It is often said that the only piece of equipment that you need for running is a good pair of running shoes. There are approximately 14,732,451 different brands and models of running shoes (okay, really it’s only a few thousand options), most of which fall into the category of being a “stability” shoe or a “neutral” shoe. In this article, Team RunRun will discuss what a stability shoe is and how to determine if they might be right for you.
Pronation, Overpronation, and Stability Shoes
The basic and general definition of a stability shoe is one that provides support for runners who overpronate; however, this definition requires some elaboration.
Pronation, which unfairly gets treated like a dirty word in some running circles, is the natural process of your arch collapsing and ankle rolling inward upon ground contact in order to help your body absorb the shock of impact. With normal pronation, the arch then stiffens as the foot progresses towards pushing off the ground and all your toes contribute to push-off with the big toe and second toe transmitting most of the force while the others toes act primarily as stabilizers. During push-off, the sole of your foot will face the rear of your body without being turned inward or outward.
With overpronation, the arch collapses too low and the ankle rolls inward too far upon ground contact and continues to roll inward when the toes should begin pushing off the ground. This causes the big toe and second toe to bear the full load of toe-off without stabilization from the other toes. During push-off, the sole of the foot will be turned outward and the knee will often collapse inward (known as knee valgus). In addition to putting greater strain on the first two toes, the excessive rotation of the foot leads to greater rotation of the tibia and can contribute to “shin splints” and knee pain.
How do Stability Shoes Provide Support?
Now that we have a better understanding of foot mechanics, we can dive a little bit into running shoe construction since there is a bit more to it than just rubber and a bit of glue! The goal with a stability shoe is to provide enough support for the arch to allow the foot to move through an optimal pronation motion with all toes contributing to push-off with the ankle, tibia, and knee all moving in the forward direction.
There are a few different methods that different stability shoes use to accomplish the goal of normal pronation. The most traditional method is with a “medial post”. A medially posted shoe has a dense rubber, foam, and/or plastic piece built into the medial side (my personal favorite synonym from thesaurus is “innermost” side) of the shoe that prevents the foot and ankle from continuing to roll inward during overpronation. A couple examples of stability shoes that use a medial post are the Saucony Omni 19 or the New Balance 860v11. The Asics GT-2000 9 and Gel-Kayano 27 use a plastic “TRUSSTIC” on the sole of the shoe in conjunction with a denser medial midsole to help prevent excessive torsion of the shoe. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21, Launch GTS 8, and Glycerin GTS 19 use a “GuideRail” system that is two pieces of firmer foam on the medial and lateral (my thesaurus didn’t use “outermost”, but I like that synonym) side of the heel that keep your foot from excessively rolling inward or outward during pronation. More recently, stability shoes such as the Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2 and Asics Gel-Kayano Lite have utilized geometry to create a stable shoe by flaring out the sole of the shoe so that the wide base of support does not allow the runner to “roll through the shoe” into overpronation.
While there are pros and cons to the various technologies used to provide support in stability shoes, what is most important in determining which shoe might work best for a runner who is overpronating is that the shoe adequately supports the runner’s foot into normal pronation and the shoe is comfortable for the runner to wear.
How do I Know if I Should Try a Stability Shoe?
Here are a few different methods of determining if it might be a good idea for you to try a stability running shoe:
- Shoe wear pattern– Have a look at the sole of your current running shoes; overpronation will cause greater wear to the tread on the medial portion of their shoes.
- 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 tilting inward due to greater wear on the medial tread, then you might be overpronating in those shoes.
- 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.
- Foot analysis- Many specialty foot and ankle stores and some specialty running stores can provide a 3-D scan of your foot shape and a foot pressure scan to provide a full picture of your foot mechanics during your gait pattern and where you place the greatest amount of stress on your feet. The SuperFeet FitStation is an example of a 3-D foot scanner that is used by Fairhaven Runners and Walkers and other specialty running stores around the United States.
- 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.
There are many different running shoes out there and it can sometimes be overwhelming to try to figure out which ones will work the best for you. Now that you have a solid foundational understanding of foot mechanics and what makes a stability shoe so stable, you can run over to your local specialty running store and try out some new shoes!
Stay tuned for Maxx’s upcoming post about Neutral running shoes!
Maxx Antush is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Maxx, check out his coaching page.