The pronation foot-type con

For years now shoe salespeople have been fitting runners into running shoe models by carefully inspecting the height of a runners arch or having them walk over a pressure plate and then fit a particular shoe based on the runner’s foot type.  The problem with this type of superficial and frankly spurious analysis is that in no way indicates whether a runner pronates or not.  Remember pronation? The single greatest evil in running, something to wake in a cold sweat from a nightmare where a guy in a shoe store gives you the bad news –  you’re a PRONATOR! He then soothes you by telling you these 500 gram/17 ounce motion controlling, wallet emptying $290 shoes will make it ok for you to run.

So let’s work on the assumption that pronation is really that bad for runners.  How can anyone inspecting the shape or your foot or having you walk over a pressure plate make any assessment about the way you run?  The fact is they can’t, it’s a con, there is no evidence to suggest prescribing a running shoe model (and features to control pronation) based on your foot type has any influence whatsoever on the likelihood of developing injuries.

One of the most useful running technique tips I can give is to avoid buying running shoes based on the shape of your foot.  Further, don’t accept the assurances of the cheerful employee who walks you over the magical pressure plate and sagely nods and tells you to buy a pair of motion controlling clunkers based on a set of electronic footprints.   From a common sense perspective this approach immediately presents a few problems: does the shape of the foot really indicate whether or not I need specific shoe features?  And can I really learn anything about the way that I run from how I walk?  In this article I explain why your default setting for buying running shoes should be set towards neutral rather than for motion controlled shoes.

You have to make a decision between neutral versus supportive or motion controlled shoes. You should carefully listen to and question the advice you receive from a friendly shoe salesperson.  Don’t be sucked into the pronation foot-type myth:  In the ceaseless quest to obtain the greatest share of your wallet, running shoe manufacturers promote and build shoe technologies and features with questionable benefits.

The right shoes for you. The mind boggling array of brands, shoes models and technologies make choosing the right shoes a daunting task.  If you believe the marketing spin, there’s a fair chance you consider shoes to be the major influencing factor about how well you run and how often you’ll get injured.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  Recent studies have shown that the prescription of various shoe technologies and features made no difference to injury rates.  There is also a  growing school of thought that the more cushioning and motion control features a shoe has, the more likely it is to cause rather than cure problems with your running technique. 

You need to get a feel for and see how well you run in any shoes you decide to buy. As a general rule the less shoe features the better and anyone who tries to sell you into a heavy, motion controlled, highly cushioned shoe needs a very good reason to do so.  The shape of your foot does not qualify as a good reason.  As a high arched runner, the theory would go that I need to wear a massively cushion shoe to compensate for a theoretical stiff foot.  For two years I’ve been wearing marathon racing shoes and Nike Frees (on all surfaces) – so far so good, I am now much lighter on my feet than when I used to smash the ground in my expensive motion controlling clunkers.  Importantly, the lightness did not spontaneously arise from the shoe choices, but from patient hard work improving my running technique.  However, the lighter, more responsive minimalist running shoes do help to improve feel for the ground, strengthen the feet and generally make running feel more natural – you need to be connected to the running surface to help make technical adjustments.  This doesn’t mean running barefoot, there’s plenty of good shoes out there that offer good protection and support while improving your sensory perception.

The pronation myth. Runners with lower arches are supposed to pronate or allow their feet and ankles to roll inwards and therefore they are told they need stiff, motion controlled shoes to prevent this from occurring.  Conventional wisdom would have us believe that pronation is caused by the shape of your foot.  All these decisions about appropriate shoe technology for your feet have been made without even seeing how you run – interesting huh?

Most runners don’t pronate badly enough to warrant needing special control or support in their running shoes. Make sure you have someone you trust and knows what they are doing look at you running to check if you actually pronate excessivelychances are you don’t. The best news is, even if you do pronate it can be fixed. In a future article I’ll look at the actual root cause of pronation and why it is caused by a combination of poor running technique and lack of strength – not the shape of your foot!

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One Response to The pronation foot-type con

  1. Keith Bateman October 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Nicely written article – 100% in agreement