How To Use Your Shoes To Tell If You Overpronate Or Underpronate

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Do you know if you have a neutral foot or if you underpronate or overpronate?

Most runners don’t know, but the good news is that it’s not hard to figure out. Using your shoes to tell if you overpronate or underpronate is one of the easiest ways to figure it out.

Here’s how to find your pronation from your shoes. We’ll also cover why you should know what your foot type is. Get this right, and you’ll find that your running comfort will improve!

What Is Pronation?

Pronation is how your foot moves naturally as you walk or run. As your foot lands on the ground, it doesn’t just land on the heel and move to the toe in one straight line.

It has a bit of a roll—usually from the heel’s outer edge to the big toe. Every step goes in a wave motion, with about a 15 percent inward roll for people with a neutral gait.

This pattern occurs to help absorb shock as you land and distribute your body weight equally across your feet. However, when the roll is noticeably more or less than 15 percent, the motion can cause excess strain on the foot instead of helping.

The Three Types of Pronation

There are three different types of pronation. Most people pronate the same way on both feet; however, there are some cases where someone pronates differently on each foot.

All three pronation types affect foot biomechanics differently, so it’s important to understand the difference.

Neutral Pronation

Around 30 percent of people—runner or not—have neutral pronation, meaning your feet roll within the 15% we mentioned earlier. This means they generally do an excellent job absorbing shock and distributing weight optimally across the foot as you walk or run. The vast majority of shoes—casual, dress shoes, and athletic shoes—are made for the neutral foot.

Overpronation

Overpronation is when the foot rolls inwards excessively. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, but each requires more attention than the typical neutral foot to reduce the risk of injury.

As the foot rolls inward, the whole lower leg moves out of alignment. The knee may also roll a little unnaturally inward in the case of severe overpronators, which can strain the hips.

There are many reasons a person could become an overpronator. Sometimes, it’s just the way their genetics are. In other cases, muscle imbalances, tight muscles, injury, or wearing the wrong shoes can lead to overpronation.

The condition is sometimes also called flat feet because instead of the arch being used as a “spring” to absorb shock, it flattens against the floor or shoe. About 65 percent of the population overpronates!

Underpronation (Also Called Supination)

In contrast, underpronation—also called supination—only affects about 5 percent of people. This is when the foot rolls outwards too much—going through the whole step on the outer edge of the foot. Sometimes, the foot’s inner edge doesn’t even touch the ground.

In this case, the arch can’t absorb shock as it doesn’t even come into play during the step! This causes the impact of every step to jar the tissues and joints up the leg and can lead to several other issues.

Importance of Identifying Your Pronation Type

Once you know your pronation type, and you pair that up with the corresponding type of shoe, you should find that your shoes become more comfortable. An overpronator wearing neutral shoes may experience discomfort, just as someone with neutral pronation may find stability shoes quite uncomfortable.

It’s also important to know that your pronation type doesn’t just affect your feet. When your feet aren’t properly aligned or move out of their range of motion, it has a knock-on effect on the joints, ligaments, and tissues above.

How to Identify Your Pronation Type Using Shoes

One of the easiest ways to identify your pronation type is by examining your worn running shoes. Here’s how:

Indications of Overpronation

Are you an overpronator? Here’s what you should see on—and in—your shoes if it’s the case. Make sure to grab an older, well-used pair of shoes to examine.

Wear Patterns on the Sole

If your foot rolls inward more than normal, the inside edge of your shoe’s outsole will be more worn than the middle and the outer edge. You should notice that the inner edges are smooth, while the outer edges might look like they haven’t even been walked on!

The inner edge of the heel especially is likely to have worn down a lot, as well as lots of wear near the big toe, where you would be pushing off with each step.

Compression of Midsole

Like the outsole, all the wear and tear on the midsole will likely be on the inner side, in the arch. By “wear and tear,” we mean that the midsole will be flatter on the inside—where your rolling foot has been compressing it every time you walk or run—and it may not even provide arch support anymore.

Inward Tilt of the Shoe

If you place the shoes on a flat surface and look at them from behind, you’ll notice that the shoes tilt slightly inwards, like they’re leaning towards each other. This is due to the extra wear on the inside of the sole, where it’s worn away, so the outsole is no longer even.

