Using In-Shoe Wedges to Enhance Foot Stability

by | Mar 26, 2024

In-shoe wedges are an accessory that can be used to finesse the connection between the foot and the shoe, optimizing the function of the foot on the pedal and the transfer of force through to the drivetrain. High level functioning also provides higher level neural feedback to the central nervous system which can help control posture, and pelvic symmetry and stability, which in turn helps the legs drive through the pedal stroke. Everything is connected.

Foot wedging is a topic that is guaranteed to draw an opinion from bike fitters, running the gamut from never ever, to almost always. I’ll weigh in with what I hope is a more nuanced take on this topic. Firstly let’s clarify what wedges are and where they are used, and then look at why they might be used, and then how they can be used.

What are Wedges?

In cycling, wedges and shims are often mistakenly confused.  A shim is a height stacker–the same thickness from side to side.  A wedge is a wedge: thinner at one side, thicker at the other side.  This should be simple, but sometimes people get confused about the two.

WEDGE

 

SHIM

 

  • Shims are only used outside the shoe between the outsole and the cleat, most commonly to address a leg length difference.
  • Wedges are either described as “in-shoe” or “cleat”.
  • Cleat wedges go between the outer sole and the pedal cleat, and can be used to cant the entire shoe on the pedal.
Form universal 3 hole cleat wedge varus

Cleat Wedge for 3-hole shoes

  • In-shoe wedges go inside the shoe but under the insole.  They provide more direct contact to the foot than a cleat wedge.

There are two types of In-shoe wedges:  forefoot wedges and heel wedges.  These are separate items, whose names should be self-explanatory.

Form Forefoot in the shoe wedge

Form Universal Varus In-Shoe Forefoot Wedge

FORM Universal in shoe heel wedge stackable

For Universal In-shoe Heel Wedge – Stackable

 

Priorities in the Foot-Pedal Interface

In working to enhance both foot comfort and pedaling performance on a bicycle, it is wise to prioritize how we address all the components of the system as there is a cascade effect in that an upstream factor will affect those downstream, but a downstream factor may not have any influence upstream.  In my experience, the top level priority is shoe selection, and the use of wedges and shims is much lower.

  1. Shoe selection
  2. Cleat positioning (including pedal system choice and condition)
  3. Insole selection
  4. Wedging
    1. Internal
    2. External
  5. Shimming

The above is a guideline, not a rule. For some cyclists I would emphasize insole selection above cleat positioning, depending on their foot presentation and function, and with known leg length difference, shimming will be of higher priority than wedging.

Although wedging is a relatively low priority, that does not mean it is unimportant.  If everything else is taken care of, appropriate wedging can be the difference that significantly impacts the cyclist’s feeling of connection to the pedal, as well as in resolving other niggles and issues, including pelvic asymmetry.  The impact of appropriate wedging can be profound.

Why Consider Using Wedges?

Those not in favor of wedging present the argument that they are an accommodation which makes up for the lack of optimal and natural biomechanical function by the cyclist. Therefore the best approach is to have the cyclist improve their foot strength and mobility. This can include everything further up the kinetic chain, such as glute strength and activation.  All valid points, although more feasible for top level athletes and professional cyclists who are more likely to have the motivation, time, and resources to work on these things.  Many recreational cyclists may not have the motivation, time, and resources to work on biomechanical optimization.  They just want to ride their bike.

Nor is cycling an intrinsically natural activity due to the necessary presence and use of a bicycle.  We have to adapt our body to operate a bicycle. There is already equipment involved. We don’t hesitate to change a saddle, or stem to improve a fit, so why should we hesitate to use another piece of equipment – like wedges – that may also help?

Discomfort, pain, and injury can result if the adaptive demands are too high.  In a bike fit we are working to both:

  1. Minimize adaptive demands by adjusting the bicycle to meet the rider, through changes to equipment and positioning
  2. Encourage the cyclist to improve their posture and biomechanical function (strength, mobility, stability, technique), both off and on the bike.

Some cyclists will stand to gain more from off-bike body work, and others will benefit from equipment adjustments to meet them where they are at now, and that can include the use of wedges.

