Having read the 2 posts mentioned above, you will understand the necessity for foot correction and the role that arch support plays. Arch support eliminates or reduces a mechanical change (the dropping of the arch) to the feet while pedalling, and combined with the correct amount of wedging, subtly affects the relative alignment of all joints of the kinetic chain up to and including the hip. When this is done perfectly, proprioceptive clarity from the feet is assured. Optimising proprioceptive clarity from the feet is like a “yes” or “no” answer to a question. There are no shades of ‘right or wrong’. Either proprioceptive clarity is achieved or it is not, with the margin for error being 1 degree of correction (canting) too much or too little.
The difficulty in writing about this subject is that I cannot tell you the method I use to gain certainty as to the degree of wedging. The method is the subject of patent applications (Update: patent granted in U.S.) in and providing detail about the method in advance of patent grant will invalidate the patent. Additionally, applying the method requires sensitivity and skill which can only be taught in person with 3weeks of training under supervision being about the minimum time required to pick up the process. Which still allows me to say this…
Currently there are 3 brands of wedging available: Bike Fit Systems and Specialized and our own. BFS developed the cleat wedges in 3 bolt, Speedplay 4 bolt and Mtb 2 bolt versions. They also were the originator of an in shoe wedge that BFS now called the ITS (In The Shoe) wedge. The original name was ‘Sole Power’ or something like that.
Specialized have a similar concept wedge to the BFS ITS and have a cleat wedge as well. I’ve only seen 3 examples of the Specialized cleat wedge as it is relatively new to the market and have not yet made a judgement. Of the 2 brands and various models, I will not use Specialized in shoe wedges because they present a Material Challenge to the nervous system. Before getting into that, we manufacture a heel wedge but more about that later.
A Material Challenge is when a product is composed of materials that have a negative effect on proprioceptive clarity. It appears to me that Specialized copied the original BFS in shoe wedge without fully understanding the implications of their choice of materials. What I’m saying is that X number of Specialized in shoe wedges provide the same degree of cant to the foot as X number of BFS in shoe wedges or X number of our heel wedges, but only at the cost of reducing the Central Nervous System’s (CNS) ability to ‘hear’ the feet. Well, they’re not alone. Other items that present a Material Challenge are Specialized cleat shims, LiveStrong and Live Free plastic bracelets and most other similar, charity type plastic bracelets as well as Power Balance plastic bracelets, many helmets, most CO2 cartridges, many smart phones and some sunglasses lens coatings and frames.
If you own any of these items or use Specialized in shoe wedges, by all means wear them or use them if that is what presses your buttons. But I would suggest that you don’t wear them while riding a bike if long term injury free performance is your aim. If you use these items, will you become injured? In any individual case, only time will tell. Your susceptibility to injury and the volume and intensity of your training play a large part in this. What I am saying is that any using any product that presents a Material Challenge to the nervous system means that you are metaphorically skating on thinner ice than need be. Whether the ice breaks resulting in injury cannot be known in advance. But why heighten the risk?
Note: Regarding sunglasses lens coatings and frames, I’m seeing this more often, though now I’m aware of it, I’m looking for for it more. There seems to be an individual component to this in the sense that a particular pair of glasses may have a negative effect on one person but not on another. When a fit booking is made, we ask the intending client to bring their bike(s), knicks, shoes and walking / running orthoses if they use them. To that list will now be added sunglasses or any prescription glasses that are worn on the bike. As more data comes my way from this, I will sooner or later post on the subject. ( Update: see this post and this post on the subject )
1. Cleat wedges which are designed to be placed between cleat and sole of shoe (3 bolt road and 2 bolt mtb type) or bolted within the layers of the cleat (Speedplay 4 bolt type)
2. ITS (In The Shoe) wedges which are fitted under the forefoot of a cycling shoe insole.
Our Steve Hogg Heel Wedges are fitted into the heel cup of a cycling shoe underneath the insole.
The first thing you need to wrap your head around, is that in other than a small minority of cases, each of these wedges is correcting the rear foot, directly or indirectly. To talk about this more, I need to dwell on a commonly misunderstood term: Forefoot Varus. As it is used within cycling circles, the term and position is inaccurate though the method of correction using forefoot wedges is effective (sort of – more later) inside or under a cycle shoe. True Forefoot Varus is rare and after speaking to several podiatrists with cumulative clinical experience of more than 70 years, they tell me that they have only seen a handful of true forefoot varus foot types.
