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You’ve probably been confronted with one of the most common questions when buying running shoes: neutral vs. stability running shoes. If you’re new to running or buying your first running shoe, I’m guessing you have no idea what those are so I’m going to give you the answer straight away to save you some time.
Neutral running shoes are not built with stability features and are made for runners with neutral or “correct” running gait. In contrast, stability running shoes are built with stability features that prevent the foot from rolling inward while running.
If you have no idea about the different types of running gait, you probably have to stick along so I can explain the different levels of pronation as well as dive a little deeper into neutral and stability running shoes.
Understanding Foot Pronation
Pronation is the term used to describe how your foot rolls inward during the running or walking gait cycle. Typically, your foot rolls in — to the medial part of the foot about 15 degrees. Whether you go way beyond, way below, or within this number will determine your level of foot pronation namely neutral, over, or underpronation.
The normal way to land begins with the outer side of the heel making contact with the ground, this is known as the initial contact.
Then as the foot rolls forward, it also rolls inward by about 15 degrees causing the entire foot to be in contact with the ground.
Lastly, the foot rolls forward into the base of the toes and then the toes finish off by pushing off the ground to propel you forward.
This is the best, most efficient, and correct way of running. It evenly distributes the impact of your body weight making contact with the ground. Around 50-60% run this way.
30 to 40% of runners, however, roll in more than 15 degrees.
Because of that, their feet are never in full contact with the ground. The outer part of the foot is off the ground while the inner part of the foot receives most of the impact.
Overpronated runners are prone to knee injuries because their knees absorb more impact on the medial side as compared to the knees of neutral runners.
Aside from that, overpronated runners decrease their rate of propulsion because they push off with only their big toe as opposed to all the toes in the feet.
Underpronation is the exact opposite of overpronation.
Instead of rolling in too much, underpronators fail to roll in enough causing the medial side of the foot missing contact with the ground.
This is the least common type of pronation which only accounts for 5 to 10% of runners.
Understanding Neutral Running Shoes
Neutral running shoes are built without stability features and are designed for people with a neutral running gait.
Most lightweight shoes, racing shoes, and running shoes, in general, are neutral running shoes simply because neutral runners occupy at least half of the market.
According to Asics, one of the leading shoe manufacturers, neutral running shoes are lighter and faster than stability running shoes because they are not equipped with extra material and a thicker foam that adds weight to the shoe. Plus, they generally have a more curved design making it faster and more efficient.
One of the best neutral shoes in the market for daily training is the ASICS Gel Nimbus Lite 2. Many professional athletes recommend that shoe for a variety of reasons, but the highlight is that they’re incredibly soft and comfortable.
Understanding Stability Running Shoes
Stability running shoes are shoes built for runners that excessively roll their foot inward known as overpronation.
Generally speaking, stability shoes are heavier than neutral running shoes because they are equipped with stabilizing technology like the GuideRails found in Brooks Adrenaline GTS and the Dynamic DuoMax of ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 which adds a few grams to the weight of the shoe.
These support technologies prevent your foot from rolling inward by physically preventing the inward rolling through shoe modifications.
I am an overpronated runner. I found the Brooks Adrenaline GTS to work very well for me and I use them for most of my training sessions. I like the balance of cushioning and responsiveness of their shoe and I like how the GuideRails support system isn’t very aggressive. You can buy them on Amazon.
How To Know What Running Shoe You Need
Before buying a pair of running shoes, I suggest you undergo a running gait analysis where a team of professionals makes you run on a treadmill and analyze your running gait through a slow-motion camera. You can find them in most running specialty stores.
However, if you’re buying online or have no access to a gait analysis facility, there are a few things you can do to determine your running gait.
Please keep in mind that these tests/signs are not a replacement for getting your gait analyzed. Unless you’re a trained individual, the results you get from these tests/signs remain assumptions until you can get your gait analyzed by an expert
1. Check the wear pattern on the outsoles of your old running shoes
The wear pattern on your old shoes tells a lot about how you run/walk.
Neutral runners generally have an even wearing of the outsoles while overpronators and underpronators have uneven wearing on either the inside or outside part of the shoe respectively.
In some cases, the wearing on the heel occurs on the outer part while the wearing on the forefoot is in the inner part. That is still considered overpronation because heel strike commonly happens on the outer part of the heel. The wearing on the inside part of the shoe and less of the outer part indicates that the foot rolls excessively inside resulting in uneven wearing.
2. Do a running gait analysis of yourself
If you have access to a treadmill, you can do a running gait analysis of yourself by placing a camera behind your ankle while running on a treadmill. Set it in slow motion and watch it afterward.
If your hips, knees, and ankle is within a straight imaginary line, congratulations! You’re a neutral runner. But if your knees cave in as you run, that’s usually a problem with overpronation.
If you’re having a hard time understanding how to do this, watch this great video created by Runnersneed.
3. Look at the position of your foot when standing
Walk forward for at least 10 steps and bring yourself to a complete stop in your normal standing position, feet together and stand up straight.]. Don’t rearrange your foot or make any adjustments in the positioning of your foot.
Look at the position of your feet when standing up. If it’s pointing straight or slightly outward, then you’re probably a neutral runner.
If it’s pointing excessively outward as in the letter V, that’s a sign that you may be overpronating.
In contrast, if your foot is pointing inwards, then you might be an underpronator.
4. Check your foot arch
Stand up straight look at the arch of your foot from a mirror.
Flat-footed people are often linked to overpronation while people with high foot arch are linked to underpronation.
Neutral runners often have normal foot arches.
If you think you need a stability shoe and want to read more on the topic, I made an entire article on how to know if you need a stability running shoe.
Why Should You Wear The Right Running Shoes For Your Running Gait
You should wear the shoe with the appropriate support level for your running gait because it corrects your running biomechanics which prevents injuries and improves your running gait.
As you run, your body makes contact with the ground and creates an impact of around 3 times your body weight. Because running is a very repetitive sport, running with uneven weight distribution will result in overuse injuries much faster.
Not to mention the constant fatigue and body ache you experience from the constant uneven impact that your body receives.
The Wrap Up
Neutral running shoes are not equipped with a support system and are often lighter, faster, and more focused cushioning in the heel area while stability running shoes have a built-in support system, a thicker midsole foam, and are generally heavier.
Despite those differences, you must always wear the shoe that’s equipped with the right support level or your needs in order to prevent overuse injuries.
There are a few things you can do to find out your running gait like checking the wear pattern of the outsoles of your old pairs and analyzing your running gait yourself but getting your running gait analyzed remain the best thing to do.
Now that you know the difference between neutral running shoes and stability running shoes, you must then figure out the right shoe for you.