Let's talk about pronation.
If you've stepped inside a running store or Google searched "which running shoes are right for me?" you've probably heard the term 'pronation'. It's ominous in running culture and it tends to be thrown around loosely.
With this blog we aim to set the record straight. We'll start by explaining the medical definition of the word pronation and include pictures to help you visualize it. Then we'll explain the word and how it is used in today's running culture by using in-depth videos created by our very own Fleet Feet Sports Chicago staff. Lastly, we'll break all of it down and explain what it all means to you in regards to the shoes we carry.
Pronation In Terms of the Medical Industry
The medical definition of pronation is the rotation of an anatomical part towards the midline. Take your hand and forearm for example. Hold them outwards with your palms facing down. Your arms are currently in a neutral position. Turn them clockwise until your palms are now facing up. What you are now seeing is underpronation which is commonly known as supination.
Now take your hands and hold them at a neutral position. Your palms should be facing down again. Turn them counterclockwise until your palms are facing up. It starts to get a bit uncomfortable even impossible. This is OK. What you are experiencing is overpronation or excessive pronation.
Pronation In Terms of Running
The reality is every runner's foot pronates. In terms of running, pronation is the natural way the body absorbs impact when your foot hits the ground. According to research at the University of Calgary, “Pronation is synonymous to the foot unlocking and is necessary to accommodate to uneven surface, dissipate impact forces, and allow your big toe to reach the ground.” (Ferber)
To what extent, is the next question. The answer is found but not limited to these three extensions:
Overpronation is the result of an unstable foot's inability to recover from the inward rotation which can cause misalignment and negatively affects the mechanics of the kinetic chain i.e. feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back.
Neutral pronation refers to the ideal position of the body for work activities — when the joints and muscles are in position for absorbing shock with adequate movement therefore decreasing risk of injury.
Specifically in the running gait cycle, neutral position means the foot is pronating enough to absorb shock, but not too far enabling a proper toe off without excessive twist. Because of this balance, it is usually the ideal position for your foot as it moves through the gait cycle.
Underpronation, reduced pronation, or supination is the opposite of overpronation and refers to the outward roll of the foot. “Reduced pronation means your foot does not unlock and thereby does not reduce the shock wave of force traveling from your foot upward resulting in increased stress to the body.” (Ferber)
*Supination is extremely rare. So rare that in fact we couldn't find a staff member who exemplified it, but you can see it in action here.
Not all running related gait issues stem from pronation. There are many other atypical biomechanical gait patterns that can also lead to a higher risk of injury. Genu Valgum, crossover gait and many others can easily be observed during a gait assessment and each have unique solutions.
The degrees of pronation are easier to understand when you visualize them so we made a video showing the difference between excessive(over) pronation and a neutral gait.
Pronation In Terms of Shoes
This is where our team of professionals come in. When you visit a Fleet Feet Sports store we'll put you through our famous Fit Process. We'll ask you a few questions about your current training and fitness goals. Then we'll assess the biomechanics of your foot by taking 3 careful measurements, watching how you walk barefoot and on a treadmill while recording you with our slo-mo video app to analyze your gait.
Based on what we see, we use all of the tools in our arsenal to find the shoe that best fits your gait. Our shoes are broken down into categories to meet the specific needs of our customers. Shoes with added stabilizing mechanisms, shoes without any, shoes with more/less flexibility, or weight. The characteristics go on and on. Based upon our assessment we will narrow down from 90 options to a handful that will be right for you.
Before we get into specifics, we need to first need to get familiar with the general characteristics of footwear. There are many, but we will use 3 broad terms for the purpose of this blog. Outsole refers to the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground. Usually the most durable part of the shoe. Upper refers to the material holding your foot in place on the shoe comprised of overlays and fabric, including the laces. The colorful part. Midsole refers to the soft cushioning mechanism sandwiched between the upper and outsole.
Stability shoes have added support in the midsole cushioning foam and often increased overlays on the upper material. These support mechanisms help guide your foot through a more successful gait cycle. The stability level of a shoe can vary greatly and the amount that is right for you is unique and is based upon our Fit assessment.
Another consideration is the shape of the shoe. Feet that excessively pronate, are mostly flexible and appear to flatten when weight is exerted over them. For this reason, the shape the foot tends to be more linear. Stability shoes have a more linear shape.
Neutral shoes with less stabilizing attributes. It is a major misconception that Neutral shoes lack stability. In fact, they are often quite stable. They are just less stable then their “stability” brothers and sisters. There are a few shoes out there that are truly stable-less, and the form warriors swear by them. It takes years of strengthening, conditioning and perfecting form to achieve a gait that absorbs shock so well that shoes are not necessary. For the rest of us, we need shoes that our bodies stability needs.
Feet that need less stability are often more rigid and therefore have a higher arch. The addition of an arch that does flex out derives a foot with a more curved shape. Neutral shoes follow this curved shape.