Signs of Underpronation

Underpronation offers a similar set of signs, but it’s all concentrated on the outer edge of the shoe. Find a pair that you’ve worn a lot and check them out.

Wear Patterns on the Sole

The wear and tear will be on the outer edge, from heel to toe. It may be wearing quite thin near the pinky toe, which is where you would be pushing off on each step. In addition, there may even be a small hole in the upper near the pinky, as the foot shifts onto its side within the shoe as you step.

Lack of Compression in Midsole

The midsole will be more compressed on the lateral side. If the shoe has high arch support, you may not notice the compression so much, but you may notice that the arch support begins to feel more intrusive or causes pain, which can happen when the outer edge has fallen in, and the arch shifts a little.

If the shoe had little arch support, to begin with, you might notice the compression on the outer edge as your foot may feel like it’s sinking in. But in most cases, as it happens gradually, your feet get used to it. So the best way to check is to get a visual!

Outward Tilt of the Shoe

When you place the pair of shoes on a flat surface and view them from the back, you’ll notice the shoes leaning slightly away from one another. The shoes cannot stand up straight as the outsole wears down on the outside edge.

Neutral Wear Pattern

A neutral wear pattern looks like nothing! The wear and tear is very even across the shoe… So much so that you might struggle to see it at all.

Wear on the Sole

If the shoe you’re examining has been well-worn, the outsole should be smooth. But, it should be equally smooth everywhere. On the other hand, if the shoe is new, there might not be a lot of wear on the outsole, but it will still look new across the entire outsole.

Midsole Not Overly Compressed

The midsole will also not be overly compressed. The arch support will still be where it should be, although it may feel a little less springy than when you first got the shoes.

How to Confirm Your Pronation Type

Learning how to tell your pronation type from your shoes is a handy skill. But if you’re a runner, it’s a good idea to confirm it so you can be sure you’re supporting your feet properly. Here are some ways to do that.

Gait Analysis

You can get a comprehensive gait analysis done by a biokineticist. They’ll put you on a treadmill or similar device, videotape your stride, and then play it back and point out any potential abnormalities in how you step.

Some running stores will also offer gait analysis—some for free and some for a small fee. You will have to shop around for options near you.

Pressure Plate Analysis

A pressure plate analysis is more technical than a gait analysis. It works by analyzing how much pressure each part of your foot places on the plate as you take a step. This is an effective way of seeing where most of your body weight is distributed.

Podiatrist

A podiatrist can help diagnose your pronation by analyzing how you walk. Podiatrists are usually easy to find, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one near you.

Video Analysis

If you don’t want to go to anyone for analysis, you can video your stride and analyze it yourself. It works well if you have a treadmill or can borrow it for a bit.

Videotape yourself from the back and the front. You can get footage of yourself both walking and running. When downloading the footage onto a computer, you want to slow it down and focus on your feet.

You can see if they’re turning outwards or inwards while you run. Remember, though, that if you have a neutral foot, you may not be able to see anything unusual. Also, if your overpronation or supination is mild, it may not be very noticeable.

Wet Foot Test

This is an easy test you can do at home. You only need a flat surface, a piece of cardboard, and something to wet your feet with. It’s best to use cardboard, not paper because paper will be too thin.

Place the cardboard on the floor. Wet your feet—they don’t need to be soaked, but enough to transfer your footprint to the cardboard. Then, stand on the cardboard for a second or two.

Just step onto it and stand like normal. Don’t move your feet around to get your footprint on the surface. Stand like normal and step off. Your feet will leave an impression.

If there’s just a thin strip along the outside of your foot, chances are you’re an underpronator. If your footprint looks solid with hardly any dry space, you could be flat-footed—an overpronator.

A neutral footprint will have an almost equal wet and dry section in the arch area. You should notice that the arch didn’t touch the ground. It will be the most “natural” looking of the footprints.

Can You Improve Pronation?

You can improve pronation by strengthening your feet, balancing out muscle imbalances, and making sure you wear the right shoes or insoles to support your feet. However, if you’re a natural overpronator or underpronator, it’s important to realize that you may be unable to “fix” it.

You can’t always alter your biomechanics. But you can support your feet the way they are and reduce the negative effects of pronation. By supporting your feet, you prevent excessive rolling and can hold your feet in a neutral position for as long as you wear shoes.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

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