Everything you need to know about track spikes

Every track and field athlete of every level wants to perform their best, which is exactly why track spikes are so essential. That is, after all, what they're designed to do – help you run faster, jump higher, go farther, and get closer to your goals. But just as there are different types of track and field athletes and events, there are many different types of track spikes. So how do you know which pair is best for you and your needs? This guide will help put you on the right track (see what we did there?).

Do Track Spikes Really Make a Difference?

While your regular trainers are built for, well, training, spikes are built for competition. They’re lighter which reduces fatigue; they hug your feet for better control; and they provide extra grip where you need it most, resulting in greater responsiveness and powerful push offs that propel you forward, faster. In short, spikes are designed to give you an extra boost without extra effort or energy, so you can compete at your very best. Trainers help you prepare. Spikes help you PR! 

Of course, before you get too excited to get out there and crush it, you need to get your feet in the right spikes for the event or events you do. Not all track spikes are created equal – they’re actually designed with specific events in mind.

Track Spikes for Sprints (100-400m)

Sprint spikes are built for speed, so they don’t bother messing around with any of those comfy, plush features. Instead, they’re stiff, snug, and streamlined to hold your foot in place, and they provide little to no cushion to ensure ultimate lightness (and therefore quickness!).

Sprint spike plates are aggressive, yielding the maximum number of pins (7-11), and are located beneath the forefoot to force runners on their toes for ultimate power and speed, and quicker turnover. 

Some sprint spikes even have built in booties and locked down laces to keep feet securely close to the spike plate for increased responsiveness and transfer of force forward. 

A rigid midsole minimizes contact with the track and maximizes forward propulsion, shaving valuable time off every step and resulting in speed demon performances.  

Keep in mind though, that even within the sprint spike category there are some differences to consider. For instance, the length of the spike plate may vary depending on whether your event has one or no turns versus longer sprints that involve multiple turns. 

Shop Sprint Spikes →

Track Spikes for Middle Distances (400m, 800m,1500m, mile)

Multiple turns start edging you toward middle distances, and in that case you're going to want to invest in a different spike – one that’s not just built to go fast, but go farther. 

Middle distance spikes have a more flexible spike plate than sprint spikes, with fewer pins (6-8) and a design that keeps your foot in a more natural position rather than forward and on your toes. Though still lightweight, these spikes have an added layer of cushion and a softer midsole to provide a little extra comfort since you are running for a longer duration.

Sporting a combination of attributes from both sprinting and long-distance spikes, middle-distance spikes provide a balanced blend of flexibility and rigidity, torsion for tackling turns, comfort, and durability.

This design – built for both speed and endurance – makes middle distance spikes quite versatile. They have the ability to go the distance while still allowing for a kick, can be worn for longer races, and even used for hurdling and some field events. For these reasons, they’re a great choice for not only middle-distance runners, but also track and field athletes who do a little bit of everything.

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Long-Distance Track Spikes (1500m, 3200m - 10k)

When you’re putting in a lot of laps, you need spikes that aren’t quite as form fitting and that offer more comfort, durability, and flexibility all while remaining lightweight. It’s a lot to ask of a shoe, but somehow distance spikes are designed to provide exactly all that! 

These spikes feature a ¾ to full spike plate that’s softer and more flexible than that of a mid-distance spike, and typically has just 4-6 pins placed around the outer edge of the plate for traction in turns. 

There is added cushion in the heel to take on more force for a longer period of time, and the flexible yet durable design makes for a more natural foot movement, smooth transitions, and comfort that lasts.

If your race involves more than a lap or 2, these are the spikes for you!

Shop Long Distance Spikes →

Field Event Track Spikes 

While some field event athletes find the versatility of middle-distance spikes work just fine for what they need, it is important to note that specialized spikes and shoes are available for throwing and jumping events as well.

Throwing (discus, shot put, hammer, javelin)

In general, track shoes specific to throwing events are flexible with wide and flat bottoms that come in two forms: smooth with nearly zero traction or rough and pebbled.  

Smooth works best for those who use the spin (or rotation) technique. Most often, advanced and elite athletes fall in this category, and are typically discus and hammer throwers.

Pebbled bottoms provide a little more friction and are best for novice athletes still refining their approach or those who prefer the glide technique over the spin. This slightly textured bottom is also perfect for shot putters who need more lateral stability. 

The javelin is a bit of a different animal as this event requires boots that are bigger, heavier, and more supportive around the ankle, with spikes to grip the ground. 

No matter your event, remember: you may use your arm to throw, but having your feet in the right shoes will help you throw even further!

Shop Throwing Spikes →

Jumping (long jump, triple jump, pole vault, high jump)

Jumping requires springiness, grippiness, and stability-ness. Okay, that’s not a word, but the point is, with all the push offs and foot plants involved in jumping events, support is as critical as response and traction. That’s why these spikes typically have full-length midsoles, additional pins in the heels, and sometimes even booties to keep feet in place, providing the stability and comfort needed to reach – you guessed it – great heights!

