Pedal choice may not seem like something that should be contentious but there is something about using clipless pedals over flat pedals (and vice-versa) that sparkes polarizing discussions and screaming matches.
There is also enough ‘cross’ over thanks to disciplines like Cyclocross, Gravel, and Enduro or ‘Trail’ oriented (non-racing) mountain biking that there can be a debate as to what pedal system is right, especially for non-pros when you have an option … or three for your pedal allegiances.
If you are racing road/track
We will get this one out of the way first, if you are among the most elite and specialized of athletes winning time-trials, sprints and triathlons then use the shoes that are ‘industry standard. This is the equipment used by the best and many of my arguments about using mountain bike shoes are moot if you are only pedaling maximally and looking for every second of efficiency, even at the cost of comfort and safety.
Road vs. MTB Clipless shoes
It is my belief that mountain bike clipless and flat-soled shoes are the way to go for many people who race.
Here’s why I believe this:
Having two sets of shoes for most off-road disciplines is great.
Having the ability to walk (and fall less) when you go into the cafe or down those sketchy steps at home is great.
Having a bit more room for your foot to move in the shoe should be a good thing for foot health (which is apparently tied to everything…)
Practicing clipping in every time you clip in is important for many disciplines … starting is important (maybe everything) in Cyclocross and MTB-XCO
Practicing mounts/dismounts – This is important for most off-road disciplines and should be a year-round pursuit. Every time you get on your bike could be practice …
Easy to switch between bikes and get ready to ride each day.
Likely saving money on fewer total pedals/cleats purchased for ‘the stable’
It is difficult to argue for Road clipless shoes for the general public without resorting to personal attacks or ‘coolness’ or ‘tradition’ arguments. I tried in the above section for elites but aside from style (which is a fine argument I will accept and those who are pushing for podiums, I do not see the pros outweighing the small wins in skills, comfort, efficiency, money-savings, time-savings and so on.
Flat pedals (using a ‘skate-board type’ hard-soled shoe) are usually associated with BMX or with kids but many very good mountain bikers use flat pedals. If you don’t race but ride mountain bikes it is worth considering for safety, comfort and skill development. If you race, it is still worth considering how you can spend more time on flats.
2 Anecdotes supporting using Flat-Pedals as an adult:
In my Ryan Leech course on Cyclocross Mounts/dismounts, I have seen many clients in person and online make huge progress in cyclocross mounts and dismounts simply by removing the need to clip in and out (and fear of falling over) away for a few sessions or even just a few repetitions.
If you are just learning to ride bikes or looking to improve your bike skills then flat pedals are the fastest way to learn. Skills like balance, cornering, hopping, jumping and standing to pedal. This is my experience mostly but it also seems like common sense. It is very likely how you learned to ride and how you rode for many years if you rode as a child. Not being terrified of falling over (not unclipping) and being able to get going after a stop/’dab’ is a HUGE accelerator for the learning in kids and adults.
It is easy to forget the way you learned after you have been clipped in for so long.
If you are trying to get a young person or someone you like to learn to ride then please do not give them clipless pedals. Many kids have raced at a very high-level on flat pedals. They are not trying to win sprints or attack climbs and they will be fine in the kid’s race and hopefully even better after the race where they go and practice jumps and tricks with their friends.
Perhaps more contentious is that most people (yes you, adult cyclocross racer) should spend some time on flat pedals whether that is on a mountain bike, a commuter and/or a BMX / dirt jumper. Learning to push into the bike is important.
Why be clipped in at all?
There is fairly good evidence that clipping in will help with aggressive or maximal pedaling. Again, no one is riding flat pedals for sprints and fast hill climbing. Several studies have looked at this such as
Mornieux et. All (2008) However, an active pulling-up action on the pedal during upstroke increased the pedaling effectiveness, while reducing net mechanical efficiency.
Studies aside, any debate should be settled by a sprint competition … everyone uses both types of pedals and completes some sprints … heck there is a study (let me know if you do it or find it…)
I think it is worth finishing by considering how pedal/shoe choice may influence injury. As cyclists, we end up with a lot of repetition, especially if we only use one type of shoes/pedal/bike position.
