There is enough literature on how shoes may distort our biomechanics and bring injuries. Those of you who are interested in studying the subject in detail, I would strongly recommend the book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall.
“Born to Run will make you realise that the secret of happiness could be right at your feet” by Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
Spikes, cricket & fast bowling
Me: Why are you not bowling fast today? I asked a fast bowler in the nets.
Cricketer: I am not wearing spikes and therefore, I am fearful of getting injured.
Me: Valid point… is it the fear of falling forward that is stopping you to bowl?
Cricketer: Yes…he snapped!
How can somebody be fearful of doing something that comes so naturally to them? This is the question that led me to research more on this subject 3 YEARS back when I published an article on LinkedIn first time. I am adding on it.
Let’s read into science: The impact on legs from running/jumping can be up to 12 times our body weight. And yet we love to run suggesting our feet likes a good beating.
First myth: Shoes with cushion and spikes reduce impact on our foot muscles
Steven Robbins, MD and Edward Waked Phd from McGill University in Montreal performed a series of tests on gymnasts in which they found – the thicker the landing mat (more cushion), the harder the gymnasts stuck their landings. Instinctively, they were searching for stability.
Imagine a shoe with a thick sole and nails at the bottom?
Result of the study: Cushioning does NOTHING to reduce impact.
However, spikes help a cricketer grip the surface better, and thereby reduce the chance of a skid or fall. So it is a game requirement. Period. This article is more about finding ways to undermine the effect of spikes on our foot and understand the foot mechanics.
Cricket shoes with spikes make heel strike not a probability but a surety. Heel strike is quite common in runners however its implications in case of shoes with spikes can be more serious than it appears.
Visualise a bowler – the spikes at the heel, pressing into the ground, would mean increased contact time at the ground. Besides putting extra pressure on muscles owing to increased ground time, this would further mean lesser time for foot action to complete – from dorsiflexion to plantar flexion.
Let us look into our foot biomechanics in case of heel strike:
Step 1: Landing on heel as shown in above picture
Step 2: Lateral longitudinal arch provides support
Step 3: Transverse arch provides support to let the energy flow out of system coming from top and it assists in plantar flexion
Step 4: Medial arch together with transverse arch then withdraws energy from the ground – return of energy into the body (ground force reaction into our system like a spring)
Also, the bone structure (tarsal bones) of our foot allows the bones to unlock in inversion which means that the foot can adjust to any surface. Whereas, during eversion the same bones get locked and form into a very rigid structure. This highlights the importance of lateral longitudinal arch (supporting inversion) from bones perspective.
This is how our foot biomechanics work in ‘ideal’ conditions if you were to maximise your output in least energy.
To summerise: The longitudinal arch provides support in landing, transverse arch helps with plantar flexion & medial arch (spring like quality) withdraws force from the ground help us in taking off from the ground. And all the arch’s provide support to muscles, ligaments & bones.
Let’s evaluate this working in cricket shoes with spikes:
Heel strike in spikes (cricket shoes)
We must realise that unlike ‘training shoes’, in this case, we are looking at shoes with spikes/nails. This would mean nails hitting the ground first resulting in longer ground contact time.
Analogy: Imagine yourself picking up 2 small wooden planks from the ground. One wood plank has nails which are grounded and second wood plank has no nails. Which plank do you think you would be able to pick effortlessly?
Result 1: Simply put more ground contact time would mean the muscle have to work more to pull off/away from the ground.
From first evaluation we have learnt that spikes demand longer ground contact time. Does this mean that the player now has to work harder to match up the pace with rest of his body? More importantly can he still follow the 4 step process explained above? Can he still use his longitudinal, transverse and medial arch’s to their best potential?
It is impossible to follow the traditional running approach/biomechanics (step-by-step process) in the above situation especially in a bowling action. The nails – their size and position, how well your foot fits into your shoe, etc. will decide which way your foot CAN move, how you jump. land and shuffle to balance. It is no longer a players choice. The player’s foot muscles & arch’s would inadvertently seek compensation because ‘take-off’ can’t be delayed. The kinetic chain can’t be stopped. So instead of medial longitudinal withdrawing energy from the ground, the foot has to compensate at different levels to ‘take off’ withdrawing energy from the ground without the full ‘springiness’ of medial arch which is our natural way.
