Breaking-In Your Spikes without Breaking-Down Your Body

In our first article in this series about how to use spikes to enhance your running experience, we advised that those new to spiked footwear gradually transition to using such shoes in training and racing.

The design of most spikes inherently predisposes the runner to a forefoot strike when running at high speeds, which can potentially cause injury if an athlete is unprepared for this new stress on the lower anatomy. This fact, coupled with the firm spike plate itself, can be enough to deter someone from reaping the benefits of spikes if they have a bad initial experience with them.

However, with the right approach to breaking-in your new spikes there is nothing to fear.

Keep reading to find out how you can safely and effectively transition to using spikes for some of your workouts and many of your races as you take to the track, trail, or mixed-terrain of cross country this year.

1) Find the Right Spike for You

We will be reviewing several different spikes in the coming weeks here at to provide you with valuable information on various spikes on the market, but it is very important that you find a pair that will work for you in particular.

Most spikes, like racing flats, are neutral shoes with little extra support for over or under-pronation. This is perfectly fine, as long as your body gets a chance to properly adapt to the shoe. I recommend going to a local running shoe retailer or contacting someone you trust online to find out a good pair for your individual needs, racing distances, and probable terrain conditions.

2) Easy Does It

When you purchase your first pair of spikes, the best way to start breaking them in is to do a few easy, short runs in the footwear to remind your body of good foot positioning, condition your calves, achilles tendons, and feet to their particular outsole, and to assess how your body is responding to this extra muscular load.

Remember, some soreness is a good thing. Our muscles have to get a little sore in order to adapt and grow stronger, but pay special attention to any unusual pain or tightness that could preclude an injury.

I recommend ending a few of your easy runs each week in your spikes on a soft surface (a running track for track athletes, a grass field for cross country runners), preferrably without the actual spikes inserted in the shoes for the first of these jaunts. Begin with the last 10% of your normal run distance/time in spikes, and gradually build to 25% over the course of two-three weeks.

3) Form Follows Function

Black and White running spikesAfter this introductory period is complete, take the next two-three weeks doing form drills and strides in your new spikes, again on a soft surface depending on your needs and local availability. Put an appropriate length spike into your shoes at this point if applicable; keep in mind that there are “spikeless” models available from the first article in this series which can be equally effective.

Complete one-three sets of the following drills over 50m following an easy run or after a thorough aerobic warm-up: high-knees, tail-kicks, fast feet (running with the fastest foot cadence you can muster), straight-leg run (run forward with legs extended, but still try to land mid-foot at ground contact), power skipping (skip forward with an exaggerated knee drive for height), karaoke, and backwards running.

Alternate or follow these drills with a session of 6-10x 100m Strides at 5K-Mile Race Pace with a focus on good form.

4) Speed Kills (All Who Lack It)

Running Drills in the Fog
Now that a muscular base has been built for you to successfully train in spikes, you should be able to complete portions of your speed workouts in them, gradually adding time/distance in your new shoes as weeks go by. For instance, if a standard workout for you is 12x 400m @ 5K Pace on the track, start by completing the last four of these reps in spikes as your speed increases naturally over the course of the session.

It is not necessary to complete the whole workout in spikes unless you are running at a very fast competitive speed for the entire session (as for a 400m-1500m runner). The same principle applies to XC intervals or fartlek done on trails. Use your spikes as a tool to enhance speed and improve form!

5) Run to Win

Now it’s time to complete your first race in spikes! Be it the region 1600m final for a high school athlete, a high-stakes NCAA XC meet, or a local trail race where you are vying for an age-group title, know that the sleek shoes you have on your feet will help carry you to that new PR or to achieve your next competitive goal, whatever it may be.

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