To explain: Forefoot Varus is when the midtarsal joints are fixed. No rotation into pronation or supination occurs around the long axis and it is fixed in a supinatory position. Therefore the foot in a standing position or in a closed kinetic chain will pronate the rearfoot, normally to its end of joint range; that is 13 to 17 deg of heel eversion. This foot type always has an extremely low arch and the medial malleolus and medial side of the ankle complex is very prominent. However, it is easy to create a forefoot varus in a normal foot (with a flexible midfoot) if you do not load the lateral column; i.e, 4th and 5th metatarsals and cuboids; i.e; pronate. This loading represents the force from the ground or from applying force to a pedal.
In a cycling shoe what is being corrected in the great majority of cases,indirectly via a cleat wedge or in shoe forefoot wedge; or directly via a heel wedge is rear foot varus. The forefoot wedge, whether under cleat or inside the shoe corrects the rear foot because the heel is not fixed to the ground. The important thing here is that if you try to correct rear foot varus by using forefoot wedges in normal walking gait when the heel is fixed on the ground, the midfoot will pronate around its long axis and damage joints by jamming them together. This is not the case with varus wedges in cycle shoes or underneath a cleat as the heel is not fixed to the ground and is more or less in an open kinetic chain. However, it would be preferable when using an in shoe forefoot wedge to add a rear foot wedge as well, especially if there is a large amount of Tibial varum.
With that understanding, it becomes apparent that wedging to correct the rear foot can be applied in 3 different locations or in any combination of them:
1. Forefoot wedging using BFS ITS wedge
3. Heel wedges placed under the heel of the shoe insole. (pic below)
A word of caution. Regular readers will know that my view of foot correction in general is that optimal foot correction (of which wedging is a large part) is the only way to ensure that the proprioceptive feedback from the feet is heard loudly and clearly by the cerebellum. This in turn ensures the highest level of neuromuscular coordination and the lowest risk of developing overuse injuries because there is less need, or no need to compensate for lack of feedback. I have developed a method of determining optimal foot correction; that is the correct balance of arch support, wedging and the placement of that wedging, that is the subject of patent applications in several countries, so I won’t go into detail. The research involved in developing that method tells me that a cleat wedge or a forefoot inshoe wedge will directly correct the forefoot if that is where the problem is and indirectly correct the rear foot because there is no rear foot contact with the pedal if the rear foot is where the problem lies. However, if the problem needing correction is a rear foot issue and it is corrected indirectly with cleat or inshoe forefoot wedges, the CNS response initially is fine. But over time, a week, a fortnight or occasionally, only a few days, the proprioceptive feedback from the feet becomes muted and is treated as background noise by the cerebellum. This happens because even though wedge numbers may be optimal, wedge placement is not! This leaves the rider mechanically corrected but less well coordinated than would otherwise be the case.
Furthermore, a ton of time and experience with wedging has caused me to form the view that a majority 85% of riders need heel wedging, with the rest need cleat wedging or a combination of cleat and heel wedging. There is a tiny, tiny minority that are best served with an inshoe forefoot wedge. Occasionally, and assuming Level 2 arch support is in place, I find someone that doesn’t need any wedging for one foot and rarely, doesn’t need wedging for either foot.
I prefer to use BFS ITS wedges as a diagnostic tool to help determine the number of wedges necessary. The value of an inshoe forefoot wedge is that it is a shotgun, not a stiletto. Because it corrects the forefoot directly and has an indirect effect on the rear foot of many, it is easy to determine wedge numbers (whereas a heel wedge will only correct the rear foot). Then a determination has to be made as to where to wedge. The key thing to understand here is that cleat wedges are also like a shotgun. They affect everything; at least temporarily, and only temporarily in the majority of cases where heel wedges are needed. Once the correct number of wedges is determined using in shoe wedges, then BFS ITS wedges equate one for one with the same number of BFS Cleat Wedges or Steve Hogg Heel Wedges in terms of corrective effect. This demands further explanation and I’m not totally satisfied with what I’m about to say for reasons that I’ll explain; so if any one cares to contribute their 2 bob’s worth, please feel free.
