Hot Feet? Think Shoes, Cleats, and Footbeds
by Matt Goforth
One of the most common complaints among cyclists we see is hot feet. Hot feet is typically known as the burning sensations near the toes during exercise. This sensation is mostly due to pinching of nerves. It can stem from a number of situations, but I recommend checking your shoe size, cleat placement, and the soles of your shoes.
Cycling shoes are made to be as stiff as possible to allow power transfer during the downstroke (plantarflex) AND to fit snugly enough to aid in the upstroke (dorsiflex) as well. Cycling shoes stretch very little, therefore you shouldnt expect them to do so during the break-in period. When shopping for new shoes, I recommend wearing a Sole Dual Later Anti Blister sock (or a sock with thicker padding) while you try them on. This will allow some extra room in the shoe for any swelling of the feet while on the bike. I also recommend trying on shoes with an appropriate footbed as they can require additional space. Any reputable bike shop should spend plenty of time with you while you try on shoes as this is a very important piece to the cycling puzzle.
The cleat is the first link in our chain of body parts that propel us on the bike. It is often overlooked as a source of problems. It is very important to have your shoes and cleats working as a single unit to allow the power generated by the hips to transfer through our feet and into the crank. The terms "ball of the foot" is a misleading concept that should be shot dead. I encounter many riders who are slamming their sesamoid bones 5000 times per hour because someone told them to put the cleat on the ball of their foot. Its a general term, or rule of thumb, that is a simple starting point. Discomfort in our feet, however, can be due to improper bike fit in relationship to the cleat position. Its more complex than one might assume. The cleat is link #1.
Another factor to consider is your pedal platform. Wider platform pedals (ie. Speedplay's) distribute force better than a smaller counterpart. Not saying one is better than the other, but to reduce discomfort we pay attention to everything. Carbon fiber shoes today are made of improved composites that are even more stiff than ever. A carbon soled shoe made as early as 4 years ago are not as stiff as a comparable carbon shoe today. There are many studies that have illustrated how "un-stiff" carbon soled shoes were in the early stages compared to nylons and plastics. Today that is not the case with new "lay up" technics and improved composites. Therefore, if you have an older pair of carbon shoes and you experience discomfort, that may be the underlying cause. Time for new shoes! Last note about shoes... the longer the rides the stiffer the shoe! Credits: USA Cycling, Greg Combs
Often riders will exhaust all their options, in regards to hot feet, before finally giving in to a custom orthotic. This is actually flawed logic as footbeds can offer many more benefits than a last ditch attempt to aleviate hot feet. We feel footbeds do not have to be expensive, and you should not need a Dr's appointment to get them. Those days are gone! Today's advancements in medical technology allow us to have these products OTC (over the counter).
Good foot health is crucial for any athlete and a shoe alone is just not custom enough. As cyclists we require optimal forefoot balancing, deep heel cups, and metatarsal separation. We look towards Sole in this area. Regardless of how much attention you pay to your feet there will always be the chance for discomforts. If you cycle long enough, or run enough, you can actually wear the fat padding on the bottom of your feet thin. If it gets to this you need to seek out medical advice.
About the Author
Matt GoForth is a certified USA cycling coach and owner of On Your Mark Performance Center