How Do Track Spikes Work?

Updated July 19, 2017

Any track athlete who has run on a wet or slippery surface can attest to the importance of track spikes. Track spikes are lightweight shoes with metal spikes on the bottom of the shoes, worn during competition to increase traction and speed. Track spikes come in a variety of designs and sizes, and are worn in events from sprinting and distance running events to shot put and discus.


According to, spiked running shoes were first invented in 1852 and first sold widely by the Spaulding company in 1900. Spiked running shoes first appeared in Olympic competition during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.


Track spikes are screwed into the bottom of the shoe near the toe, called the spike plate. The spikes are designed to penetrate the track as you run to help create leverage, which gives you power and speed.


Track spike designs differ depending on the event they're being worn for. A typical track spike has five to 10 threaded holes where spikes can be attached. Sprinting spikes are lightweight and have less support and a stiffer spike plate, which is the area on the bottom of the shoe where the spikes are attached to the shoe. Distance spikes have a more relaxed spike plate and fewer spikes to allow for comfort in longer races. Field spikes are designed differently to account for the demands of each individual field competition. Many cross-country runners wear spikes, but this is not recommended for courses that feature prolonged flat areas.


Almost all track spikes feature the toe pointing upward. This is called "taper" and forces you to run on your toes, thus increasing speed. Sprint spikes feature the most pronounced taper to stress speed. As the distance of the event increases, the shoe will be less tapered. Wearing track spikes helps put your foot in a position to reach maximum efficiency, as well as providing extra traction on certain surfaces and in wet conditions.


In addition to the kind of shoe worn, you must also consider the kind of spike . A middle-distance track spike will work for a variety of events, from the 100 meter dash to the 1600-meter run. Track spikes begin at 3mm in length, with the 6mm version being the most commonly used.


Be sure that each spike is securely fastened before use. Spikes will get worn down with use, but replacement spikes are cheap and easy to find. Most track shoes come with a track wrench. Remove your used spikes using the track wrench and tightly apply your new set of spikes.

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About the Author

A former sports and lifestyle reporter at the "Daily Nebraskan," David Green is a writer who has covered a variety of topics for daily newspapers. He was selected by the "Los Angeles Times" to participate in the Jim Murray Sports Writing Workshop. Green holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska.