Train Your Feet For More Power From the Ground Up
It’s funny, that as cyclists we spend so much time and energy focusing on our legs when we strength train, yet we don’t give a thought to the very things at the end that connect us to the bicycle: our feet.
As we grow from infants to toddlers there are many changes that happen in the body; Our shoulder is the first to bear load as we try to push our head and chest up to take in the world around us, and learn to roll over, and once we learn to crawl, well, that’s pretty close to the basics for our lifelong movement.
But one area that doesn’t gain much attention are our feet, and how we use them to help us grip things and move in these early stages of life. When we turn to toddling, our well meaning parents shoved our feet into shoes that probably didn’t feel that great, and so the decline of having a mind-muscle connection to the feet begins.
Why are the Feet Critical?
The feet may seem like something silly to focus on when it comes to cycling, as we place them in as stiff of a cycling shoe as we can afford (or pleases our eye). However the arches of the foot – yes there are several – all tie together to help us not only be more efficient further up the chain, but also to better put power down to the pedals.
These arches also affect the pelvic floor, which is made up of the deep hip rotator muscles, of which there are 6. For many riders the first thought is “Great, better support for the foot means more power from the hips!” but this is just scratching the surface of what proper arch support and foot muscle activation offer you…
The pelvic floor muscles also help us to hold better posture and breathing patterns on and off the bike. This is primarily done through their working in unison (if you have good alignment) with the diaphragm to produce intra-abdominal pressure which aids in the movement of air and the blood from the lungs to the body. It’s a little more complex than that, but that’s the simple explanation.
As we hold great posture on the bike, we allow the body to be far more efficient in its movements AND in its energy utilization. Talk about a win-win… Add to this the fact that you’ll also recover faster from your efforts, and be able to keep your heart rate lower, and we have a huge benefit from just 1 or 2 small adjustments.
At the Foothold of Change
Back in the early 2000’s Specialized came out with one of the first mass-produced cycling shoe inserts that offered to help cyclists and triathletes everywhere get more out of their riding by implementing “the metatarsal button.” This little bump in the insole gave enough support for the arches of the foot through the pedaling motion, that the muscles of the foot would begin to activate. Cascading up the limb, this affects the muscles of the lower leg, encouraging better tibia and fibula gliding at the tibial plateau (fancy words for your knee joint behind the knee cap), and better drive from the prime movers (those big hunky quads you have there madam/sir!) further up the chain.
On the personalization side of things insoles began to rock and roll, as more riders were feeling the pain of lack of support in their shoes, and looking for better solutions that could work IN their existing shoes, instead of buying specialty made shoes. The last stop in this little Magic School bus history tour, is Bont’s “mold at home and bake” insoles starting in the early 2010’s. This brought middle level pricing to better support of the foot’s integral arches to more riders, but still left an achilles heel of a problem: We still never learned how to use the muscles of our feet!
Give a man a fish he’ll eat for a meal, teach a man how to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. Or in our case, give the foot better support and it will help make you a little more efficient, teach a foot’s muscles how to work together and you’ll see big improvements in recovery, strength, and power!
Every morning I like to practice my “Piggly Wigglies” as I do my 15-20 minutes of gratitude with my morning cup of coffee. This is simple, but not easy. I recommend keeping to no more than 2-3*20-30 seconds the first few times you try, and be sure to stand up and walk around a little in between.
If you’ve had inflammation or other issues of the tendons or arches of your foot, talk to your podiatrist or physical therapist before giving these a go.
It’s All About Good Posture
We’ll talk more about riding posture in the coming installments, but let’s plant the seed now:
HOW you ride your bike (meaning your positioning and your strategies to hold yourself up on the bike, especially when tired), has a huge effect on your abilities and performance.
Sebastian Weber and I spoke about this in the latest episode of my Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast, as we discussed the LEOMO Type-S. It was a fantastic conversation, with tons of take homes and gems. Take a listen, give us a share with 3-5 people whom you think or know need to hear the episode to help them ride stronger, and longer…without spending mucho dinero on new gear.
Until next time, train smarter not harder, because it is all about YOU!