How Can A Gait Analysis Improve Your Cycling Performance? Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest from Christophe Champs, biomechanics consultant at PODO Clinic and Workshop, and British racing cyclist Dan Bigham. They will cover why a gait analysis is essential, what’s involved and what difference it can make. Christophe has been looking after professional cyclists for the past six years, including Harvey Leadbeater, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Harry Tanfield and Dan Bigham. Whether you cycle on- or off-road, just for fun or to break records, you’ve got to look at your body and its biomechanics as much as your bike and its mechanics to improve your performance.
How Can A Gait Analysis Improve Your Cycling Performance?
Many of our clients are race-winning pro-cyclists, including British racing cyclist Dan Bigham, an expert in cycling aerodynamics and a performance engineer for INEOS; Harvey Leadbeater, who has been a PODO cycling ambassador since 2021 and is a cycling and nutrition coach, founder of the Healthy Living Fitness Race Team, and author of #HealthyLivingKitchen; Tao Geoghegan Hart who won the 2020 Giro d’Italia; and pro road cyclist Harry Tanfield.
All understand the benefits of getting it right from the feet upwards. Think about it, how many times will you reproduce the same movement? The only way to improve your performance on a bike is to perfect that movement.
At the same time, repeating the same ‘bad’ movement over time will reduce your enjoyment and your performance and make you prone to injury by creating an imbalance. This can lead to joint impingements associated with extra wear and tear, which can manifest as pain for now and turn into osteoarthritis later on. In addition, muscle imbalances result in the ‘overworking muscles’ fatiguing, leading to pain and injuries, and the ‘underworking muscles’ having a slowed reaction time which exposes a joint to sprains and strains.
Riding Your Bike Should Help You Build A Strong Body. It Should Not Damage Any Of Your Joints
Muscles might be sore after exercising. Which isn’t necessarily bad as long as you listen to the pain, understand what caused it, and address it.
“The biomechanics of a rider is often overlooked in the modern cycling world of watts, aerodynamic drag and marginal gains, which is quite surprising once you start to understand the true influence biomechanics have on performance. When riding quickly, the ratio that matters is the input power divided by drag power, often called the power-to-drag ratio. You can put more power in or reduce your drag losses to go faster, quite simply when you think about it! Which side of the equation you work on doesn’t matter as a result is the same if you increase your input power by 10w or reduce your drag losses by 10w.” explains cycling pro Dan Bigham.
“It is easy to purchase equipment improvements nowadays, but for long-term improvements. It pays to invest in your physiology and, therefore, your biomechanics. For the input power side of the equation to improve, you need an efficient base that enables you to consistently complete your training without injury or issue and produce sustained maximal power in your race position. Your feet are the most loaded contact point, dealing with forces and torques at various magnitudes and directions. They need to be well supported and provide a stable base for your body to work from, so I believe having an insole tailored to your needs and requirements is a key starting point for any ambitious athlete.”
Let’s look at how the body works concerning your feet to help understand why they influence you so much.
Your Body Compensates
Your only foundation is your two feet; each foot is different, but despite the imbalance this difference can make, our eyes are always levelled.
In other words, what happens in between your feet and your eyes, on every joint (ankle, knee, hip, back and neck) and in any body plan (frontal, transversal and sagittal) is a natural adaptation or compensation, all designed to keep the eyes level regardless of what is happening below. This compensation can only be addressed when your feet are assessed independently.
Both static and dynamic assessments help highlight the rider’s asymmetry. But to me, the barefoot gait analysis is the best way to observe the adaptations and compensations associated with each asymmetrical point.
Some structural factors can’t be changed without surgery, but we can still adapt and improve the balance with custom orthotics. Other factors are purely postural and can be addressed with custom orthotics and physical therapy. Getting an osteopath, physiotherapist, or PT on board in the second case can be good. Ensuring that the muscle imbalance is also addressed once the alignment is perfected. But the joint alignment comes first because the bone position tells the muscles what to do, not the other way around.
To assess the joint alignment, we need to look at the swinging belts of the pelvis and shoulders.
The Swinging Belts
The alternated swing between the pelvic and shoulder belt is easier to observe when walking than when cycling. Although the swing exists in both cases, despite having two hands on the barre when cycling, it is not as obvious to see when cycling, so a barefoot walking gait analysis is recommended. We can often guess at the asymmetry if the rider frequently experiences a burning sensation behind one shoulder blade – but it will be a guess.
A barefoot gait analysis will give us the exact and correct information to create custom orthotics for each foot that will address the imbalance in the swings and improve the balance of power in both feet.
