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May 4, 2009
For those of you who are wondering we had a spectacular roadtrip weekend at the Tour of Canberra. All of us who all went along together had a great time and some excellent personal results were achieved. The weather was magnificent, no crashes, no mechanicals and some very difficult racing over lots of hills. My pasta dish was a hit and I trust I’ll be receiving rave reviews from the food critics.
As always, I’m keeping a close eye out for CYCLING TIPS at these events. If you look for them they’re everywhere. A good buddy of mine brings out the best of the TIPs (you know who you are). He’s only been bike racing for about 3 years now but has so much determination and such a hard work ethic that he’s shot up to being a top A-Grade rider in relatively no time. That’s no easy task and I commend him for it, however it’s nearly impossible to absorb the hundreds of nuances and subtleties of cycling and bike racing in this short amount of time. He’s learning quickly though and is always closely watching the good riders for anything he can learn from them. Last night on our way home from Canberra he started talking about this new pedal stroke he discovered that engages more muscles and he found to be much more efficient. What he was talking about is an old pedal stroke technique called “ankling“.
Just like swimming or cross country skiing, an efficient stroke in cycling can be quite technical. Sure you can ride a bike without knowing this, but you can ride a bike with less difficulty and more power if you employ an efficient pedal stroke. When you think about it, a pedal stroke consists of about 25% of downward motion on the pedals. But remember, 25% of the time you’re in a forward motion, 25% of the time you’re in a backwards motion, and 25% of the time you’re in an upwards motion. Ankling can help hit all of those areas and make your pedal stroke more efficient.
The main application of force to the pedals is in the downward thrust which comes naturally to almost everyone. The technique of drawing force across the bottom of the revolution arc and upwards to the start of the downward thrust is called ankling. The action involves a lowering of the heel as the downward force of the pedals takes place and a lifting of the heel as the pedal begins the upward movement of its revolution. Think of scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Ankling enables the application of constant pressure upon the pedals throughout the revolution eliminating the dead spots at the upper and lower points. This pedal stroke requires less peak muscle contraction which spreads the load over the muscles (engaging more calf muscles) and promote a smooth efficient style that you’ll be able to produce more power with less difficulty.
Different cyclists will vary in the position of their heel whilst pedaling. Depending on your flexibility and basic biomechanics, some of you will use a high heel action and some of you may use a low heel action. Heel height also depends on your cadence (see illustration at bottom of page). You may end up injuring yourself if you attempt to change the basic heel height of your pedal stroke if it doesn’t feel natural. You should try to develop ankling within the constraints of your basic pedaling movement. A proper bike fit along with cleat positioning goes hand in hand with this and is well worth the money to optimize your pedal stroke.
The faster your cadence, the more difficult and unnecessary it will be to use the ankling technique. The downwards force on the pedals and the muscle contraction will be so quick in a sprint at 150 RPM that you won’t be able to do this effectively. You’ll notice that track sprinters will often use a high heel action when in a full sprint.
Roadies often use a low heel action resulting from their cleat being positioned past the ball of the foot (towards the toe). The low heel technique is important in hill climbing while sitting back on the saddle and you’ll notice an improvement in your climbing abilities once you master this technique.
See illustration below for example on heel action at different cadences (pay more attention to the pedal angle than the heal angle in these pictures. The heal appears to be higher than I would suggest. This will depend on the flexibility of the rider).
~60-90RPM ~90-110RPM ~110+ RPM
This webpage shows some perfect pedaling and ankling techniques and it’s where I got the following animations from:
Above is the ‘perfect’ ankling technique for riding uphill (i.e. corresponding to the 60-90RPM illustration above). Note how the ankle/heel is slightly dropped between about 2 & 3 o’clock but how the anking action gets the toes back down by 5 o’clock.
Above is the ‘perfect’ ankling technique for riding on the flat (i.e. corresponding to the 90+ RPM illustrations above). Notice the strong ‘ankling’ motion between 3 & 6 o’clock and the high ankle/heel during the back part of the stroke.
When looking at these two animations and comparing to the first illustration above, pay closer attention to the angle of the pedal versus the angle of the shoe in each. Flexibility will vary between people but the angle of the pedal should remain similar using this technique.
NOTE: You’ll find many articles written that state that ankling is not proven to be efficient and possibly counter productive. However, these things are just as hard to discredit in the lab as they are to prove. Cyclists have been using this method for years and I’m simply letting you know about the technique. Whether or not it actually gives you a performance edge is up to your own personal judgment. For me personally, I feel that it works.