A BFS ITS wedge has a taper of 1.5 degrees whereas a BFS Cleat Wedge or one of our Heel Wedges has a taper of 1 degree, yet they work one for one. Why?
The best explanation I’ve got is that as the BFS ITS wedge is correcting the heel indirectly, to do so it requires any movement in the joints of the midfoot to be taken up before the corrective effect can reach the rear foot via a torsional load. And that 50% more taper is needed per wedge for this indirect rear foot correction to achieve any given degree of cant of the rear foot as when using the same number of Cleat Wedges placed under a cleat (which cants the entire foot) or when using a Heel Wedge placed under the heel (which cants the heel directly). The hole in this explanation which occurs to me and which has been pointed out to me several times by others too, is that there has to be a limit to the amount of free movement in the joints of the midfoot, and that once that is taken up, any increase in ITS (1.5 degree taper per wedge) forefoot wedging should not be comparable to the same increase in number of Cleat Wedges (1.0 degree taper per wedge)… Yet, proprioceptively speaking at least, it is.
Which is the best location for wedges? A brief summation of my experiences follows:
Forefoot wedging using BFS ITS wedges
- Quick and easy to change wedge numbers to assess the effects of wedging and to determine the ideal number of Cleat Wedges needed.
- On rare occasions needs to be used for forefoot correction or as part of forefoot correction when indicated.
- Takes up often limited vertical space in the toebox, potentially causing hot foot and discomfort, particularly if more than 1 is used. Often this first becomes apparent on long rides such as Audax brevets and 12 and 24 hour mtb racing.
- Poor choice if need to walk any distance in cycling shoes; i.e; in touring or mtb shoes for reasons outlined earlier in this post.
Cleat Wedging using BFS Cleat Wedges
- Corrects fore foot directly but cants the entire foot.
- Indirectly corrects the rear foot.
- Doesn’t take up any space inside shoe.
- If multiple 3 bolt cleat wedges used under cleat on carbon soled shoes, slippage of the cleat can occur unless cleat bolts torqued tightly and checked regularly.
- A similar problem occurs if using multiple 2 bolt mtb cleat wedges. Mtb cleats rely partly on projections on the underside of the cleat biting into the sole of the shoe for security against movement. If more than one mtb cleat wedge is placed under an mtb cleat, the projections do not bite into the shoe sole and the risk of cleat slippage increases markedly.
- In the 85% of cases where heel wedging is best practice, a cleat wedge will only prompt an optimal proprioceptive response temporarily.
Heel Wedging using Steve Hogg Heel Wedges.
- My preference philosophically, because this method deals directly with the area that needs correction in most cases.
- Avoids cleat slippage issues on 3 bolt and 2 bolt cleats.
- A practical limit to how many can be fitted under heel before fit of heel in heel cup of shoe is compromised. Usually 3presents no problem when fitted this way; 4 can be a problem in smaller size shoes and 5 only works well in large shoes without compromising fit. This is rarely an issue because the vast majority require between 0 and 2 heel wedges when used in conjunction with Level 2 arch support.
- Of no help in the minority of cases where forefoot correction only is needed.
Which still leaves the question of how to determine the correct number of wedges, whatever their location?
I can’t answer in any way that is satisfactory because, as I said earlier, I need to protect the validity of patents pending. Paul Swift, Mr. BikeFit (BFS) and the developer of the Cleat Wedge and ITS wedge uses a combination of observation (using laser line projectors as a reference), rider feedback and educated guess work to determine wedge numbers. In the absence of my method which ensures certainty, this seems as good a method as any and better than most. However, my strong view formed from experience is that arch support comes first and is necessary before any wedging is attempted. Paul sells a device called the ForeFoot Measuring Device (FFMD) which quantifies the relative static alignment of forefoot to rear foot. His company BikeFit, publishes recommendations which I’ve taken the liberty of cutting and pasting below:
0 – 2 degrees
3 – 7 degrees
8 – 12 degrees
Up to 2 wedges
12 – 20+ degrees
Up to 3 wedges
These recommendations are reasonably accurate plus or minus 1 wedge providing arch support has already been fitted at Level 2; mildly intrusive.
