This study quantified the mechanical interactions of 19 American football cleats with a natural grass and an infill-type artificial surface under loading conditions designed to represent play-relevant manoeuvres of elite athletes. Variation in peak forces and torques was observed across cleats when tested on natural grass (2.8–4.2 kN in translation, 120–174 Nm in rotation). A significant (p < 0.05) relationship was found between the peak force and torque on natural grass. Almost all of the cleats caused shear failure of the natural surface, which generated a divot following a test. This is a force-limiting cleat release mode. In contrast, all but one of the cleat types held fast in the artificial turf, resulting in force and torque limited by the prescribed input load from the test device (nom. 4.8 kN and 200 Nm). Only one cleat pattern, consisting of small deformable nubs, released on the artificial surface and generated force (3.9 kN) comparable to the range observed with natural grass. These findings (1) should inform the design of cleats intended for use on natural and artificial surfaces and (2) suggest a mechanical explanation for a higher lower-limb injury rate in elite athletes playing on artificial surfaces.
Keywords: Athletes, biomechanics, sports equipment, injury, performance