Do Cleats Improve Your Performance?

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Athletic shoes with spikes sticking out from the sole are known as cleats. They are often seen on soccer and football players but are common in several other sports as well. The point of the spiked shoes is to provide traction on the field, which can become slippery after a rain or just be generally unpredictable as a surface since most fields have natural grass. Grass fields can be uneven in places as dirt can shift and the length of the grass can change from game to game. Cleats stick into the ground just enough to stop the athlete from slipping, but not enough to keep them from moving, or, at least, that’s the idea. Sometimes cleats can cause issues, but more about that later.

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So do they improve performance? 

A 2017 study that looked at the difference between soccer and football cleats showed no significant performance difference between the two shoe designs. The American Journal of Sports Medicine was quick to recognize that the question should involve not just the shoes but the surfaces they interact with. It is the combination of the two (cleats on artificial turf or cleats on grass) that will determine things that impact performance such as level of shock absorption and step impact. But studies show that finding that right combination of cleat and surface can improve your performance by up to 20%.

What is performance?

There are many different measures for performance. The first that comes to mind might be speed but in many sports, the thing that makes all the difference is agility. How quickly can you react to what’s happening around you? How fast can you change direction without losing momentum? Of course, the factors that are prioritized for performance will change based on the player's position and their role on the field. Therefore, there may be more than one type of shoe on the field to meet the needs of the players who have different goals.

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Can cleats cause injuries?

Certainly when thinking about wearing spikes on your shoes, there is a lot of room for error, especially when your feet leave the ground such as when sliding in baseball. Although there is anecdotal evidence of cleats getting stuck and causing knee injuries, studies show that other factors such as the type of turf, the warm-up routine of the player, and previous injuries are far more likely to contribute to an injury than wearing a spiked shoe. When used properly, cleats should prevent sliding and allow the athlete to have more control over their movements. So if you plan to play a sport that requires cleats, make sure you read up on what type of turf you’ll be playing on and read the manufacturer’s specifications about the best surfaces for that particular shoe.

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