Way back in around 2003, the hypothesis that cycling economy increases when the attachment point of the foot to the pedal is moved posteriorly on the foot. There was little scientific evidence for this yet but a lot of coaches tried this approach. I can’t exactly say if there was significant change in the cyclist performance and economy and a later study found out that this hypothesis wasn’t accurate at all.
In 2007 a study by Van Sickle published in the Journal of Biomechanics aimed to test the hypothesis that cycling economy, as measured by rate of oxygen consumption (VO(2)) in healthy, young, competitive cyclists pedaling at a constant workrate, increases (i.e. VO(2) decreases) when the attachment point of the foot to the pedal is moved posteriorly on the foot.
The VO(2) of 11 competitive cyclists (age 26.8+/-8.9 years) was evaluated on three separate days with three anterior-posterior attachment points of the foot to the pedal (forward=traditional; rear=cleat halfway between the head of the first metatarsal and the posterior end of the calcaneous; and mid=halfway between the rear and forward positions) on each day.
With a randomly selected foot position, VO(2) was measured as each cyclist pedaled at steady state with a cadence of 90 rpm and with a power output corresponding to approximately 90% of their ventilatory threshold (VT) (mean power output 203.3+/-20.8 W).
After heart rate returned to baseline, VO(2) was measured again as the subject pedaled with a different anterior-posterior foot position, followed by another rest period and then VO(2) was measured at the final foot position.
The key finding of this investigation was that VO(2) was not affected by the anterior-posterior foot position either for the group (p=0.311) or for any individual subject (p>or=0.156). The VO(2) for the group was 2705+/-324, 2696+/-337, and 2747+/-297 ml/min for the forward, mid, and rear foot positions, respectively.
The practical implication of these findings is that adjusting the anterior-posterior foot position on the pedal does not affect cycling economy in competitive cyclists pedaling at a steady-state power output eliciting approximately 90% of VT.
After this study and other studies were released this hypothesis was widely abandoned by a lot of track cycling coaches as well as road cyclists.