Track and field athletes wear special shoes called “spikes” to gain the edge in competitions. Spikes are minimally designed shoes made of very light materials with metal spikes screwed into the bottom. They range from $30 to $100+ per pair at time of publication. Athletes in all events of track and field events use spikes, whether it is distance running, sprinting, jumping or even javelin. Types of spikes vary as much as the athletes who wear them and the events they participate in. Athletes who participate in both sprinting and jumping events need a versatile pair and should look out for a few key features before their next purchase.
After slogging through long hours of training, everyone wants to be tip-top on competition day. Spikes are specifically designed to enhance performance in track and field competitions. The actual metal spikes on the bottom of the shoes provide valuable traction when gunning down a runway or flying around a curve. Speed in running -- or a jump approach -- is the result of an athlete’s leg applying force to the track for a split second while in forward motion. Having maximum control and traction allows the athlete to apply as much force to the track as possible without having to sacrifice forward velocity. While traction is key, it’s definitely not the only benefit of spikes. Their lightweight design can feel like air, while at the same time their rigid structure helps maintain perfect foot position and provides a “springboard” effect.
Even at elite levels, It’s not uncommon for one athlete to be both a jumper and a sprinter. Sprint and jumping often happen in the same event; for example, long jumpers, triple jumpers and pole vaulters who sprint down a runway before making a jump. Other athletes transition between the track and the jump pit easily. This is due to the fact that the basic mechanics of sprinting and jumping mirror each other closely. Both are “anaerobic” activities, that is, activities that do not require oxygen. Sprinting and jumping almost exclusively use fast-twitch muscle fibers: skeletal muscle tissue recruited for quick, powerful movements. Sprinting uses these muscle fibers in several quick bursts, while jumping uses them for a single maximal explosion. Both events even require the same foot position: Athletes must stay on the balls of their feet to reduce the amount of time their feet are on the ground during a race or jump approach.
With their similar mechanics, it is easy to find a pair of spikes to suit both sprinting and jumping. An ideal spike has little to no heel and a rigid plastic sole to hold the food in a “pointed” position, making a forefoot strike easier. Spikes labeled for “short sprints” usually fit the bill well. They should have secure laces, straps and even a zipper to ensure a perfect fit; all spikes should feel snug with just enough wiggle room to avoid smashing your toes. The metal spike pins shouldn’t be longer than a quarter of an inch.
The majority of spikes are unisex, made with men's sizing. A good rule of thumb for females is to subtract one size from your training shoe size. Some shoes are sized according to female sizes, so pay attention when buying. Spike sizes can also very greatly by brand; trying spikes on is recommended for this reason. Spikes should be replaced about every two years or once they lose their “springiness.” It’s also important to replace the metal spike pins regularly.
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual: ACE Fitness
- Runners World Magazine: These Shoes are Built for Speed
Jilana Dennis is a health and fitness writer based out of San Antonio, Texas. Dennis is a nationally certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and holds a B.S in exercise science from Illinois State University.