Triathlon Cycling: Pedaling Technique – Part II

In Part I of our post on triathlon cycling: pedaling technique, I discussed the differences between toe down and heel down and, with all other things being equal, the lack of advantage one has over the other.

Today we’ll look at the implementation of toe down or heel down when cycling on flats vs. climbs as well as the pedaling technique known as ‘ankling.’

First, it’s important to note that you will pedal differently depending on your cadence. It’s widely known that the faster your cadence is, the less likely you’ll be able to control any sort of pedaling technique.

This makes sense. High cadence usually equates to high effort. And as Steve Hogg illustrates from "Pedaling Technique - Which is Best?," neurologically speaking the conscious control of your technique at extremely hard efforts just isn’t going to happen. Think about the last time you sprinted. Were you concentrating on toe down vs. heel down? Probably not.

But I digress.

What cadence properly transitions into is how we ride on specific terrain. When climbing you generally have a lower cadence and, thus, a greater ability to control how you pedal.

Experienced cyclists and triathletes know that dropping your heels when climbing is the superior technique. This brings the hamstrings and glutes into play more so as the grade increases. As we’ve found out, these are much stronger muscles to help in bringing you up over the hill.

Your center of gravity over your road bike or triathlon bike has changed when the terrain below you changes. You’ll notice the tendency to want to sit back on your saddle as the incline increases. This is natural and the heel down technique is only an intuitive tendency to coincide with this response.

The opposite is true on flatter surfaces and at higher cadences. Everyone is different and you should pedal at what is natural for you, but, in general, a low heel is more productive when climbing.

Now what about the aforementioned ‘ankling’ technique? Ankling, according to CyclingTips, is the “technique of drawing force across the bottom of the revolution arc and upwards to the start of the downward thrust.”

I personally have been taught this technique by several bike fitters who have been known to work with elite triathletes.

Imagine scraping mud off the bottom of your shoes and you’ll be mimicking the process. You lower the heel on the downward force and lift it as the upward arc begins. This doesn’t necessarily mean a low heel technique per se. But it does mean generating a sweeping motion with each stroke.

The idea here is to apply constant pressure at the upper and lower points of the stroke, thus eliminating dead spots. According to CyclingTips again, this type of pedal stroke reduces peak muscle contraction and spreads the load over your engaged muscle groups (or example, engaging the calf muscles more).

However, let’s not forget what we learned in Part I. Flexibility, posture, and bike position are the real purveyors of good pedal technique for both cycling and triathlon. So ankling needs to feel natural in order for it to be retained and to avoid injury.

Whether or not ankling is actually effective is difficult to determine. Proving one way or the other depends a lot on the many variables of the rider. Try it out for yourself on your next ride and see if this pedal technique provides greater fluidity and efficiency.


The takeaway in Part II of our series on triathlon cycling pedaling technique is that a lower heel is generally more effective for climbing and the technique of ankling may allow you to distribute load more proportionally and efficiently with each pedal stroke.


Do you notice your pedal technique changing when climbing vs. riding on the flats? What about ankling? Is this something you’ve tried before in your triathlon training and has it made a difference?

JARED MILAM is a former professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and former member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 17 years of competitive running experience and 12 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.

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