Which type of running shoe for which type of foot
May 24, 2018
When I decided to begin running I thought I could just go and buy a cheap pair of trainers and get started. Following this route could have ended up being a painful choice, especially with my feet. The correct choice of shoe is not just important for comfort but also to avoid injury.
Running shoes are designed specifically for running. Although that sound obvious it’s worth thinking about for moment. Running is different from playing tennis or doing circuits in the gym and requires a shoe designed to perform that task. While you don’t need a shoe that will allow you to accelerate and decelerate quickly or make fast changes in direction, you do need a shoe that will protect and support your foot correctly over long distances on fairly varied terrain. Of course, if you’re going off road then trail or fell shoes may be more suitable depending on the terrain and activity. Similarly if you’re racing on the track then shoe choice will be very different. Here I’m only dealing with shoes for novice runners, using roads, tracks and parks for easy “distance” running who may be keen to run a race for fun now and again.
For the purpose of shoe fitting feet are divided into three categories depending on their pronation – overpronation, neutral pronation and underpronation (or supination). The term pronation refers to the amount of rolling from heel to toe as you walk or run. The extent of this rolling motion is governed by the shape of the foot arch.
Overpronation happens when the foot rolls excessively on the inside resulting in greater stress on this and other areas. With neutral pronation forces are spread evenly across the foot while underpronation, or supination, results in greater stress on the outside edge of the foot. This can be seen in the following image which shows the foot and lower leg for each type of pronation.
The outline of your wet foot on the floor or piece of paper gives a quick indication of foot pronation. The images below show the outlines for the overpronator, normal pronator and underpronator.
Those with a low arch or flat foot will produce the wide footprint characteristic of an overpronator. Normal arches will produce a moderate curve where the arch rises indicating neutral pronation. The underpronator will give a very curved, minimal footprint due a high arch.
It is often suggested that foot pronation can be determined by looking at the wear patterns on shoes, with overpronators producing more wear on the inside of the shoes, specifically around the forefoot area. Care should be taken with this method as wear patterns can be deceptive and are often hard to make out.
Running shoes are divided in to three main types, motion control, stability and cushioning.
Motion control shoes. These are designed to control the excessive rolling of overpronators and are the heaviest and most rigid design of running shoe. They may also be referred to as stability or support shoes. Foot pronation is controlled by a number of possible features in the shoe. The first is the use of a firmer section along the inside edge called the medial post. The stiffness of the medial post varies between shoe models. Another control feature common to these types of shoe is a dual density mid sole. Either or both features may be present in a motion control shoe which means that different models will vary in their degree of control. Most shoes of this type are built on a straighter last (the shape used to form the shoe), although again this feature varies from shoe to shoe. There is a wide range of motion control shoes available aimed at everyone from severe to mild overpronators. This makes proper fitting especially important.
Neutral running shoes. These are intended for use by runners who are neutral pronators, although they can be used by mild ovepronators and mild underpronators in some cases.
Cushioning shoes. Those who underpronate (supinate) require more cushioning since their high arches often give less shock absorption. These type of shoes don’t offer high stability features since they need to be flexible and allow the foot plenty of movement.
Because of the variety within categories of shoe the only way to be sure of getting the correct running shoe for your foot type is to be fitted at a specialist store. Here you can find trained, knowledgeable staff and a wide range of shoes. Some stores now have gait analysis machines although if you have very specific requirements you may need the advice of a podiatrist, physiotherapist or doctor. For most people a specialist store will offer the time and attention required to find the best running shoe. If possible visit in the afternoon and take your running socks with you. Its also worth taking some old running shoes or a well worn pair of shoes so the fitter can see wear patterns.