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Member Question: Optimal Cleat Position for Triathletes
What is your opinion on cleat position? Is there a general rule that you follow when you first fit an athlete?
Member Question from konichiwa
What is your opinion on cleat position? Is there a general rule that you follow when you first fit an athlete? For example, from what I have heard and read, most start off at "ball of foot over spindle," but there definitely doesn't seem to be consensus here. One article clearly notes there is research that steady-state cyclists, such as triathletes, should place the ball of their foot in front of the spindle.
If an athlete were to implement such a change, and change their cleat position by up to 10mm, would you then drop their saddle height (maybe just 1mm or two) as well as slide their saddle back every so slightly to compensate for the cleat adjustment?
Answer from Dean Phillips
Bike Fitter for Fitwerx
The cleat should be positioned so that the center of the pedal spindle is directly under the ball of your foot. The ball of your foot refers to a region beginning at the first metatarsal head (padded region aft of your big toe) and ending at the fifth metatarsal head (small padded region behind your pinky toe). The center of the ball of your foot is located between these two endpoints. A proper cleat placement typically places the center of the cleat 8-12mm behind the first metatarsal head, depending on the size of your foot. This is where the rider has the most powerful stable platform to push off. Proper cleat placement and alignment should also take into consideration correct stance width, twist/float of the pedal, and any needed canting of the forefoot.
Now back to the first part of your question: triathletes should place the first metatarsal head in front of the pedal spindle, but keep the center of the ball of the foot on the pedal spindle. The article you linked is one of a handful out there recommending mid-foot or even arch-mounted cleats and pedals. This concept has been studied in the past, and every controlled study documents no increase in power from a more rearward cleat position. The rearward cleat position typically results in a lower cadence, so as a triathlete you need to keep in mind how this could potentially impact how you run off the bike. It’s certainly an area that will continue to be studied, but we currently don’t recommend mid-foot or arch-mounted cleats for triathletes. We’ll occasionally set up a rider with a more rearward cleat position in order to reduce strain on certain foot and lower leg ailments.
If you do change your cleat position by moving the cleats 10mm aft on the bottom of your shoe, you’ll also want to lower the saddle height about half that amount (5mm). This distance will vary slightly depending on a few other variables, but half the amount is a good starting point. The more exact method is to adjust your saddle height down as much as needed to maintain the same knee extension angle at the bottom of the pedal stroke, but this is difficult to do on your own. Your foot acts a lever during the pedal stroke, and when you effectively shorten that lever by moving the cleat back, the lower saddle height will allow you to maintain the same hip angle, knee angle, and ankle position at the bottom of the pedal stroke. It’s not necessary to move the saddle fore or aft to compensate for this change as long the saddle height is reduced accordingly.
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