FOOT FITTING ORTHOTICSNew laser technology process may revolutionize industry

Foot Fitting's scanning technology allows them to capture the foot in three dimensions; measurement is precise to .01 millimeter.
It's always fascinating to understand how as we get older, we get wiser. We've all fantasized about how great it would be to go back to high school or college armed with the life experience we now have. The popular people we thought were so together were probably even more insecure than we were.

But you could never convince a typical teenager of these facts until they've grown through those challenging years and can look back with a different perspective. As adults, we come to realize that the old adage is indeed true: Youth is truly wasted on the young.

Funny thing is that athletic performance is not all that different. Many times I think how cool it would be to apply my current knowledge and experience to a 20-year-old physical version of myself? But short of a time machine or discovery of an unknown dimension, I'll never be 20 again so I'm left with passing on as much as I can to my children and those who might listen.

It's with these continued thoughts, and the challenge of trying to be faster and stronger than I've ever been -- even though I'm just a few years shy of 50 -- that I was intrigued by a new custom orthotics technology that might revolutionize the way we think of footwear.

Earlier this year, as some of you may recall, I wrote an article on the advantages of getting a professional custom fitting to your bicycle.

What was unique about the way Bicycle Ranch handled my fitting was their analysis of what was happening beyond the standard measurements. For example, if certain muscles were tight or weak, causing muscle imbalances, would I be better served to fix the underlying problems in conjunction with a proper fit?

The answer is a resounding yes.

New process for orthotics

At the time, Paraic McGlynn, one of the partners at Bicycle Ranch, was telling me they'd been working with some professional orthotics guys that were planning on revolutionizing the industry with some new custom footbed technology based on laser scanning technology, computer imaging and an innovative air bladder system.

The idea, explained Paraic, was to improve the way foot impressions are captured in the first place. Traditional methods use foam boxes, casting, flat scanning, pressure pads and vacuum devices. But these don't capture an anatomically correct image of your foot. In fact, most people making orthotics today only capture a two dimensional view of your feet.

"What makes us unique and separates us from others are two things," claims Bill Peterson, inventor of Foot Fitting's technology. "The first is the new air bladder system, which allows the technician to manipulate the foot to the proper position and support the structure from the bottom side. The other is our ability to scan the foot with lasers which captures the foot in three dimensions. This measurement is precise to .01 millimeter."

As the brains behind Foot Fitting, Peterson, a former professional snow skier, had always been plagued by problems stemming from improper alignment in his ski boots. After his fourth knee operation, he knew there had to be a better way to align skiers into their boots.

In 1973, he started researching custom footbeds and orthotics and turned to competitive cycling after skiing. Cycling also gave Peterson another unique perspective on how many athletes, not just skiers, could benefit immensely from proper alignment.

Over the past four years, spurred by plenty of investment money, Peterson's perfected the machinery and process for creating footbeds. "The term 'orthotic' may have a negative connotation for many who have used them with varying levels of success," explains Peterson. "Most technology used to capture a foot impression is not very precise. Our 3D digital image creates a custom footbed that is very different from what people have called commonly referred to as orthotics.

"If we dedicated the process to just one person, we could produce a pair of orthotics in a couple hours," adds Peterson. "The efficiencies and scale we get from computerizing the whole production process allow us to replicate production to exact and precise measurements."

Getting started with orthotics

In early July, I headed back to Phoenix to have my feet scanned for these new orthotics. I met with Nate Koch, P.T., A.T.C., at Endurance Rehabilitation (http://endurancerehab.com) who, in addition to laser scanning my feet, did a complete physical evaluation to determine whether there were any underlying issues that could be corrected in conjunction with my new orthotics.

I've known for some time that my hips are slightly rotated but I've never had everything explained, including videotaped analysis, of why I have certain aches and pains.

While I had gone through a similar evaluation at Athletes' Performance in Phoenix, it wasn't quite as personalized as what I received at Endurance Rehabilitation. On the one hand, after going through the analysis with Nate, I felt like I couldn't be more screwed up. While on the other hand I was encouraged by the idea that if I could fix some of these issues, I could be much stronger, with less aches and pains, than ever before.

"It's quite possible you've been this way your whole life," explained Nate. "I believe we should try some specific flexibility and strength exercises to see if we can make some corrections. If we can't, then we can make some modifications to the orthotics to fit your particular needs."

Essentially, Nate was doing the right thing. Instead of using shims or building up one side over another, why not first see if the underlying problem with my hip rotation could be fixed through a specific routine he'd design for me.

Many of the things I took for granted, such as crossing my legs when sitting, or certain stretches I'd always been taught to perform, were actually very bad for me. For the first time, I saw there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. But I'd have to be diligent in performing these exercises and stretches every day.

