With the weather finally getting better, you’re sure to see runners and cyclists hitting the streets in search of faster times, improved fitness, or better bodies. I don’t run miles, but I do coach those who do, and a key consideration is the way your foot moves when it makes an impact on the ground. This impact, or pronation, is a natural movement we all experience in the body’s attempt to cushion the impact during movement. Under normal conditions, the foot would impact the ground and roll in approximately 15 degrees to help distribute the weight of the body for proper absorption. Without pronation, the full impact of each step would be transmitted up the leg and affect the normal mechanics of the lower limbs.
While pronation may be a natural movement of the foot, the size of the runner’s arch can affect its ability to roll, causing either supination where the foot doesn’t roll inwards properly or overpronation where the foot rolls in too much.
During normal pronation, the outside part of the heel makes initial contact with the ground, the foot “rolls” inward about fifteen percent, comes in complete contact with the ground and can support your body weight without any problem. The rolling in of the foot optimally distributes the forces of impact. This movement is called “pronation,” and it’s critical to proper shock absorption. At the end of the gait cycle, you push off evenly from the front of the foot.
Overpronation is a condition that is common among people with flat feet. As with normal pronation, the outside of the foot makes an impact with the ground first, but in overpronation, the foot rolls in more than the ideal 15 degrees. This can be problematic because the foot and ankle then have to act to stabilise the foot resulting in poor shock absorption. Not only this, when the runner pushes off the ground, the large toe does a lot of the work.
Runners who overpronate face the risk of extra stress and tightness. Too much motion of the foot can also cause calluses, bunions, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendinitis.
If you’re an overpronator, here are a few tips to help you find the right shoes for your feet.
- Wear shoes with straight or semi-curved lasts
- Look for motion-control or stability shoes with firm, multi-density midsoles and external control features that limit pronation
- Use over-the-counter orthotics or arch supports
Underpronation (or supination) is the insufficient inward roll of the foot after landing. Again, the outside of the heel makes initial contact with the ground, but the inward movement of the foot occurs at less than fifteen percent. Consequently, forces of impact are concentrated on a smaller area of the foot, and are not distributed as efficiently. In the push-off phase, most of the work is done by the smaller toes on the outside of the foot.
This places extra stress on the foot, which can lead to iliotibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis. Underpronating will cause the outer edge of running shoes to wear sooner. Supinators should do extra stretching for the calves, hamstrings, quads, and iliotibial band. Wearing the right type of running shoes and replacing worn shoes will also help avoid injuries.
If you’re an underpronator, here are a few tips to help you find the right shoes for your feet.
- Wear shoes with curved lasts to allow pronation
- Look for lightweight trainers as they allow more foot motion
- Check for flexibility on the medial (inner) side of the shoe
So, what does this all mean to you?
Running shoes are designed today specifically for different pronation patterns. When you pick your next pair of running shoes, your pronation type is a very important factor in your choice. The best way to find out how you pronate is to consult an expert, who will perform a Gait Analysis and then advise you on the best type of running shoes for your pronation pattern. If you have a normal arch, you’re likely a normal pronator, meaning you’ll do best in a stability shoe that offers moderate pronation control. Runners with flat feet normally overpronate, so they do well in a motion-control shoe that controls pronation. High-arched runners typically underpronate, so they do best in a neutral-cushioned shoe that encourages a more natural foot motion.