If you find you struggle with things like IT Band tendonitis, knee pain, foot pain or hip pain then it might be worth playing with using only mountain bike shoes and/or switching to flat pedals for some or all of your rides. The latter can greatly increase your movement options and allow you to modify the lateral position (this alone can be huge) of the foot as well as fore-aft as you ride.
Indeed I found this study by Fletcher (2019) interesting because they found that some people with an injury did better with different levels of flex in their clipless shoes. If simply changing flex in the clipless shoe modified injury then it is not a jump to think modifying cleat or shoe type might also influence discomfort or pain.
Personally and professionally with coaching clients, I have seen the switch to mountain bike shoes and also to flat pedals (for short periods at least) resolve many issues of overuse. Perhaps variety is the answer, it often is, but in my mind, the economic, safety, comfort and ability to go hiking up a random trail on my road bike at a moment’s notice is worth it (that last part might just be me …)
We did a Christmas re-release of the Stephen Seiler episode we recorded a few years ago you can check it out at www.consummateathlete.com or below in the embedded links/player.
A few things struck me as I re-listened to the episode, as I engaged in a few online/offline discussions and as clients pondered how their zwifting/group-rides and well how their own daily training practices fit (or don’t fit) into this framework.
Ultimately I think the point that is missed is that in all systems of training (even sweet-spot) is that there are easier days, off days and also some type of intensity. For ‘working’ adults (most of us) we just can not go hard/moderate every day, even if we feel the need to compensate for less training time.
But let me explain a few thoughts further if you will:
The 2020 Ellen Noble ‘Quest’ is returning in Tucson for the 2nd year in a row. Molly and I will be returning as coaches. Please let any young women who you know would be a great fit for the camp know about this great opportunity.
How are those New Year’s resolutions, goals, or intentions going?
Hopefully, you’re crushing it. Maybe you’re struggling a little. Maybe you’ve completely gone back to your old habits—habit change is freaking hard, and sometimes, those sweeping changes that make us feel like Beyonce when we announce them to the world are way tougher after the initial high has worn off.
What exactly is it? It’s a seven-day series of emails tackling the big-picture lifestyle changes that most of us are missing, like sleep, movement throughout the day, food and motivation.
We realized that a lot of the questions from Smart Athlete clients and emails we get from Consummate Athlete Podcast listeners aren’t about specific intervals or training techniques, they’re about lifestyle changes that support health and make all the training better.
Sexy or effective?
The non-sexy things like eating a few more veggies, or adding a walk to the day. So, we put together a ‘kickstart program‘ that reminds you to try a few of these habits out each day for a week. Will you do them all forever? No! But we have found that even if one thing sticks … like walking, meditation or yoga then we get a domino effect of awesomeness!
Some easy, some hard
Most days are not hard and take under 5 minutes. The pantry cleanout is the big ask of the week for most people but we ease you into it and even if you spend 5 minutes getting rid of some things in the kitchen that aren’t supporting your goals (donating, composting, etc)
If you’re looking for a kick in the ass to commit to healthier living this year—not just sticking to a training plan, but really making a healthy environment for you and your family—this is a great spot to start. We’ve spent the last couple of months putting this together based on years of our own research, experiences, and client experiences.
And it’s totally free… So there’s no excuse to not start today!
Signing up just means you get 7 days worth of awesome emails from us, tackling all the lifestyle parts that contribute to a happy training environment and creating the best possible version of you!
I was interviewed for this article in Canadian Cycling Magazine by Lily Hansen-Gillis. We discussed some of the common mistakes that cyclists make when they find that winter has come and they are tired of only riding a trainer.
The latest Q & A episode from the Consummate Athlete Podcast answers some common questions – see below for the player and link to your favorite podcast apps/downloads.
