and if you’re pedaling on an increased incline or decline. When pedaling uphill some cyclists may find themselves merging into the toe tipper style, especially if they’re standing up to increase their power on the bike and will provide them with more stability and force trying to get up the incline. 

Cyclists may naturally move into the heel dropper pedaling style when going down a decline as they will subconsciously try to balance their weight towards the rear of the bike so they don’t increase their speed too much or lose stability on the bike. 

Why does it not matter?

Ultimately, if you’re not experiencing any pain or discomfort with your existing pedaling style then there really is no need to try to adjust it as your body is naturally catering to your muscles abilities and body positioning.

If you’re carrying an injury or have overly tight muscles which are restricting your natural movement or preventing you from using the most effective and powerful muscles, then you can consider trying to change up your pedaling style to become more efficient for your body’s current state. 

A toe-dipping pedaling style may cause you to have sore or cramp in your calves more frequently than other styles, but this doesn’t mean your pedaling is inefficient. You’ll just need to ensure you’re properly stretching and treating sore muscles after your cycle. Trying to consciously switch up your pedaling style due to sore muscles may result in your posture being poor or not using your muscles effectively to pedal the bike so you’ll have less power as it doesn’t feel natural to your body. 

As long as your bike position (seat height, handlebars height, etc…) is correct and your cleat position is comfortable, your body will naturally adapt to a particular pedaling style that is comfortable and efficient for your body. So before trying to change your pedaling technique, try switching up your bike position to see if it’s as comfortable and natural as it should be for your body. 

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