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  • Dr. Lee Brotherston

How to set up your pedals/cleats

During a discussion with one of our athletes after their race on the weekend, the topic of optimal cleat/pedal setup came up. He wanted to know, is there an ideal position for the cleat to be placed on the shoe, from a performance and injury prevention standpoint?

I gave him a fairly abbreviated answer, saying simply that if you’re comfortable with your cleat positioning, and it doesn’t seem to be causing any pain in the lower limb, then keep doing what you’re doing. Afterwards, I realized that this question deserves a more complete answer, so here it is:

Cleat position does have a direct effect on which muscles get activated the most in the lower limb. This means, that depending on where on the shoe you place your cleat, you can cause more stress to be placed on different muscles. For example, the further forward your cleat is on our shoe, the more heavily you will use your calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus), whereas the further back you place your cleat, the more you will activate your quads and the muscles of your shin (tibialis anterior).

However, despite the differences in muscle activation, cleat position does not appear to have any effect on VO2 max, or peak power output. Therefore, there is no appreciable difference in your performance with small adjustments to the cleat (+/- 15mm) position front to back. Since we can feel confident knowing that our performance won’t suffer, we can change our cleat position in order to suit our muscles. If you are having cramping in your calf muscles during a ride, consider sliding your cleats further back to relieve some stress from the muscles. Alternatively, if your quads feel like they’re taking too much abuse, you could experiment with sliding your cleat forward on the shoe.

Now, these studies don’t tell us what the ideal cleat position is in terms of side-to-side or angular positioning – but you should always begin by placing your cleats in a fairly neutral position. That is, place them centrally with equal parts of the side of the shoe showing, and aim to have your toes pointing straight when you’re clipped in. There are numerous factors that come into play when trying to determine the side-to-side and angular position of your cleats in order to minimize stress on your body, so if you have further questions, or need help setting up your cleats, feel free to schedule an appointment (and don’t forget to bring your bike!) and we’ll get you back on the trail/road.

Happy pedaling,

Dr. Lee Brotherston

Partner and Chiropractor at

Oak Ridges Health Group

58 Brock Street W, Suite 201

Uxbridge ON, L9P 1P3



Chartogne, M., Duc, S., Bertucci, W., Rodríguez-Marroyo, J. A., Pernía, R., & García-López, J. (2016). Effect of shoes cleat position on physiological and biomechanical variables of cycling performance. Journal of Science and Cycling, 5(2).
FitzGibbon, S., Vicenzino, B., & Sisto, S. A. (2016). INTERVENTION AT THE FOOT-SHOE-PEDAL INTERFACE IN COMPETITIVE CYCLISTS. International journal of sports physical therapy, 11(4), 637.
Van Sickle, J., & Hull, M. (2007). Is economy of competitive cyclists affected by the anterior–posterior foot position on the pedal?. Journal Of Biomechanics, 40(6), 1262-1267.

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