Spring is just around the corner and all the high school and college teams are getting ready to put on their cleats and play Americas favorite pastime, baseball, once again.
No matter what type of baseball cleat a player wears, staying balanced is the key to success in baseball. That is because baseball requires so many specialized skills to become successful including speed, power, coordination, transferring weight, staying on the balls of your feet and trying to hit or throw a baseball at 80 plus miles per hour. In order to perform these skills your feet have to be balanced and supported properly in baseball cleats.
Baseball cleats are designed to protect the foot and consist of many different parts, which have specific functions. If the player's feet are not properly supported in their baseball cleats it could translate into not being able to perform up to their potential. They do provide the player the ability to absorb shock better, create traction and stability when running, stealing, fielding, pitching or hitting.
Baseball Cleat Anatomy
Cleats come in three different styles, high-tops that fit above the ankle, mid-cut which fit at the middle of the ankle and low-cut which fit below the ankle. These styles are not a reflection of how much they support the ankle but rather what is the most comfortable for the player to wear. If you have an ankle problem, wearing a high-top alone is not going to resolve the problem.
Every cleat has a fiberglass or hard rubber molded outer sole, which provides stability to the sole of the shoe. It is made out of lightweight materials to prevent foot fatigue during performance. Half inch metal or plastic spikes are attached to the front and back of the outer sole to allow for that first quick step, better traction and stability when running, fielding, pitching or hitting. The configuration and number of the spikes varies with each manufacturer.
The midsole of the cleat is made out of a light weight molded EVA foam that helps absorb the impact load and shock that the foot experiences when playing on the field. Mostly all cleats have a lightweight removable foam inner sole, which is designed to cushion the foot as well as absorb shock. The top of the foot is protected by the upper, which is made out of leather or synthetic materials and provides ventilation for the foot during practice or a game.
The heel counter of the shoe provides stability to the heel and limits heel rotation during movement. The toe box is located in the front of the cleat and should be deep enough so the toes have enough room to move around. A tight or narrow toe box could cause cramping or overlapping of the toes in the cleat, which cause skin irritation forming painful corns on the top of the toes or ingrown toenails.
If The Cleat Fits
Have your feet measured correctly to make sure you are wearing the correct size cleat. To properly choose the right cleat size to wear, there should be at least a thumbs width between the longest toe and the end of the cleat. That does not mean a half size bigger. The extra room will allow the foot to elongate when playing without the toes jamming at the tip. Always buy your correct cleat size to eliminate potential foot problems. A larger size can cause blisters, unnecessary sliding of the foot, instability and can effect balance.
Staying Balanced From the Ground Up
The skills required for playing baseball at a high level start with a solid foundation. It starts with the structure of the foot in order to be balanced from the ground up. For a hitter, in order to be balanced it is important to be on the balls of their feet. The more stable and quiet their feet are in the batter's box, the more success they will have. As a position player, they must have good footwork to field the ball cleanly and get into a balanced throwing position. As a pitcher, being balanced will lead to repeatable mechanics which will lead to better quality pitches. Having a strong foundation from the bottom up will improve the pitchers chances for success. Whether the pitcher is a right handed or left handed in order to throw hard they must have all of their weight on the ball of the right or left foot while in a balanced and tucked position. Therefore, they can drive off the mound easier and with more confidence.
No matter what position the player plays, if their feet are unstable and imbalanced they need to consider purchasing an arch support for their cleats. When the foot abnormally pronates, the arch collapses due to unstable joints in the foot. Abnormal foot biomechanics can cause muscle imbalances in the feet and lower legs which creates an unstable lower half and is a recipe for losing power, efficiency or speed. Custom made orthotics or over the counter arch supports are specifically designed to transfer the weight to the balls of the feet. It is the only way to keep the player balanced from the ground up.
Orthotics and over the counter arch supports are the best ways to control abnormal foot pronation and improve foot biomechanics. Depending on the rigidity of the orthotic or arch support material the more supportive the foot will be. These devices can be made from a variety of materials such as high-density foams, plastics and graphite. Custom orthotics can be made through podiatrists and other foot related medical specialists and over the counter arch supports can be found online or at local sporting good stores. Orthotics stabilizes and aligns the bones and joints of the foot below the ankle. They create better muscle balance and force the ball of the foot to be firmly placed on the ground. These devices can also reduce the risk of injury.
Since the spring season is just around the corner and there are only a few more months left of baseball conditioning and fall ball, finding the right styled cleats to wear and adding supportive devices to them will provide the player the keys to a successful 2012 season.
Dr. Steve Rosenberg is a podiatrist and the CEO and President of Foot Products Enterprises Inc., the maker of Instant Arches® Baseball.