Getting the feet stable and engaged on the pedals is not about correcting the feet or forcing them to act in a contrived way. It’s about preventing repetitive use injuries through poor and compensatory function AND providing positive neurological feedback to the central nervous system.  The brain is trying to deal with the effect of gravity on our body through postural alignment.  Being bent over on a bike challenges our normal alignment and good feedback from the feet can help counter that. In-shoe wedges may help support the biomechanics of pedaling or may help with contact between the foot and the shoe, improving neurological messaging, which in turn can help with symmetry and force generation.

How to Use In-Shoe Wedges?

No quick and easy answer to this one!  While you may have heard the terms “varus” and “valgus”, let’s define this quickly. Both will refer to foot tilt in different ways:

  • Varus (left image): This describes a foot tilt inward. Imagine your big toe is elevated compared to your little toe, and your entire foot seems to be angled inwards.
  • Valgus (right image): This describes a foot tilt outward. Here, your little toe is elevated compared to your big toe, and your foot angles outwards.
Image showing forefoot tilt specifically the angle of varus and valgus tilt in cycling

Varus and Valgus Tilt

In relation to in-shoe wedges, using a foot goniometer to measure foot varus or valgus gives us information, but not answers.  Some people with forefoot varus benefit from wedges and some don’t. What is interesting to observe is the amount of variation from left to right, as well as the amount of varus or valgus.

Essentially we have to go through a process of testing the addition and then subtraction of forefoot wedges, then heel wedges, then a combination of both.

Start with the forefoot.  Trim to fit and add one.  Add two.  Add three. Reverse out.  Do the same with the heel. Try a combination of both.  Prime the cyclist to pay attention to pressure sensations and pedaling ease. As a bike fitter, we may or may not see any change in knee tracking or pelvic alignment. No visible change does not mean no effect. More important is what the rider senses and feels. Does pedaling feel easier?  Do they feel more solid, connected, planted, powerful, or stronger? There are multiple possible adjectives to describe the sensation. Does the pressure of the foot in the shoe and of the shoe on the pedal feel more even or better distributed? We are after a mix of positive connection, even pressure under the forefoot, and relaxed toes.

This may result from a single forefoot wedge in one shoe only. Or a heel wedge in both shoes or a different mix and match between left and right. Or none at all. It requires experimentation and testing. Cyclists can put themselves through this process, or be guided and assisted by a fitter – in which case it is easier to keep the rider on the bike but remove the foot from the shoe and maybe the shoe from the pedal to change up the wedging.

Once a wedge selection has been made, if any, they can be secured in place to stop them sliding around in the shoe. I use very thin double-sided tape, but duct tape can be used as well. I usually tape the wedges to the bottom of the insole, rather than directly into the bottom of the shoe.

I’ve focused on in-shoe wedges for this article as they have more of a direct impact on foot feel than the external cleat wedges. However, cleat wedges have a role to play as well, especially if the forefoot wedges take up too much volume in the front of the shoe, reducing comfort. Do as much in the shoe as possible, then move to the outside, using cleat wedging to supplement the in-shoe wedging.

The Wrap

Wedges are not the place to start in a bike fit, but they can be the icing on the cake when a cyclist is looking for optimization or marginal gains. They can also be the last piece to solving a puzzling fit issue which may be showing up on the seat but is starting at the feet. In-shoe wedges may provide a role in helping the rider adapt to a bike not only bio-mechanically, but also neurologically. If the brain isn’t confident in the foot placement and function then it doesn’t want to commit muscular resources to a strong push out of a desire for self preservation. The saddle may be the king of bike fit, but the feet are the queen. And we know who calls the shots.

John Higgins

John Higgins

John is an elite level bike fitter who works with non-elite cyclists - although a few have won races! Many don't race at all, but ride for fun, fitness, or to compete against themselves. John has worked with 18-80 year olds (and younger and older), novices, age groupers, masters racers and all levels of weekend warrior. These include road riders, mountain bikers, triathletes, tandem riders, tourers, commuters, bike packers and gravel riders and racers. All share a love of cycling and just wanted to ride more comfortably, and in many cases faster. John is the owner of Fit Kit Systems, and provides bike fitting services through BikeFitr (bikefitr.com)

1 Comment

  1. Jason Hurst

    An informative and well written article, John. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Reply

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