There is never a time that running shoes are not a hot topic, afterall, there are basically a gazillion different shoes that seem to be updating and evolving almost daily! Most of these shoes can be categorized as a “stability” shoe or a “neutral” shoe, which can be important when trying to determine which running shoe is going to be the right fit for you. In a previous post on stability shoes, we discussed some basic foot mechanics, the various technologies that make a stability shoe so stabilizing, and how to determine if a stability shoe might be the best choice for you. In this post, Team RunRun will discuss what a neutral shoe is and how to determine if this category of shoe is right for your running!
Normal Pronation and Neutral Shoes
The phrase “neutral shoes” often gets confused with “neutral colored shoes”, leaving many runners aghast by the vibrant colors that many running shoes come in! Neutral shoes are generally for runners who’s feet and ankles go through a normal pronation pattern when running. A quick overview of normal pronation (comprehensive explanation in ‘What is a “Stability” Running Shoe’) is that it’s the natural shock absorption and push-off motion of the foot and ankle rolling inward upon ground impact and toeing off the ground using all toes with the sole of the foot facing backward.
The goal of a neutral shoe for a runner with normal pronation is to provide cushioning for the foot and to allow the foot and ankle to follow its natural mechanical pathway. Because of this goal, the identifying feature of a neutral shoe is that it does not have any features that are designed to influence or alter the natural motion of the foot. A neutral shoe has an even density of midsole foam and rubber on both the medial (towards the middle) and lateral (towards the outside) portion of the shoe.
With none of the stabilizing technologies that are present in a stability shoe (medial posting, GuideRails, etc.), the primary characteristic that differentiates neutral running shoes from each other is level of cushioning. Some lighter cushion neutral shoes that often make a runner feel like ripping a fast workout might be the New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo, Brooks Launch 8, or Hoka Rincon 2. A more traditional weight and cushioned daily trainer in the neutral category would be shoes like the Asics Gel-Cumulus 22, Brooks Ghost 13, Saucony Ride 13, or New Balance Fresh Foam 880v11. For runners who enjoy the plush cushioning that feels like having marshmallows strapped to the bottom of your feet, a few example shoes would be the Hoka Bondi 7, Asics Gel-Nimbus 23, Saucony Triumph 18, or the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11. Generally, the differences a runner notices between neutral shoes is how well the cushioning level aligns with their individual preference and how well the shoe fits the shape of their foot.
How do I Know if I Should be in a Neutral Shoe?
Here are a couple different methods for determining if you might be a runner who will excel in a neutral running shoe:
- Shoe wear pattern– Have a look at the sole of your current running shoes; the primary wear will be right in the middle of your shoe.
- Shoe tilt- Set a pair of shoes or boots that you have been wearing regularly for several months on a flat surface with the heel facing you. If the shoes are not tilting at all or have a mild tilt toward the outer heel, then you might have a neutral gait pattern.
- Have a running shoe expert watch you run or walk- The staff at a specialty running store, like Fairhaven Runners and Walkers in Bellingham, WA, are trained to analyze your gait pattern and help you find the best running shoes to compliment and support your running mechanics.
- Past experience- If you are someone who has regularly ran in any random pair of shoes without a history of injury, not only are you lucky, but you might also have a neutral gait pattern that doesn’t require stabilizing features to keep your joints moving in proper alignment.
- Podiatrist or Physical Therapist- Many runners who are experiencing lower extremity injury problems might seek professional medical help from a podiatrist or physical therapist. These healthcare professionals may prescribe specific footwear based on their diagnosis of your biomechanical needs.
Getting good running shoes is like flossing your teeth; it’s something that everyone should do (and not everyone does)! Now that you are equipped with the knowledge of foot mechanics and shoe specifics for both neutral and stability running shoes, you can run into your local specialty running store with confidence!
Maxx Antush is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Maxx, check out his coaching page.