I need to qualify my statement of “reasonably accurate” for several reasons:
1. The FFMD measures relative alignment statically, i.e; without load applied. Usually the functional picture of what the foot is doing changes when load is applied. One mistake that many fitters make is to take a reading of say, 20 degrees and think “I need to use 3 wedges”. Have a look again at the table. For a 20 degree reading it says “Up to 3 wedges” NOT “Definitely use 3 wedges”. What the FFMD is measuring is the static relationship between the plane of the forefoot and plane of the rear foot. There is no close relationship between this and the amount of correction needed to optimally correct the rear foot (and occasionally the forefoot), particularly when Level 2 arch support is used. For approximately 80% of cases my test gives results similar to the FFMD recommendations plus or minus 1 wedge, which is frankly, too much of a margin for error for my liking. The other 20% vary, sometimes substantially. The variance tends to be more common on the left foot than the right foot.
Because I’m testing the entire kinetic chain under load and most people (no correlation with handedness) favour and protect their right side on a bike. In the sense that if there is a challenge to their position (and there always is), the patterns of compensation that have evolved will typically protect the right side to a greater degree than the left side. Any thoughtful bike fitter will have noted that there are more people complaining of left knee pain on a bike than right knee pain. This is why. More often than not, the rider autonomically protects the right side from a challenge but pays a price for this on the left side. The greater frequency and degree of intervention on the left side is a product of this general pattern of globally compensating for the ‘favoured’ right side. Do this on and off the bike for a life time, particularly when young, and there will be morphological differences between left and right side, not only in the in feet, but in how the body functions on each side that need addressing. Note that I say “general pattern” not “universal pattern” as there are plenty of exceptions; probably 5 – 10%.
2. I’ve had enough correspondence with Paul Swift in the past to know that he is fully aware that the table above is not necessarily accurate in any individual case. It can’t be. It is the product of his experience and is a means to give wedge users a starting point as to wedge numbers that they will likely benefit from at some level. There is always an individual component to each case. Wedging affects the relative relationship of the entire kinetic chain up and including the hip, whereas the FFMD measures the foot in isolation. Don’t be scared to depart from the table recommendations, but have a reason for doing so; particularly if the reason is “X number of wedges in combination with arch support makes my feet feel more stable on the pedals on both sides and my knees seem to track better.”
In summary, the FFMD is a useful tool but don’t blindly follow the recommendations. Think, observe and feel.
I realise now, that for many years I was not giving clients enough arch support, simply because the means available to me at the time didn’t allow it in most cases. During that period, and using an earlier version of my testing protocol, I was using an average of just under 6 wedges per rider (aggregate of wedging for both feet) with a bias towards the left foot. Some figures from a typical year pre eSoles Supportive:
- Average no. wedges per rider: 5.70
- Average no. wedges for left foot: 2.98
- Average no. wedges for right foot: 2.71
- Wedging frequency on one or both feet: 99.44%
- Wedging frequency for left foot: 92.50%
- Wedging frequency for right foot: 97.22%
With the advent of proper arch support, this changed to:
- Average no. wedges per rider: 4.02
- Average no. wedges for left foot: 2.09
- Average no. wedges for right foot: 1.94
- Wedging frequency on one or both feet: 96.25%
- Wedging frequency for left foot: 85.00%
- Wedging frequency for right foot: 95.00%
From both tables you will deduce that less people need wedging on the left foot than need wedging on the right foot but that the total number of wedges used per left foot is greater on average. There can be substantial individual variation.
So if you want a simple starting point, play the averages and once you have sufficient arch support, try 2 wedges on each foot to start with. Is this right?
In most cases, of course not, but it is somewhere to start. The right number of wedges (assuming sufficient arch support is already present) should make each foot feel like the pedaling pressure is spread evenly across the foot. In more than 99% of cases, wedge placement should be such that the thick side of the wedge(s) faces the crank arm.
Be aware too, that fitting wedges, whatever the location of the wedges, can affect the rotational angle that feet sit on the pedals. So after each addition or subtraction of wedge numbers, make sure that the angle of your cleats allows your feet some free rotational movement either side of that point.
Proprioception is a curious thing. During your wedging experiments, you will often find a combination of wedge numbers between feet that feels fantastic… At least initially, and then feels less wonderful over time. Why?