RPE – this is the rating of perceived exertion. Many of the workouts I use with clients reference this idea that you are gauging your effort and learning to ‘pace’. Even when we have the power there is a range of powers and a pacing strategy that RPE (how hard it feels is tied to) You may remember this post on ‘putting your hand in the fire‘ and learning/training the ability to be in the red zone.
MaF training is something else I use fairly often and that I believe fits with my overall bias to volume and lower intensity training. In this episode, we talk about the common issue of newer riders having trouble staying in their endurance zones or under MAF HR. (spoiler – walk a bit, sprint a bit, do some strength)
Cold weather clothing for racing is discussed – more for cyclocross then fat bike
Budgeting your gear and race dates – we talk a lot about how deciding on the big races and when you have time to focus on your ‘peak’ event will help make the choices easier. You may like the post ‘can you prepare for the goal that you have set
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and resting heart rate are great ways to monitor your body and get objective feedback on how your body is handling the training you are putting in. It is important (and valuable) as a gauge of your ‘fitness’ because it also does not discriminate between training stress, work stress, bad sleep stress, or 5 shots of tequila stress! This is a common criticism of TSS or other output measures that are telling you the training stress of your workout but not the stress/strain your body is experiencing from that workout nor from the above lifestyle stressors.
How to collect?
I used the HRV4Training app personally since it came out and have used it with clients, via the HRV4Training Pro platform for about 3 years now. It lets you collect HRV with that phone you always have with you by simply putting your finger on the camera for a minute … easy, no HR staps to forget, and no excuses!
I love the extra objective insight HRV/HR adds but I have said that my favorite part of the app is how it has helped many clients who were resistant to commenting on their training in trainingpeaks.com get there via syncing a ‘survey’ of subjective measures direct to TrainingPeaks.com along with resting HR and HRV.
I am starting to collect some neat data from different times of the year and different phases of life (return to school, change in job, concussions, menopause, changes of meds, and different training blocks).
HRV and Training Load
Today I wanted to share a few examples of how different types of training load, or different phases of the training year, might affect HRV.
I find consistently that HRV can be a good indicator of when we have been endurance training regularly and perhaps at similar levels to past performances. We should certainly compare and contrast to our peak powers, race results and metrics like TSS to ensure we aren’t training harder/longer simply to try and elevate our HRV to past levels. We do change as people over time and each year can be different. (refer to the 5 tequilas above)
case 1 – fall peak and off-season
Above is a pretty typical build towards a September race, then reduced training load and slowly HRV is reduced (blue line is 7 day rolling avg)
case 2 – elite … back to school
The above image has a top/bottom image included. The top is the HRV tracing and the bottom is a *rough* training load done by RPE x duration. This case is perhaps unique because this athlete has a high HRV and a very high fitness/performance level in the spring/summer. Come September a break after the main race season (and some missing data) before school starts and the routine is regular but not focused on such high and regular endurance.
case 3 – peak, bike pack, race, off
The above screenshot also has a top-bottom and this athlete raced their A-priority race in September (far left) and then wanted to keep riding while the weather was good and build towards a November event AND got coaxed into a big multi-day bike packing trip with riding most of each day.
You can see the big spike in the training stress (bottom) and the corresponding drop in the top image (HRV). The athlete’s November race was ok but there was missing the snappy workouts and lower volumes typical ahead of short/hard events that seem to lead to great race days. A trade-off that is perhaps captured in the drop in HRV and training load prior to the event (and in this case likely worth it for the great 4-day adventure!)
Finally this is two years of training and racing for an elite-level athlete where there was some injury/illness on far left before starting winter training (red arrow). Peak race in July for the first summer.
The second red arrow near the center is the most recent year’s spring training which was much harder and better absorbed. 2 Additional good camps were done and racing was generally better and more consistent. the second year was much more consistent. The yellow arrow is the 2nd summers peak event which included much more racing over the month. HRV returned to previous levels (not pictured, 3-4 years out) for the season before dropping again for the off-period (far right)
Curious about HRV?
If you are curious about HRV training please take a look at the HRV4Training APP and also their very informative blog