High Jump – because of the specific movements involved in high jump, these spikes are definitely specialized – designed specifically to run an arc and launch over a bar. Pins are located in the heel as well as the forefoot, and many styles have straps for lockdown and support. Shop High Jump Spikes →

Long Jump & Triple Jump – the spike plate on shoes for these events is made for straightforward running and launching. Pins are located under the forefoot, and there’s often padding in the heels to provide a cushioned landing in the pit. Since triple jump involves “hopping” and “skipping” in addition to jumping, these spikes usually offer even more cushioning in the heel. Shop Long Jump Spikes → Shop Triple Jump Spikes →

Pole Vault – Accelerating down a runway, planting, and launching requires a shoe with an aggressive spike plate, like that of a sprint spike –  exactly what many entry level vaulters opt to wear. Intermediate to advanced athletes, however, often choose pole vault-specific spikes that combine not only an aggressive spike plate, but also the stiffness and support comparable to a triple jump shoe, along with lockdown lacing for added stability. Shop Pole Vault Spikes →

Shop Jumping Spikes →

Spikes for Your Spikes: Pin Sizes, Types, & Placement

Now that you know the difference in spikes, it’s time to consider the difference in the pins that go in them! Yep, there are a variety of these as well. Pins (a.k.a. the spikes for your spikes!) come in all different sizes, styles, and configurations, each serving a specific purpose. Though we touched on some of this above, let’s take a closer look:

Spike Types & Sizes

Pins come in lengths ranging from 1/8” to 5/8” and varying designs such as needle, Christmas tree, and tartan, however, the 1/4" pyramid is most commonly used; what is recommended and allowed on the majority of tracks; and therefore, what typically comes in the box with your spikes when you purchase them. 

Tip: There may be circumstances (certain events, surfaces, and conditions) where a different type or size of pin is appropriate. It’s a good idea to keep extras in your bag with a spike wrench or needle-nose pliers for quick changes, just in case.

Studs/Blanks – Most spikes come with placements for 4-7 pins, but can allow for as many as 11. Depending on your event, you may choose not to use every well provided, and in that case, you would place a stud in the hole instead of leaving it empty.

What number of pins would be best for you? As a general rule of thumb, the shorter your event, the more pins you’ll need. 

Spike Number & Placement

Sprints

Short sprints: 7-11 pins
Long sprints: 6-8
Placed under the forefoot for maximum power and response.

Middle Distances

4-6 pins
Placed under and around edges of forefoot for speed and traction in turns.

Long Distances

3-7 pins
Grouped mainly around edges to dig in on turns.

Matching Your Spikes to Your Competitive Level

While spikes are essential for every athlete to perform their best, not all athletes perform at the same level. A first-time runner, for instance, doesn’t quite need the same out of their spikes as an All-American collegiate athlete. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest in event-specific spikes if you’re not even sure what events are going to be your thing! 

With that in mind, if you’re new to sprinting, you’ll likely benefit most from a sprint spike that’s durable and not so uber rigid as an elite level spike. Selecting a pair that offers a little more flexibility will allow you to try different events and get used to how spikes feel. For distances, look for a spike plate under the front half of the shoe and a cushioned back half that offers support and comfort.

For advanced or specialized athletes, it is worth looking into higher end models that are lightweight, have aggressive plates, and offer attributes specific to events in order to gain a competitive edge.   

How Should Spikes Fit? 

Running tights are snug compared to sweatpants, right? Well, guess what? That’s how track spikes should fit, too. Unlike your trainers that should have a thumb’s width of room in front of your toes, spikes (especially for sprints and field events) should allow for very little wiggle room in order to provide the best control and most explosive turnover (in other words – speed!). For this reason, spikes often run smaller than regular running shoes, so start with your usual shoe size and go from there. Keep in mind, though, that it’s important they’re not too tight either, if you’re attached to your toenails at all! There should still be a tiny bit of space between your toes and the front of the shoe.

Of course, middle to long distance spikes require a bit more comfort since you're asking your feet to go farther. While they should still fit somewhat snug, these spikes should also feel more contoured through the midfoot rather than narrow and slightly more spacious to allow for swelling and longer wear time. 

Caring for Track Spikes

Keeping your track spikes in tip top shape will help ensure they (and you!) crank out awesome performances. Follow these care tips to get the most out of your spikes:

  1. Put your spikes on before your event and take them off right after. Don’t wear them around the whole meet. 
  2. Take pins out after racing in wet conditions to avoid rust 
  3. After every race, clean plates and clear any debris
  4. Check pins frequently and replace if worn down (hint: do not run on pavement if you’d like your spikes to last!) 
  5. Do not let pins get too worn – they will no longer be able to do their job and might even become stuck and too difficult to remove.
  6. Other than meet day prep workouts, save your spikes for competition. This will not only make them last longer but also help you to avoid injury. Spikes do not provide enough support for training and have a negative heel drop which places extra stress on the forefoot, thus putting you at risk for injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures. 

Choosing the Right Track Spike for You

As you can see, there’s a whole lot more to being spike savvy than meets the eye! But while finding the perfect spike with the perfect fit and perfect type, size and number of pins might all sound a bit tricky – and okay, maybe even overwhelming – our shoe fitting process saves the day! When you come in to get fitted, we’ll not only help you find the right spike, but just as importantly, the right fit. Did we mention we offer the biggest selection of track and field spikes in the mitten? Uh-huh. Whether you sprint, hurdle, run mid or long distances, jump, or throw, we’ve got the spike for you. Check out our selection online and visit your local Gazelle Sports today. On your mark, get set, go!