To do this correctly and to ensure the orthotics are custom-made for each foot, you’ll need professional help.
Getting external expert help can make a massive difference to your performance, whether it is your cycling technique, your mental resilience, your bike’s mechanics, or your body’s biomechanics. An expert can see the big picture and will notice the minor details.
Studying and understanding your biomechanics requires a trained eye and the right equipment, so seeking professional, expert help is necessary.
We need to put the bike aside when analysing the rider to get started. If both are well set up, the rider will build a better relationship with the machine through their training.
Therefore, look for a podiatrist with biomechanics expertise and one who has knowledge of cycling or has worked with cyclists previously. Each sport is slightly different, so it is best to work with an expert who knows your sport and the pressures it can put on your body.
Although a bike comes out of a factory pretty much symmetrical, we are all born with a certain degree of asymmetry. We’ve got a dominant leg, our bodies might have recorded some injuries here and there, cycling-related or not, and all those tiny details make us who we are and define the limitations we must acknowledge when chasing victories. So, each rider’s body is unique and needs to be treated as such.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
“Prevention is better than cure,” says Dan Bigham. “And it often takes an injury for a rider to appreciate this truth. When we think about it, a pedalling leg is a multi-bar mechanism with each joint having six degrees of freedom (three translational and three rotational, albeit only a small amount in some planes). The only interventions we can have are at the top of the machine with the saddle (type, position, angle, softness etc.) or the bottom of the machine with the pedal, cleat, shoe and ultimately, the insole.
Minor issues quickly grow over time and can soon be debilitating. Having been on the receiving end of these rapidly increasing issues, I know it isn’t enjoyable. It can wreck blocks of training and racing or even an entire season. I think the adage a stitch in time saves nine’ couldn’t be more accurate in this area. Address those little question marks before they become full stops to your cycling.”
How Symmetrical Should Things Be?
A barefoot gait analysis can show how the whole body or each big joint adapts to compensate for your imbalanced movement. It can also show the muscle imbalances and joint impingements which are part of your life, on and off the bike. It must be acknowledged when repeating the same movement over and over.
Anytime pain emerges or develops on the bike. For example, when experiencing right knee pain, left groin pain, or feeling your right forefoot on fire, it is easier to blame the cycle, which you can inspect and then change its settings, rather than looking at your own body, biomechanics and establish a treatment plan.
Next time you think about making your symmetrical engine asymmetric to address your one-side issue, ask yourself how you could bring some symmetry to your asymmetrical body. Instead, have a pro look at your gait and discuss your medical history, past injuries, and bad habits to collect and connect a pleiade of valuable information you could use to improve your body and your bike performance.
However, reaching a place of symmetry in your biomechanics does not guarantee symmetrical pedalling (if there is such a thing). It is also not enough to provide the rider with a balanced riding position. This is when (and only after the rider has been treated) the bike fitters need to come on board and do their magic. From my clinical experience in sports, cyclists, like skiers, must address the body before touching the gear. The combination of both gait analysis and cycling analysis will teach you so much about your body that I highly recommend you have both checked to improve your performance.
Dan Bigham’s Experience
Based on Dan’s own experience of visiting PODO for custom orthotics, he says, “The process of having an insole made can be quite enlightening. Often as athletes, we have sensations and experiences that we can never quite pinpoint the reason behind them. It might be a knee twinge when climbing steep gradients or rubbing on our big toe joint. And we just put them down to ‘usual cycling pains’. When you get the pleasure of meeting an experienced podiatrist, they can quickly diagnose these issues just by a glance at your current insoles and shoes. Seeing where you’re loading your foot, what your toes are doing, and whether there is a movement where it shouldn’t be. These trademark giveaways can ease your mind that you’ve come to the right place to get rid of those frustrating gremlins.”
After correcting your body, getting your bike fitted provides you with a better position to improve your performance while preventing injuries. Bearing in mind that the correct position on a motorcycle varies between riders and depends on various factors, including the style of riding, age, underlying condition, and other physical attributes such as flexibility.
Finally, I recommend changing one thing at a time, not making many wholesale changes. And after each change, however small, give yourself some time to let the change settle.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christophe Champs is a Biomechanics expert and the PODO Clinic and Workshop founder. Christophe works with clients to help correct postural and biomechanical issues that are causing pain or putting a client at risk of injury. By testing both the moving gait and the still posture, Christophe can correct misalignment and asymmetry by creating custom-made orthotics to suit the exact needs of each client.