What is pronation?
Author: Danae Baggs Date Posted: 23 July 2021
Overpronation, supination...you've probably heard these terms thrown around in the running community. What do they mean and what should you do about it?
Images via ASICS.
What is pronation?
When your foot hits the ground, it rolls inward to absorb the resulting shock and distribute the impact across your foot. (Fun fact: your arch supports 3x your body weight on average at this moment!) This is a natural movement called pronation.
Neutral vs Overpronation vs Supination
If you roll inward a normal amount, congratulations - you have a neutral gait and can wear a wide range of shoes. But there are also people who roll inward too much (overpronators) or not enough (supinators or underpronators), which can lead to running injuries due to less effective shock absorption.
Neutral runners are less likely to experience shock-related running injuries (but it can still happen).
They have normal sized arches, pronate (roll inward upon impact) an appropriate amount, and push off from the ground with an even distribution of weight on the front of the foot.
Do you experience shin splits, bunions, heel spurs and/or plantar fasciitis? You may be overpronating.
Overpronators pronate excessively by landing on the outside of their heel and rolling all the way to their foot's inner edge rather than to the ball of the foot. During push-off, their two biggest toes do most of the work.
Overpronators are also likely to have low arches or flat feet.
Untreated supinators can suffer ankle strain, shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
They typically have high arches and put pressure on their smaller, outside toes during push-off.
During foot strike, supinators hit the ground with the outer side of their heel at an angle that doesn't allow for much (or any!) pronation. As a result, the lower leg suffers large quantities of shock at every stride.
So which am I?
Understanding which pronation type you have is key to finding comfy running shoes and to avoiding common running injuries. There are several ways you can find out which pronation style you run with. We recommend these three:
CHECK YOUR SHOES' WEAR PATTERN
The quickest and easiest way to determine your gait is to check the wear pattern on your shoes' outsole. This isn't a 100% foolproof diagnostic method, but is certainly helpful as a stop-gap or if you want to confirm what you already suspect.
- Neutral runners, your running shoe soles should show wear in a roughly S-shaped pattern from the outer heel to the big toe. If you put your shoes on a flat surface, you should not notice a tilt.
- Overpronators, your running shoe soles should show extra wear on the inside heel and under the ball of the foot, especially the big toe. If you put your shoes on a flat surface, they may tilt inwards slightly.
- Supinators, the outside of your running shoes will show wear. If you put your shoes on a flat surface, they may tilt outwards slightly.
REQUEST VIDEO GAIT ANALYSIS
Some shoe stores offer video gait analysis, which records slow-mo videos of your gait while you run on a treadmill for the salespeople to analyse and classify. If you opt for video gait analysis, we recommend you go to an ASICS Running Clinic. ASICS uses unique advanced technology called 3D foot mapping, using lasers and micro-cameras to obtain additional information such as your arch height and Achilles/leg alignment. These clinics have specialist professionals to diagnose your pronation style.
Wildfire does not offer video gait analysis for a very simple reason: we are not podiatrists or medical professionals. As trained and knowledgeable as our staff are, we do not give medical advice and believe that only medical professionals should do so.
SEE A PROFESSIONAL
The very best way to ensure you have the right shoes and are assuming you're the correct pronation type is to visit a podiatrist or other relevant medical professional. As experienced as salespeople can be at specialist running and sports stores, they do not have the medical knowledge and expertise of a podiatrist or physiotherapist.
Great - but which shoes should I buy to suit my pronation type?
Look for the neutral, overpronate and supinate keywords in product titles and descriptions. At Wildfire, we specify whether a shoe is Neutral or Stability in shoe subtitles, as well as the longer product descriptions. You can also search for "neutral shoe" or "stability shoe" in the search bar. If you navigate to any shoe page, you can also select Neutral or Stability Shoes from the left-hand pane.
Stick to neutral shoes; it's best to avoid shoes labelled for overpronators or supinators. Most shoes are netural shoes.
Look for running shoes with words like stability, support and structured cushioning to help distribute impact more evenly. Support structures like a medial post minimise pronation. Bonus points for firm midsoles, which provide arch support for flatter feet. If you severely overpronate, look for motion control shoes with lots of cushioning.
You may need a lot of cushioning to avoid impact injuries, so look for neutral shoes with lots of cushioning that will help absorb shock. Avoid stiff shoes, opting for more flexible models to help you evenly distribute foot strike impact. Bonus points for extra cushioning in the heel and along the outside of the shoe (countering any outward roll).