You may have been running for a little while, or a long while in support/stability shoes because you overpronate. Now, you might be looking to switch over to neutral running shoes to see if you could fair the same (or better) in that type of shoe.
But is it safe to switch from stability shoes to neutral shoes if you overpronate while running?
As a general rule, Motion-control shoes and stability shoes are designed to help a runner offset excessive pronation, or the inward rolling of a runner's feet after impact with the ground. Neutral shoes do not offer stabilizing features, but rather allow the foot to flex and move without constraint. Motion control and stability shoes are intended to assist reduce excessive pronation.
So with that in mind, what do we actually know about overpronation, pronation, neutral shoes, and stability running shoes?
Let’s look at what we know and what some of the latest research can tell us.
Stability vs. Neutral Shoes - What's the Difference?
What is Overpronation? Pronation? Supination?
The Pedorthic Association of Canada (PAC) defines Overpronation as “a condition in which the foot rolls inward and down. The arch may elongate and collapse (or ‘fall’) and the heel will lean inward.”
Some of the common conditions observed in overpronators are:
- Heel pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendinopathy
- Low back discomfort
- Shin splints
- Stress fractures in the foot or lower leg
This might be the most important part of this section, as the world has become so scared of overpronation that it has forgotten that pronation is indeed the body’s natural means of force distribution and energy return.
The PAC goes on to note that overpronation should NOT be confused with pronation, which is “a normal movement of the foot during weight-bearing, allowing the foot to absorb shock as it contacts the ground.”
This is what most runners seek to achieve, having the right amount of pronation to displace the absorbed shock during the ground contact phase of the gait cycle.
On the other hand, the often less talked about condition is Under pronation.
PAC defines under pronation as “a condition commonly referred to as supination. An under-pronated foot structure may have an abnormally high arch or instep that has very little flexibility when standing.
The heel often leans outward, putting more weight on the outer edge of the foot. Callousing is common under the knuckle of the baby toe because of the weight on the outside of the foot.”
It is important to cover this condition along with the others because it’s common for runners to fear pronation so much that it actually leads to under pronation, which can cause just as many possible injuries.
Here are some of the conditions found in under pronators:
- Heel pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendinopathy
- IT Band Syndrome
- Lateral ankle sprains
Now that we understand the working definitions of each word, we can take a closer look at a recent study that might help us better understand the possible implications (if any) of switching from stability running shoes to neutral running shoes.
Neutral vs Stability: What the Science Says
A study conducted by the Luxembourg Institute of Health conducted a randomized controlled trial investigating if the use of running shoes with a motion control system impacts injury risk in 372 recreational runners compared to standard (neutral) shoes and if this influences depends on foot morphology.
Where the stability was placed in the stability shoes.
Stability vs. Neutral Shoes Results:
The overall injury risk was lower among the participants who had received motion control shoes compared to those receiving standard shoes.
This positive effect was only observed in the stratum of runners with pronated feet; there was no difference in runners with neutral or supinated feet. Runners with pronated feet using standard shoes had a higher injury risk compared to those with neutral feet.
Takeaways from this study:
- With cushioned running shoes, some motion control may be necessary to limit injury risk in recreational runners.
- Recreational runners with pronated feet using neutral shoes may be at an increased risk of injury.
- Runners with pronated feet may be advised to try motion control shoes for running.
We are not trying to cherry-pick research by covering just one study, but it is modern with sound method and practice.
It would seem from their results that those who overpronate severely might want to stay away from switching to neutral shoes, while those who only mildly overpronate could still probably be fine if they are careful (but it still may increase risk of injury).
If you wish to read the entire paper, you can find it here.
What Does This Study Mean For Your Transition from Stability to Neutral Running Shoe?
So from this study, it might not be looking too good for those overpronators looking to switch into a neutral running shoe. However, this study may not tell the entire story.
While it was conducted well with sound methodology, this is still just a single study with a relatively small sample size (n=372) when compared to the entire population of runners.
As an individual, your needs may be different compared to others, so if you are a mild-moderate overpronator that is looking to switch into neutral running shoes then you should still feel confident in giving that a try if you want.
Only you truly understand your body, so it might still be possible for you to run in a neutral running shoe if you wish (but you do so at your own risk).
Tips For Switching From Stability to Neutral Shoes
- Walk Around The House Barefoot - This only applies to those who are able to walk around barefoot without pain for 30 minutes to 1 hour around the house. If you can walk barefoot without pain, this is a great way to help your feet and legs strengthen subtly with a very low risk for injury.
- Walking in Neutral Shoes First - If you have been in stability running shoes for many years, it will be best to start your adjustment by walking this type of running shoes for a month or two before even taking your first running step in them. Keep running in your stability shoes for the time being.
- Transition Gradually - The worst thing you can do is switch from running 100% in stability shoes to running 100% in neutral shoes (especially if you overpronate). Start by adding a neutral running shoes into your running shoe rotation for short and easy runs (once or twice per week), then slowly increase the days and volume in your neutral shoes. If you feel pain while switching, go back to stability running shoes for a week to recover and hop back into neutral shoes gradually again.
- Try Strengthening Exercises - To supplement your transition, try incorporating strengthening exercises for your feet, legs, and hips. This transition will require greater strength and mobility throughout your entire lower body (especially your post chain).
- A simple sample program might look like:
Towel Scrunches - 3x10 each foot
Straight Leg Calf Raise - 3x10
Bent Knee Calf Raise - 3x10
Alternating Toe Taps - 3x10 each leg
Single-Leg RDL - 3x8 each leg
Single-Leg RDL - 3x8 each leg
Calf Stretch 3x:30 seconds each leg
- Be Patient - This transition will be a long process if you want to be successful and safe. Take your time and do not rush. Give your feet and legs time to gain strength and mobility so it can handle the transition as it progresses.
Conclusion: Neutral vs Stability
Research shows that it is safe for a mild to moderate overpronator to switch from stability shoes because the body can handle that amount of overpronation without an increased risk of injury, with all else created equal (training volume, recovery, etc.). However, severe overpronators should stick with stability running shoes.
Whether or not you feel empowered or discouraged about switching running shoes, hopefully, you have a much better grasp of your personal situation and how you might be able to implement a plan to get where you want to be.
If you think that you might be too severe of an overpronator to switch to a different running shoe, then that is totally ok! The primary goal is to stay healthy and run in whatever capacity that’s best for you, so try not to get down on yourself.
There is no “right” shoe to wear for everyone...that’s why there are so many different brands and models on the market!
If you think you might be in a position to switch into stability shoes then that is great too! Just be careful and patient during your transition, as it might take much longer for your body to adjust to the new stresses than your mind.
Give yourself a realistic plan to follow and listen to your body. Do not risk injury by forcing a quick transition to neutral shoes.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.