Example: We often seen fast bowlers making room for their big toe by cutting the shoe leather in front of their big toe. They are forced to move their foot inside their shoe looking for stability. NOW THINK ABOUT THIS, ALL YOU OF YOU, HOW COULD WE DRAW MAXIMUM FORCE FROM THE GROUND WHILE MOVING AT THE TIME OF WITHDRAWING FORCE FROM THE GROUND?
PLAYERS CHANGED SHOES BUT STAY CONFIDED TO MOVING OUR FOOT BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT UNDERSTANDING WHY THEY ARE LOOKING FOR STABILITY. OUR FOOT IS NOT LEARNING THE SHOE WAY AND IRONICALLY NEITHER SHOE IS LEARNING OUR NATURAL WAY. TIME TO UNDERSTAND WHY IT HAPPENS.
Result 2: Improper foot mechanics. It is our shoe who is driving the foot and not the other way around.
Ideally the forward foot moves toward the track in a downward, backward and stroking motion in running (see above pic) – not punching or pounding which is the case of heel strike.
Also we are bringing the ankle, knee and hip in a lock situation in case of heel strike because of which the joint force coming upward will slower your momentum forward before the take-off phase! We can visualise the effect in this picture and how ‘lock situation’ (eccentrically contracting anterior muscles of the leg) can pose ‘stopping’ movement for ankle, knee and hip joints instead of moving posture as highlighted in green. This can cause weakness in ankle, knee, hip and lower back joints.
One golden rule of running: you should be falling forward!!
Result 3: Spikes, in fact, increase impact on joints and not reduce it as it seems otherwise.
(Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, Dr. Bates and his colleagues explained that it is fear, in case of cushioned/protected underfoot, that makes a foot land with the same impact as compare to flat foot surface.)
We have to look at it as if it is our shoe which is landing on the ground and not the foot. The foot will have to adjust as per the shoe forgetting its natural way and compensating for any unnatural movement of the shoe. This puts extra stress on our ligaments, tissues, joints and muscles. The cushion and spikes create a gap between your foot surface and ground and therefore, it is impossible to think that the arc can hit the ground and withdraw force to its potential.
Situation: Extra work for muscles + Improper foot mechanics + More impact on joints + Less force withdrawal from the ground
Batsman Vs Bowler spikes:
Although it doesn’t look different but there is a huge difference technically speaking from running perspective. Firstly, no nails under the heel would mean no extra ground contact time. However, players with ‘heel strike’ action can face similar issues as above even in these shoes because they would not be able to take optimal use of their arch’s or follow 4 step biomechanical process in case of a heel strike.
Batsman spikes can be advantageous for cricketers if they run like sprinters with proper running biomechanics and take use of the spikes in propelling forward instead of just using them as a guard to not skid or grip!
SOLUTION: train to meet the demands keeping in mind the real time situation
Spikes are important for the game of cricket. Although I would like to see companies getting innovative and come up with good studs instead which can also grip into hard pitch surface. However we don’t have many choices right now. So let us look at ways to minimise the effect of spikes on our foot architecture:
a) Stay barefoot wherever you can…especially at home.
b) We must train in our training shoes (and not in spikes) to warm up all our muscles, joints, ligaments and tissues. As you can see it doesn’t happen in spikes.
c) Stay and walk barefoot post a practice/training session to release stress from all the foot muscles involved. Do light drills like single leg balances and calf raises barefoot whenever you can.
d) Don’t stop bowling in ordinary shoes if you don’t like spikes. I do not see a reason why one can’t bowl in good training shoes if they are more comfortable. We have already seen a few examples internationally where fast bowlers are avoiding spikes. You have to make sure that just like how we insist on core stability; you must focus and work on ankle stability via biomechanically correct movements in drills.
Focus on how much your foot is moving inside the shoe and you will find a reason why you are not able to increase bowling pace beyond a limit, whereas you may look a promising athlete. In simple terms…you may be a hulk, but if your biomechanics to seek force from the ground, are weak; you can’t get faster.
Coaches: kindly don’t push young cricketers to buy spikes if they are not wearing one. It is not such a great tool they are missing. Also, it is only after a certain level (age wise), that one reaches a level, where they become so fast that a slip/skid can injure them. Do not make spikes a compulsory ‘guard’. It is a compromise which is an essential tool for us so let it come at a stage where they are fearful of getting injured.