Understanding Neutral vs. Stability Running Shoes

A woman stands on a fit id scanner.

You may hear the terms "neutral" and "stability" thrown around when trying on running shoes. If you aren't sure what kind of shoes your feet need, it can make choosing running shoes feel overwhelming.

How exactly do neutral and stability shoes work? Which is best for you? Read on to learn more.

How do Neutral and Stability Running Shoes Function?

Stability Running Shoes

Stability shoes are designed to help offset excessive pronation, which is the inward rolling of a runner’s feet after impact with the ground.

Every runner naturally pronates to some degree and that’s OK, but excessive pronation can lead to common overuse injuries like Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, and patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee).

Stability running shoes have evolved over the years from stiff, motion-control shoes to more flexible options that still provide needed support for runners who overpronate.

The new generation of stability shoes has helped melt away the old-school belief about the need for rigid control in running shoes, and as a result, the motion control category — maximum support/stability shoes that greatly limit how a foot moves while running — has become almost non-existent and stability shoes have become less domineering to a runner’s stride. And generally speaking, those changes have been a good thing.

“For years, the running shoe industry was focused on building shoes that control how a foot moves and limit how a foot moves,” says physical therapist Jay Dicharry, MPT, director of the REP Lab in Bend, Oregon, and a leading biomechanist, running gait expert and shoe company consultant. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten away from that. The more we can stop using words like stopping and limiting and controlling when it comes to running shoes, the better off we’ll be. Wearing shoes that allow the feet to move and flex naturally is the best starting point for most runners.”

Neutral Running Shoes

Neutral running shoes have no stabilizing features, allowing the foot to flex and move without any guidance. Neutral running shoes often feel more nimble and more flexible than stability shoes, allowing your feet to move freely and naturally throughout the gait cycle.

Which Shoe is Best for You?

A Fleet Feet outfitter uses the fit id system.

So how do you know what’s best for you? And how can you find the right shoe for you?

Start by visiting your local Fleet Feet and work with an expert outfitter. Our 3D fit id® foot scanning technology allows us to gather information about your feet and the support they need by measuring your foot length, width and arch height. Our Dynamic Pressure Mapping system assesses your foot’s path of motion and stride as you walk, so we can find the perfect shoes for you.

Runners with lower and more flexible arches may find comfort in a stability shoe. You know the old saying "opposites attract," and runners with flexible arches tend to crave stability and structure while runners with rigid arches tend to seek out more flexible shoes.

Dicharry says that some recreational runners do need more support in their shoes than others, either by way of mild stability shoes or neutral shoes with after-market insoles that offer enhanced stability. And, he says, most runners can benefit from a bit of stability in the later miles of a long run or a marathon when the muscles in the feet and lower legs fatigue and can’t continue to maintain good running form.

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