Understanding Pronation

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Understanding Pronation


If you’ve ever tried to run, but have quickly given up because of pain in your legs or feet, chances are that you weren’t wearing the right kind of shoes. Running is a great sport for men and women alike, but if you don’t have proper running shoes designed specifically for your kind of feet, the results can be uncomfortable, at the least, and painful, at the extreme.

When you run, your feet pronate. That’s not as scary or as technical a term as it may at first appear. Pronation is simply the inward collapsing of your arch as you move across the ground. Everyone’s feet pronate, and it’s a good thing. Pronating is a shock-absorbing action, and as your feet hit the ground and roll forward (or pronate) the stress on your legs, knees, and joints is diminished.

Everyone’s feet fall into one of the three categories of pronating: overpronating, supinating, and normal pronating.

If you overpronate, your feet collapse too far in when you hit the ground. You might even land on the inside of your heel when you run. (You’re supposed to land on the outside portion of your heel.) This is bad because it deprives you of arch support, and a lack of arch support leads to pain in your feet and joints while running.

If you supinate, you have very rigid feet that don’t roll in far enough when they touch the ground. This action is also bad for your body. When you supinate, there’s a very inadequate amount of shock-absorption going on, and your legs could really end up hurting because of it.

If you pronate normally, your feet make contact with the ground on the outer part of your heel. Your weight then shifts to the inside (the arch of your foot), and from there it goes to the very front of your foot. Once there, your feet push off from the balls of your feet and even from your toes. This is the proper motion for your feet to follow for optimal running results. If you’re an overpronator, congrats! You will be less susceptible to injury, but (notice!) that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention to your feet or the shoes that you wear.

So, how do you know which category your feet fall under?


There are two basic tests for determining what kind of pronator you are. First, the shoe test. Look at an old pair of tennis or running shoes (this will only work if you’ve previously been very active). Check out the wear and tear on the bottom of your shoes. If you overpronate, the soles and midsole of your shoes will be worn down toward the inside. If you supinate, your shoes will be worn down on the outer edges. If you’re a normal pronator, there will be wear evenly dispersed along the bottom of your shoes.

Next, the footprint test. (This will work for everyone – the active and the inactive alike.) The next time you get out of the shower, step out immediately onto a dark colored bathroom mat or towel. Then remove your feet and study your footprints. If the middle of your footprint is almost completely filled in so that there’s very little arch, you’re an overpronator. If, on the other hand, your footprint reveals a very large arch, you’re a supinator. A normal pronator’s footprint will have a gradual arch starting at the end of the heel and going through the middle of the foot.

Once you know how your foot falls (literally), you will be more prepared to buy the proper kind of running shoes specific for your feet, and it is very important to buy the right kind of shoes or you could damage your feet. (And I can’t stress that enough!)

For those who overpronate, the most important thing is to get shoes that provide as much support as possible to prevent your feet from rolling too far inward. The first thing you should look at is the bottom of the shoe. From this viewpoint, you should be able to drawn a straight line from the heel to the toe. (Check out the pictures below.) Next, look for a rigid arch or firm inner heel. These stiff components in a shoe will furnish your feet with a greater amount of support than shoes with flexible or flimsy arches and heels. (Remember: the more support for your feet, the better.) There should also be a built-in combination last. To see if a shoe has this, pull up the inner sole and examine the material beneath. For the kind of combination last you’re looking for, you should find a firm cardboard like material that is sewn into the shoe from the heel to the arch. Lastly, try to bend the shoe. It should have a rigid design. In other words, when you place your hands on the heel and the toe of the shoe, it should be difficult to twist it around.

For those who supinate, you want to find a shoe that offers flexibility and cushioning, so that your feet do not have constraints that prevent them from properly pronating. When you pick up a pair of shoes, you should turn them over to view them from the bottom. If you were to draw a line from the heel to the toe on shoes designed for supinators, you would find a curved line. (See pictures below.) There should also be extra cushioning material starting in the midsole, but preferably it should go down the whole length of the shoe. Under the insole liner, you should find soft or squishy cloth that is sewn into the shoe like a moccasin. These kinds of shoes should also be very easy to twist if you were to grab them by the heel and the toe and turn them.

Those who pronate normally should be just as specific and detailed when looking for their own pair of running shoes. Just because your feet behave properly does not mean they are invincible. They can still be injured if you wear the wrong kind of shoes, more specifically shoes for overpronators and supinators. Their shoes are designed with the express purpose of making feet roll in more or roll in less. If you don’t have a problem either way and you wear these kinds of shoes, you will produce your own problem. So when looking for shoes, you must search for neutral shoes. The bottom view should present an imaginary semi-curved line from the heel to the toe. (Examples below.) There should be cushioning and support; both are extremely important to your feet. But neither of these two components should be exaggerated or drastic.

All runners should be aware of how they pronate and buy shoes accordingly. Ignoring what your feet naturally do is a bad idea, because running is a repetitive motion, and if you’re doing something wrong, you’re doing it wrong hundreds or thousands of times over. Also, shoes should be replaced regularly. After about every 350 miles you run, it’s time to get a new pair of shoes. Don’t economize when it comes to your footwear, or you might just end up paying for it elsewhere.

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