The Anatomy of Your Pedal Stroke

The Transitional Phases

Overlooked in the above summary is the role of what are called 'transitional' phases. These are basically the movements centered around the bottom (say five o'clock to seven o'clock) and top (eleven o'clock to one o'clock) few degrees of the circle.

During the "Transitional Recovery Phase" the foot is re-supinating, or moving towards neutral. Remember that this is a rotational description, but indicates a change in power transfer as the athlete continues to apply force through the bottom of the pedal stroke.

At the other end of the circuit is the "Transitional Power Phase" where the foot, still supinated, is preparing to accept the forces of the upper leg muscles as the cycle begins again. Supination is necessary for force production at the foot.

More: 4 Ways to Relieve Burning Feet

I find the transitional phases particularly interesting because of their role in cycling efficiency. Too often new riders simply push through the power phase and skip the rest. True efficiency is recognizing where optimal force can be applied beyond the classic noon-to-six o'clock focus.

These transitional phases are also where plantar and dorsi flexion can play a role. By dropping the heel a little bit (dorsiflexion) between three and six o'clock, or by employing an ankling technique whereby plantar flexion is used to generate more force between two and five o'clock, the rider is able to increase efficiency and offload some of the workload on the lower leg to different muscles and movement patterns.

Similarly, dorsiflexion at the top of the pedal stroke, the transitional power phase, helps drive the upper leg over top dead center (TDC) while more quickly moving the foot to neutral and supinated than if a less refined plantarflexion approach is used. This is refined motor pattern thinking, but is easily learned and, when properly implemented, very effective.


The role of the foot in pedaling is often under-valued. In this article we've identified four primary phases of the pedal stroke; they are the power phase, the recovery phase and the two transitional phases, recovery transitional and power transitional. Today we focused on defining the phases and introducing a few key components of the foot's movement including supination, pronation, dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Next time we'll delve into the musculature and individual differences that can be addressed for athletes trying to optimize their performance by finding the little extras that matter.

More: Cyclist's Guide to Proper Foot Care

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