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Olympic sprinters use running spikes when competing.
Hoby Finn/Photodisc/Getty Images
Companies repeatedly try to design shoes that increase athletic performance and decrease injury risk - at times with controversial results. For example, a December 2014 report in Sports and Exercise Medicine showed that high-top shoes used in basketball don't actually give the promised ankle support. In addition, players may have to choose between enhanced performance and reduced risk since getting both effects at once remains a rare feat. Track athletes choosing between spikes and flats face such a dilemma. Yet, changing the workout schedule and choosing the right spike shape can help you reach your goals.
Track Spikes and Speed
Joseph William Foster started selling track spikes in the 1890s. An avid runner, Foster designed the spikes for greater traction and more speed. His design became popular, and several athletes won Olympic medals wearing his spikes. Yet, little research has addressed whether track spikes actually enhance performance. A December 2015 thesis from the University of Leon compared spikes and flats. Women wearing spikes completed a 40-meter race about 1.8 percent faster than those wearing flats. Close inspection of the data revealed an interesting fact. The greater traction of the spikes made the sprinters 1.2 percent faster, and their lighter weight made them 0.6 percent faster.
Minimalist Shoes and Efficiency
The finding that lighter-weight shoes can improve your running speed 0.6 percent opens up many design possibilities for shoe makers and may explain the recent trend toward selling minimalist running shoes. These shoes typically have no insole and thus little weight. Reviews and reports show that these shoes not only improve running economy, but have the ability to strengthen your foot muscles.
Shoe Type Transitioning Prevents Injury
The changes in foot anatomy caused by wearing minimalist shoes take time, so it's important to gradually transition between shoe types. You should do your off-season running in flats and then slowly start using your spikes. This transition will allow time for your bones to remodel, your muscles to grow and your mind to adapt. Failure to take this time puts you at risk for injury.
Track Spike Shape Matters
Foster's original spikes had a nail-like design. Other inventors have tried different designs. A July 2014 paper presented at the International Conference of Biomechanics in Sports looked at the mechanical advantage gained by using different spike shapes. These researchers compared spike shapes known as "modified Christmas tree," "Christmas tree," "pyramid," "post" and "pin." In their study, a testing machine drove the spikes into a piece of synthetic track. The results indicated that the modified Christmas tree shape performed the best. Interestingly, Foster's original design - the pin shape - performed the worst. The authors argued that your spike shape may decide whether you win or lose.