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Support shoes or neutral shoes? Does it really matter?

This has got to be the oldest debate in running shop history, are you a neutral runner or do you pronate? Neutral shoe or support shoe? The reality is that the majority of people pronate (land on outside of heel and roll inwards to push off big toe) to some extent. The reason for this is purely 'balance'. When we stand still, we tend to place our feet directly below our hips, so both legs run vertically down. However, when you stand on one leg, you'll shift your weight to the left or right so that single foot is directly underneath your centre line. The same happens when we run, your foot lands directly underneath your body (on centre line), which means that your leg from hip to foot will always 'angle in' slightly, causing you to hit with the outside of the heel first.

The issue isn't with pronation, as a moderate amount of pronation is good. It acts as a shock absorber and as the foot rolls in, it stretches specific tendons which then 'recoil' and 'spring back' as you push off the ground, to help propulsion. The real issue is with people who 'over pronate' (pronate an excessive amount).

Some running shops will put you on a treadmill or a stance platform to look at your foot posture or running style, but realistically most are done badly and are a sales tool to convince you that the shoe you're buying is the one for you. Pretty much all manufacturers have a neutral shoe and a support shoe which give runners the option, depending upon the results of their 'gait analysis'.

What's the difference in the shoes?

Not a huge amount. In simple terms the 'support shoes' for those who pronate excessively will have a harder foam or some kind of support on the inside edge. As the foot collapses inwards, this extra support stops the shoe collapsing, thereby preventing excessive inwards rolling. There are 2 benefits to the support, first is to prevent you collapsing inwards and suffering the potential consequences of injury. The second is to increase the life of the shoe, if it's constantly collapsing onto it's inside edge, the foam cushioning breaks down very quickly and the shoe loses it's shape. Often, if you place an old pair of shoes on a table and view them from behind, they are leaning inwards due to the breakdown of the sole and upper.

Is it important to get the right shoe?

To a large extent, yes it is. We can argue about the benefits of cushioned or minimalist shoes and discuss the heel to forefoot drop, but our experience tells us that if you need a support shoe, then buying a pair can very much help injury prevention.

Here's the key thing:

If you are a neutral runner, you can run in support or neutral and either will be fine. It doesn't have to be a neutral shoe. If you wear a support shoe, the reality is, it won't alter your running style, you just won't NEED the support provided by the shoe. The only downside is that is might weigh 10-20g more than it's neutral counterpart.

If you 'over pronate' then you do need to wear the support shoe and the neutral shoe should be avoided. Whether you have a history of injury or not, it's the most common sense thing to do. The support shoe can help to reduce your injury risk and the shoe will also last longer without breaking down.

The reason we get injured is because we wear these supported and cushioned shoes... cavemen never had an issue and ran barefoot, so the shoes are to blame!!

That may be the case my friend, but unfortunately most of us have been wearing shoes for many years so thinking you can reverse your development at this stage is likely to end in tears, irrelevent of the manufacturer sales pitch. Our experience tells us that fads and fashions will continue to appear in the market, but the basics of good quality running shoes will go a long way to helping you stay injury free.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

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