Once you get into running, you quickly realize that there are a lot of shoes out there and a lot of opinions about the right type of shoe for particular types of runners.
This is not unwarranted. Each runner has their own unique qualities. From the size and shape of your foot, to your arches, to your running stride, no other runner is quite like you.
Therefore, getting to know the vocabulary of running, and how it relates to how you run, is critical. It can help you get the most out of training, avoid injury, and know what type of shoes to seek out. Two stride-related terms that get tossed around a lot are “overpronation” and “underpronation.” This is a good starting point for learning about how running stride affects equipment choice.
In this article, we’ll discuss these two different ways of walking and running, with a focus on how to find shoes for your foot type.
The standard thinking is that overpronators need stability shoes and underpronators need cushioned, neutral shoes. We’ll also cover why that line of thinking may not always be accurate.
What is Overpronation?
Since pronation simply means how your foot naturally rolls when you walk or run, “overpronation” means that your ankle rolls inward more than usual when you take a step. Because it’s rolled inward when you’re ready to push off, your big toe and second toe have to push off, causing your foot to roll in even more.
Typically, people who overpronate are more susceptible to strains in their big toe and second toe. This makes sense, given the mechanics. They are also more likely to get shin splints due to the foot rotating more than it should. This rotation makes the tibia rotate more than it should.
Often, overpronators have flat feet. But it’s not the case that if you have flat feet, you’ll automatically be someone who overpronates.
What is Underpronation?
Underpronation is also known as supination, and it’s the opposite of overpronation. It’s rolling your foot outward when you take a step while walking or running.
Unlike overpronation, where your big toe and second toe are doing all the work, your little toes and outer edge of your foot do all the work in underpronation. Although it isn’t always the case, people who underpronate tend to have high arches.
Due to all this extra stress on your foot, people who underpronate can suffer from many injuries, including iliotibial band syndrome and plantar fasciitis.
Why Does It Matter if I Overpronate or Underpronate?
Knowing your body is extremely helpful when running. It helps to know what shoes are going to be best for you. Knowing if you overpronate or underpronate can help you determine the right type of shoes for your stride.
Shoes for Overpronators
Generally, it’s recommended that overpronators should purchase stability or motion-control shoes. Typically, stability shoes are recommended for mild issues, motion-control shoes are recommended for more pronounced issues, and custom orthotics are recommended for severe issues.
Shoes for Underpronators
On the other hand, underpronators tend to need neutral, cushioned shoes. For more mild or somewhat pronounced issues, neutral, flexible shoes or cushioned shoes tend to be recommended, while custom orthotics are recommended for underpronators with severe issues.
Why Do I Need to Wear the Right Shoe for My Gait?
Growing up, my mom always talked about using items the way they were intended to be used (like sliding down the slide, not walking up it) and getting things that fit right. It’s the same with running shoes. The right shoe for your gait makes a difference.
I don’t know about you, but I try to make my runs as comfortable as possible. If you’re an overpronator, you’ll likely find stability shoes more comfortable, as your foot will have fewer opportunities to move.
Similarly, underpronators tend to prefer more cushioning. Stability shoes will feel too stiff, while neutral or more plush shoes will add the spring high-arched feet struggle to provide on their own.
Obviously, as runners, we’re all about preventing injuries. There is a possibility that wearing a neutral shoe as an overpronator may lead to injuries in the feet, ankles, and knees.
This is, however, up for some debate. There are general patterns, but this hasn’t been proven. But what everyone can agree on is that it’s important to purchase shoes that are a good fit for you personally, accounting for things like overpronation and underpronation.
How to Determine If You Overpronate or Underpronate
There are a couple ways to determine what your gait pattern is. We’ll list them in order of how easy and quickly it will be for you to do them.
Check Your Shoes
This one is pretty easy. If you’ve been running for a while, check the wear pattern on your running shoes. Do you see a lot of wear on the inner side of the shoe? You’re probably an overpronator. Do you see more wear on the outer edge of the shoe? You’re probably an underpronator.
Check Your Arches Doing a Wet Feet Test
Another option, especially if you haven’t been running for a long time, is to do a wet feet test. Simply wet your feet and then place them on a paper bag, paper towel, or even the floor if it will make an imprint.
Then examine what your footprint looks like. If you have a medium arch, meaning that roughly half of your arch is filled in, you have normal pronation.
But if your arch area is mostly filled in, you likely overpronate. If you can’t see an arch at all (it’s a blank space), you probably underpronate.
It’s worth noting, though, that arch height does not always correlate to overpronation or underpronation. That’s why looking at the wear pattern on your shoes may be more helpful.
Get Fitted at a Running Store
Finally, you can always get fitted at a running store. Typically, there will be someone there who is an expert in running shoes and who has been trained to recognize gait patterns. You may have to run or walk outside for the salesperson to figure out if you overpronate or underpronate.
Are Insoles an Option?
In short, yes. Insoles—whether they are custom or over-the-counter—can help with overpronation or underpronation. Based on how they are designed, they can add arch support, stability, or cushioning to a shoe.
Insoles are especially good for adding support for overpronators who have shoes without stability devices like dress shoes, casual sneakers, and cleats. So even if you have a great pair of running shoes as an overpronator, you still might want to check out insoles for other types of shoes.
What About Barefoot Running?
People who heel strike tend to have more issues with overpronation than runners who land on their forefeet like barefoot runners.
Although there is still much more to be examined in the field of barefoot running, one study found that barefoot running can improve overpronation in runners. This means that you might be able to solve your overpronation just by running without shoes.
Overall Importance of Overpronation and Underpronation
In the end, overpronation or underpronation don’t necessarily affect your strength as a runner. Pronation is a natural motion, and how your feet move falls on a spectrum. There isn’t a lot of science to backup the overall importance of overpronation and underpronation. You’ll see the terms a lot on shoe websites, but they are less important than people make them out to be. You can be a strong runner with either.
For example, one study found that military recruits who overpronated were given motion control shoes, but had the same injury rate as recruits who trained in military boots. The evidence is mixed as to whether or not specific shoes will actually help a specific problem.
Runners and walkers can be flexible with their shoes regardless of how much they overpronate or underpronate. And you definitely don’t need to buy a several hundred dollar pair of shoes that you can’t afford, trying to correct a problem some salesperson said you had.
Ultimately, you should go by comfort with your running shoes. The correct shoes for you will be the ones that are the most comfortable. And that might be a neutral shoe even for someone who is technically an overpronator.