Because your body is responding to a change in the quality of proprioceptive stimuli and initially, this is like raising your voice above the chatter at the party, to continue the analogy from Part 1 of this series. If you don’t have the degree of wedging or the placement of wedging spot on for each side, then over time, that better (for the moment) but not perfect change in the quality of stimuli from the feet drops back to “background noise” level.
I cannot apply my test to myself and so have no one to test me, so I have had to work out my own wedge numbers. I found this a time consuming process, as you will, because every change has to be habituated for some time as well as tested on longer rides and in races before any certainty is assured. Here is what I would suggest in an attempt to streamline the time necessary.
Once a week, have a ‘wedge ride’. This is a longer solo ride with a bit of climbing so that you will be forced to put solid pressure on the pedals from time to time. You will need half a dozen heel wedges and say 4 ITS wedges and a roll of electrical tape in your jersey pocket. Prepare the heel wedges by cutting them to the outline of the heel of your shoe insole. Fit one ITS wedge under each of the arch support insoles that you are already using.
Ride and observe the plane of each knee’s tracking and the feeling of stability and solidity of each foot on the pedal. Is the pressure on the foot evenly distributed across each foot?
Does this single wedge per side feel better?
If it does, add an ITS wedge to each foot and see if there is a difference in how either knee is tracking and how either foot is feeling in terms of distribution of pressure. The ITS wedge will take up space in the toebox but try and differentiate that feeling from any changes in the distribution of pressure. Do you feel more fluent in your pedaling action?
Once you have ridden for long enough to ensure (at least provisionally) that the ITS wedge has improved your situation, stop, remove it and replace it with a heel wedge under the heel of the insole of the same side shoe. Then ride again and feel for any lack of fluency or uneven distribution of pressure across the fore foot. If switching from an ITS wedge or wedges to an equivalent number of heel wedges feels like a negative change, and for 10 – 15% it will, then it is very likely that this group needs to use cleat wedges.
If you perform a ‘wedge ride’ like this once per week over several weeks and keep records of wedge numbers and, wedge placement and how you feel; and if the changes survive your other rides while still feeling good, you will sooner or later arrive at the individually correct number and placement of wedges that you need to use, or at least very close to it. You may end up with the same number under each foot or the number may differ on each foot. If a change in wedge numbers feels worse, then it is unlikely adding more on that side will help. Once you have arrived at wedging number per foot that has felt good for several weeks, you can choose where to place them, whether under the cleat, under the heel, under the forefoot or various combinations. I stress that the major purpose of forefoot wedges is use as a diagnostic tool and it is rare for me to use one as a permanent fixture.
You may find that altering the wedge location while maintaining the same total number alters the feel of your foot or feet on pedal(s) in a positive or negative way. Act on this to refine your placement while staying with the same total number per foot. If you are patient, you will get a good result.
Note: My experience is that few people cope with more than one forefoot wedge as a permanent fixture on really long rides. This has more to do with lack of available space in the shoe toe box than anything else, though I’ve seen instances where too many forefoot wedges created a torsional load through the midfoot. So 1 ITS is safe if you need to use a forefoot wedge, but in most cases, heel wedging for the majority, heel wedging for the minority or a combination of both, is a better bet.
My apologies if this post isn’t entirely satisfactory at giving you an easy method of determining wedge numbers but this is the best that I can do, publicly at least, at this stage. All feedback is welcome so let me know how you get on.
P.S. I need a break from this series for a while but will continue it. In the meantime, there is other stuff to post about.
P.P.S. Note on fitting heel wedges: Some care must be taken when taping multiples of cut down heel wedges to underside of the heel of an insole (ideally an arch support insole). Don’t just make a stack of wedges and then tape them in one operation. The following way works best. Using an example of a 3 heel wedge stack; use thin adhesive tape; packing tape is ideal. Tape the top half of the first wedge to secure it. Closely match its position with the next wedge and tape the bottom half of that wedge to secure it. Then closely match it with the final wedge and tape the top half of the final wedge. Now that all are secured, tape over the stack carefully. Once you have decided that the fitting is permanent, cover over the stack with adhesive backed gauze surgical type tape which will prevent slippage and soak up perspiration. Any queries; yell via Comments below.
Note: Often, more specific answers to your questions can be found in the Comments below or in the eBooks section and FAQ page.
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