Remember as a kid when you believed that a new, out-of-the-box pair of gleaming sneakers actually made you run faster? Nowadays that idea might seem silly -- unless, of course, you're a sprinter. That's because sprinting shoes do make you run faster. Although it's much more about the design than the look of the shoes, they make a lot of difference between winning and losing a sprint to the finish.
What Spikes Do for You
Track spikes made their debut around 1850. Then, as now, sprinting spikes were made with spikes protruding from the sole of the shoe. The spikes are located only under the ball of the foot with little or no padding under the heel. The shoes are designed specifically to make sprinters run faster.
On Your Toes
The location of the spikes under the ball of the foot gives you the highest possible amount of traction each time your foot hits the ground and pushes off. The superior grip supplied by the spikes not only keeps you from slipping but also concentrates all of your energy on moving your body forward. Without spikes, the slippage would siphon off energy that is better used moving you more quickly toward the finish line.
Time on the Track
More important than traction is the location of the spikes. The spikes on sprinting shoes, under the balls of your foot, force you to rise up on your toes when you run. The less time your foot is in contact with the ground, the faster you run. Other shoes cause you to run on more of your foot than sprinting shoes, meaning your foot spends more time on the ground and less time moving you forward through the air.
When buying sprint spikes, look for the least possible shoe. They should be lightweight and designed specifically for sprinting. Don't make the mistake of buying spikes designed for middle distances or cross country. Those will weigh more and have a degree of padding underneath the heel. The plastic plate under the toe that the spikes screw into should be hard enough to protect your foot each time it comes in contact with the ground. Buy a model that comes with a key and allows you to switch out the spikes so you can use longer or shorter ones for various track surfaces and weather conditions.