The exercises Nate prescribed where specifically centered on strengthening my glutes (butt muscles), abdominal muscles and obliques. The stretching involved some very innovative ways to attempt to straighten out my hips. And they had to be done only on particular sides.

Foot Fitting orthotics

Armed with the knowledge, and specifically-tailored exercises, I put the orthotics in my cycling shoes and headed over to have Paraic check my position on the bike.

Here's what was so interesting. Paraic placed me on my bike, in front of a mirror, with red laser beams pointed at each knee. Without the orthotics in my cycling shoes, I could see my knees not tracking exactly straight, especially the right one (the side I tend to be more rotated).

After hopping off, placing the orthotics in my shoes and pedaling again -- in the same position on the same bike -- the laser beams were dialed right onto my knees and for the first time in my life, I didn't have my knee wobbling during pedaling rotation.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people come up behind me -- for the past 25 years on the bike -- and tell me "I knew that was you because I could tell by the way your one knee twitches and swings out."

I returned to San Diego and it took me about a week to get used to the orthotics. In fact, the first time I started pedaling with them they felt very odd -- like the arch was too built up.

"Keep your shoes pretty loose for the first week," explained Bill Peterson. "After a week or so of riding, you'll wonder how you ever rode without them."

The verdict

It's been about six weeks that I've been training and riding with the Foot Fitting orthotics. Even more interesting, I've been averaging about 250 miles per week training for a relay at the Furnace Creek 508 in October. This is roughly 100 more miles a week than I normally do and my body is feeling better than ever. It feels much easier to spin north of 100 rpm, even 110 rpm seems very natural.

I no longer have the continued lower back aches every morning I awaken. And the little aches -- mostly tendonitis on top of each knee -- are going away. In all seriousness, over the past five years, in which I've ridden at least 35,000 miles, I started to believe that having a lower back feel like it always needed to be stretched was just part of the drill.

I now realize it doesn't have to be that way.

Because of my alignment issues, and attempts at correcting the problems with specific stretches and strengthening exercises, I'm essentially a moving target for bike fitting specialists like the guys at Bicycle Ranch. As flexibility and core strength improves, my position on the bike may also be altered.

After getting fit last December, then getting reevaluated and fit with orthotics in July, I'm starting to really get comfortable and can clearly see the path to efficient and injury-free cycling.

I don't have a power meter on my bike, though I believe it would've been interesting to note an increase in watts over the same exertion (e.g. heart rate, terrain, wind conditions, etc.). I've heard from others using Foot Fitting Orthotics that they've seen an average of 7-10 more watts by simply using these orthotics.

In a sport where we scratch and claw to save every gram of weight, and buy the latest aerodynamic carbon fiber wheels and accessories, what could be more important than dialing yourself into more power without having to do anything but wear Foot Fitting Orthotics?

My only issues have been not noticing that my saddle slid back an inch because the one-bolt seat clamp hadn't been tightened enough on the very "slippery" titanium rails. When this has occurred in the past, I've been hobbled to the point of not being able to ride, or walk, for nearly a week.

Now if my seat gets moved out of position, I simply feel certain muscles get tighter than normal, which puts a strain on my knees, but doesn't hobble me. Needless to say, I'm incredibly diligent about checking my saddle position frequently.

I haven't been back to see Nate -- which he suggested after four weeks of exercises. My assumption is that the exercises are helping tremendously, especially since I'm feeling so good. But maybe that follow up will be necessary for another article.

Foot Fitting Orthotics also makes running and casual shoe orthotics and while they made me a pair for my running shoes, I haven't been able to properly evaluate them as I've been focusing exclusively on cycling till October. My plan is to start running again later this fall, a development that's sure to interest my dog Buddy who thinks I've abandoned him over the past few months.

I look forward to evaluating the running orthotics after I've had a chance to test them for a couple months.

Best part of Foot Fitting's revolutionary process is the price. With traditional orthotics running upwards of $400 and more, Foot Fitting hits the market with a $199 retail price tag, which includes all scanning and production. And Foot Fitting vows to ship finished pairs within three business days of getting scanned.

As I mentioned up front, I'm not getting any younger and some would argue I'm not getting any wiser. But there's no question that on my continued quest for additional knowledge and that extra little edge in athletic performance, these Foot Fitting orthotics are one of those little golden nuggets of information I feel compelled to pass on.


For those interested in learning more about Foot Fitting Orthotics, you may visit their Web site at www.footfitting.com or call 480-222-7333. For more information on Endurance Rehabilitation, visit www.endurancerehab.com or call 480-556-8406.

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