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Overpronation vs. Underpronation: Should How You Land Affect Your Shoe Choice?

The latest research on pronation sheds light on what you should really look for in the perfect running shoe.

how does pronation affect running shoe choice
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If you’ve ever set foot in a running store, you’ve probably heard the term “pronation.” It refers to the natural motion your foot makes when it lands, and it helps you narrow down the right pair when you’re searching for your next running shoes. Why? Because shoe brands categorize their offerings based on pronation.

Traditional thought says there are three categories of pronation:

Normal:

  • Your foot rolls inward about 15 percent, which optimally distributes the forces of impact.
  • Variety of choices, mainly neutral shoes.

    Overpronation:

    • Your foot rolls inward more than then “ideal” 15 percent.
    • Common in people with flatter feet.
    • Stability shoes help evenly distribute the impact.

      Underpronation (or supination):

      • Your foot rolls inward less than 15 percent.
      • Common in people with high arches.
      • Extra cushioning helps absorb the impact.
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        Problem is, this thinking isn’t exactly supported by science. Foot pronation was a hot topic in the podiatry world decades ago (we’re talking as far back as the 1940s), so it became a big consideration when companies first started making running shoes with injury prevention in mind—even though there wasn’t much to back up the approach. “It was assumed, without any epidemiological evidence, that foot pronation was one of the variables responsible for the development of running injuries,” says a British Journal of Sports Medicine review.

        Fast-forward to today, and we’re learning that overpronation isn’t always a bad thing, and there are other aspects to consider in a running shoe, explains Carson Caprara, director of global footwear product line management at Brooks.

        Consider a 2013 British Journal of Sports Medicine study of almost 1,000 beginner runners who wore neutral shoes: Turns out, pronation had no link with an increased risk of injury—if anything, pronators were slightly less likely to experience an injury over the course of the year-long study.


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        “Pronation has always had such a negative connotation, but it’s an important part of the run and not as ‘black and white’ as you might think,” says Paul Lang, merchandising manager at ASICS. “While we need to make sure that there’s guidance for the foot, it’s definitely not as rigid of a focus as it once was.”

        The new focus? “Now, the trend of broader midsoles is allowing the foot to act more naturally,” says Colin Ingram, director of product at Hoka One One and formerly with New Balance. “The minimalist movement—though polarizing—made the conversation around shoes much more diverse. People swear by the precise drop, the specific weight of the foam, and the level of flexibility.”

        That’s one of the reasons many shoes now primarily categorize their shoes by feel. Ask yourself: do you prefer something firm, soft, springy, or flexible? “We let the consumer pick the experience they want first, then offer support from there,” Carson says. And while some brands do still categorize their shoes according to levels of pronation, it’s not always just about that.

        We know this might make shoe shopping sound more stressful, but buying a pair of running shoes is actually pretty hard to screw up. That same British Journal of Sports Medicine review concluded that personal comfort is one of the biggest predictors of injury prevention. Meaning: Choose the shoe that feels the most comfortable when you run (not just standing still). What feels good is one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep running.



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