"Drop your heel to engage your butt"

And engaging hips, i.e. working the pedals out of your lower back is desirable?

I have just had a really effective bike fit for both road and TT bikes. The fitter looked for a point where my ankle was not “Dropped” but relaxed and simply following my legs. The immediate effect of which was I could suddenly spin far easier and also feel the tongue of my shoes on my ankle. It was all part of getting my leg in a position where the height of the saddle was leaving my leg muscles just engaged. I don’t think this is about dropping my heel as letting it relax, and not trying to use a weaker calk muscle, so the glutes and hamstrings are more engaged. Saddle height was not about leg length but muscle engagement.

The actual effect is that I relax my ankle and I find I am much more effective,

I saw Charlie at Paradigm Cycles in Fotheringhay (UK) and was very impressed. I thought I was dialled in, but since the bike fit am in a much better position. https://www.paradigmbicycles.uk/


Conscious heel dropping and other techniques like “ankling” should be approached with caution. I’ve heard of people who’ve developed problems trying to increase ankle rotation, mainly achilles tendonitis.

There are also studies which indicate that “ankling” doesn’t improve performance. It’s better to keep the ankle in a position that feels natural and comfortable, as Phil says.


“Ankling” is raising the heel on the upstroke.

Interesting! For those that may be mislead by the title of this thread vs the content of the paper summary…here is the hypothesis proposed:

“We hypothesize that HLT cyclists reduce the stress placed on the knee extensor muscles by increasing the relative contribution from the hip joint during high-intensity cycling.”
(Where LLT group had LT @ ~70% of VO2max, HLT had LT @ ~80% of VO2max)

and the result was:

“While cycling in LLT, knee joint absolute power increased with work rate (p < 0.05); however, in HLT no changes in knee joint absolute power occurred with increased work rate (p > 0.05). The HLT generated significantly greater relative hip power compared with the LLT group at 90% VO (p < 0.05).”

I don’t see anything in there about heel drop being associate with greater glute recruitment so that’s probably just a construct of the OP. Interesting paper, though. I see Ed’s name in the Place of Prestige.

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At the same seat height, dropping the ankle opens up the hip angle and thus shifts some of the load from the knee to the hip. The sprinting study below illustrates this effect of thigh-torso angle well.

However, since this is the TrainerRoad forum, the best suggestion is probably that people just just try it themselves. Most will probably be able to feel the difference.

ETA: Another way to force people to pedal “heel down” (relatively) is to constrain movement at the ankle. This study shows the same effect of favoring the hip and disfavoring the knee.

…which is a verbose way of agreeing that the heel/glute hypothesis is not related to the original paper you linked. :smiley: So thanks for that. As I said, that’s your construct…not the authors’. Groovy.

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With a correct bike fit I would have thought there is very little scope for heel drop without the risk of putting strain on various parts of the leg muscles.

BTW I do heel drops twice a day off the bike as part of an achilles rehabilitation.

Yes, you’re right, I shouldn’t have assumed that everyone here was familiar with that standard coaching advice. I have added quotations to the thread title to make the allusion slightly clearer.

In any case, though, it is easy enough to verify it for yourself.

Hi Phil,

I would 2nd Charlie to anyonein the area. He fitted my road bike and his care/precision impressed me. I’ve done over 10,000 miles on that bike now in the last 2 years and I can definitely say he got it right. I’ve a TT fit booked with him later on in the month :+1:

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Ok. So the first study looked at upper body position during pedalling. Ideal position, +10 degrees from ideal & -10 degrees from ideal. The angle in question is that created at the hip. No mention of the ankle except to say “without changes at the ankle joint”. They found that changes in hip angle due to upper body position do change the relative contribution of work done at the knee & hip during 2x6 sprint workouts. This would seem to argue more to adopting a larger hip angle if you wanted to produce more relative force at that joint. Doesn’t really support any ankle flexion hypothesis.

The second paper is about recumbents and how knee & hip joint forces interact while the ankle is immobilized. This under relatively low work rates…uniformly well less than 100W. They found that, “The knee and hip joints generated approximately equal power.”

So neither of these papers support the notion that lowering the heel during pedalling increases glute muscle engagement. Doesn’t mean that hypothesis isn’t true. Just isn’t supported by this research. Still, that first paper was interesting reading. The second paper…is really out of context.

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@old_but_not_dead_yet you threw us all off the scent but citing unrelated research. ;-D But it’s ok. There are a lot of ‘rules of thumb’ in coaching that are not supported by research. Like, ‘Keep it in the small ring until spring’…or whatever that old saying was. I’m jsut saying let’s not let those unsupported ideas distract from the novelty of the first paper you posted. That’s an interesting paper! Just clearly not linked to ankle angle during pedalling.

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I suggest that you sit on your trainer, level the cranks, then drop the heel of your forward foot. Perhaps then you will understand what should be intuitively obvious, i.e., doing so opens up the thigh-torso angle.

Note that this is true even though you are “pedaling” at 0 W.

Everybody else, try not to pedal like a ballerina or your favorite triathlete, and you’ll do fine.

@old_but_not_dead_yet the research you yourself just posted suggest the best way to recruit glutes during the pedal stroke is something other than what you suggest. That’s all I’m observing.

Once upon a time, everybody understood it was intuitively obvious that mounting 19mm tires and pumping them up to 140psi was how you achieved optimal rolling resistance on the road. Then…somebody actually took some data.


Your observations are incorrect.

Opening up the thigh-torso angle aids recruitment of the glutes. One way of achieving this is to drop your heel. Hence, the long-standing coaching advice that I picked for the title of this thread.

P.S. If you’re running 19 mm tires and weigh 170 pounds or so (working from memory here), calculators such as Silva’s still recommend rather high pressures for reasonably smooth roads.

ETA: 133 psi for 700C x 20 mm actual width at cat 1/2/3 racing speeds on moderately worn asphalt with some cracks for a 170 pound rider with 20 pounds of gear.

In my bike fit, the seat height was adjusted, as the ankle flex was changed, to ensure I did not rock, and that the other leg muscles were still engaged.

@old_but_not_dead_yet Also I need to emphasise, that the bike fitter said that ankle flex was more important in a sprinter or climber, whereas I am more of an endurance cyclist (TTs and longer versions), and so his approach was to optimise the ankle flex for my style of riding.

For a sprinter or dediated climber, this would/may be different.

I emphasise I am not an expert bike fitter. I am simply relating my experience, and how I was set up and told about.

And dropping it on the downstroke / across the bottom.

It is a full-pedal-stroke concept, not just one area of it.

“Drop your heel to engage your glutes” refers to the downstroke, as obviously your hip angle is already wide open at BDC.

“Ankling”, as you point out, is focused on what you do at BDC and TDC, and is neutral and counterproductive to the above goal, respectively.

So no, I’m not talking about “ankling”, which you shouldn’t attempt to do.

I’m not making an argument for or against anything…just pointing out that 'ankling" refers to more than just raising your heel on the upstroke.

I am much more in the “do what feels natural” camp…get a good, balanced position on the bike and let your body determine how you pedal…same as cadence. I tend to have a “heel up” pedal stroke…but will naturally drop my heels when the occasion requires it. Not something I think about, just what occurs naturally.

IMO< there is not an “ideal” pedal stroke…too many variables from person to person.