Stability vs Motion Control Running Shoes – What’s the Difference?

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If you overpronate, you already know you need a supportive pair of shoes with excellent stability. But when shopping for running shoes, you will likely come across two types of supportive shoes: stability vs motion control.

They’re often used interchangeably, but the two have some important differences. And trust us when we say, you don’t want motion control shoes unless you absolutely need them!

Let’s dive into the comparison to get the right shoe for your needs.

What Is a Stability Shoe?

A stability shoe is a shoe designed to counteract mild to moderate overpronation. It features extra support in the arch that stops your foot from rolling in as you walk or run. Stability shoes are often a little heavier than neutral shoes.

Features of Stability Shoes

Stability shoes often have what’s known as a medial post. This part of the shoe is found in the midsole on the medial side (read: inside). It’s a denser, less compressible piece of foam than the rest of the midsole. It’s stays firm and doesn’t cave to the rolling motion of the foot.

Some stability shoes, like the Brooks Adrenaline GTS, have moved away from the traditional medial post and opted for GuideRails. These are less intrusive pieces of plastic on either side of your foot and only kick in when needed to provide light support and guidance.

Benefits of Stability Shoes

Stability shoes offer good support without too much restriction. They’re close to neutral shoes in fit and feel, but provide extra support to realign your feet when they overpronate.

Some of the newer stability shoe models with GuideRails and other less-intrusive stability features can be worn by neutral runners without any discomfort.

What is a Motion Control Running Shoe?

Motion control shoes perform the same function as stability shoes, but they possess more robust support to control the foot’s motion during the gait cycle.

They’re designed for severe overpronators, and have extra support in the heel and more rigidity throughout the shoe. They’re also quite a bit heavier than stability shoes.

Features of Motion Control Shoes

Motion control shoes tend to have more hardcore support. They’ll also have good arch support and use a medial post or GuideRail system.

But they’re likely also to have tough heel cups that prevent movement in your heel, more sturdy ankle support to restrict unnecessary movement, and more robust anti-pronation systems, like a rollbar.

Benefits of Motion Control Shoes

Motion control shoes have the same benefits as stability shoes, but come with the added bonus of much more robust support.

With motion control shoes on your feet, you’ll have less range of motion thanks to some serious ankle and heel support.

Research has shown that motion-control shoes can help reduce the chance of pronation-related injury. So they’re worth considering for severe overpronators, whether your goal is to prevent pronation-related injuries or improve your running performance.

Key Differences Between Stability and Motion Control Shoes

It can be hard to tell if a shoe is a stability or motion control shoe just by looking at it.

Here’s how you can tell them apart:

Support Level

Stability shoes are excellent at stabilizing mild to moderate overpronators. Motion control shoes kick that support level up a notch and have more structured, stable, and restrictive elements.

Weight

Typically, a motion control shoe will be heavier than a stability shoe, thanks to the extra support.

Both stability shoes and motion control shoes can weigh in excess of 300 grams—11 ounces—but motion control shoes will likely end up being heavier of the two.

Flexibility

Stability shoes tend to retain a little flexibility in the sole and the upper, to allow for the foot’s natural movement as you run.

On the other hand, motion control shoes restrict that flexibility and have a stiff sole and a tighter upper. Less flexibility means less room for the foot to move out of a neutral position.

Materials

Stability shoes will likely be made of lighter, more flexible material, whereas motion control shoes will probably be constructed from heavier, thicker, and harder materials.

How Do Stability and Motion Control Shoes Work?

So now that you know what each shoe does, how exactly do stability and motion control shoes work? Here’s a quick overview of why they work well for their purpose.

Biomechanics of Running

To understand how stability shoes and motion control shoes work, it’s important first to understand the biomechanics of running.

When your foot lands on the ground, it tends to land on the outer heel first, then roll from the outer edge of the foot onto the inner big toe before pushing off. The degree to which this motion occurs is quite individual.

Neutral feet—considered “normal” pronation—roll inward at about 15 degrees. Overpronation is when that inward roll is more than 15 degrees, which means the foot moves out of its “normal” range of motion.

This slight extra movement can place excess strain on the muscles, tissues, and joints of the foot as it forces them out of their regular ranges of limitation. It makes the feet, knees, and even the hips more prone to injury, as an out-of-place foot has a knock-on effect on the kinetic chain.

Motion control and stability shoes are designed to stop this excess degree of rotation in the foot. They do that by providing “blocks” so the foot physically can’t roll in that direction.

Role of Medial Post

The medial post is the traditional stability feature that’s been around since the 70’s It’s a section of dense foam under the arch that isn’t very compressive.

Compare this to neutral shoes where, as the foot rolls, the midsole foam compresses, allowing it to roll inward.

With stability shoes, the medial post prevents the midsole from compressing and keeps your feet from rolling in.

Role of Guide Rails

Guide rails are a newer technology, and they provide lighter support than a medial post. They’re solid strips of hard foam built into the shoe along each side of the heel. They serve a similar purpose to a medial post, just in a different position.

When the foot begins to roll, it’s met by the solid guide rail. Because the guide rail doesn’t give way under the force of the foot, the foot ends up staying in a neutral position throughout the stride.

Roll of Ankle & Heel Support

Motion control shoes tend to feature more ankle and heel support than stability shoes. Severe overpronators may see less success with traditional stability shoes, as their overpronation is so severe that it simply overrides the medial post or guide rails.

To counteract this, motion control shoes introduce strong support in both the heel and around the ankle. This “double layer” of restriction is often more effective at stopping that rolling because the foot is held in a natural position in more than one place.

Shape (Last) of the Shoes

The shape of the mold that the shoe is built on can also make a difference. Motion control shoes are usually built on a straight last, meaning they make more contact with the ground in order to offer more stability. Stability shoes tend to be built on a semi-curved last, making them more flexible.

You can see this in action by looking at the bottom of the shoe. If the outsole looks boxy, then it’s likely a straight last. If it has a slight hourglass shape, it’s built on a curved or semi-curved last.

Arch Support

Both stability shoes and motion control shoes feature good arch support, which is the first key to preventing your foot from rolling too much. They tend to have medium to high arch support, so finding what works for you is important.

Wider Base

A wide base means more surface area to connect to the ground when you land. This provides inherent stability, especially when compared to a thinner base, which has the potential for the foot to wobble when it lands.

Stiffer Materials

Both stability and motion control shoes tend to be made of stiffer materials than neutral shoes. This doesn’t mean they’re less plush, but it does mean they’re less flexible. There’s less chance for your feet to move within the shoe or for the sole to twist, keeping your foot in a neutral position for as long as you wear it.

Which Shoe Should You Use?

How do you know if a stability or motion control shoe is right for you? Here’s a quick guide.

Stability Shoes

A stability shoe will be a good choice if you’re a mild overpronator or feel like you’re unstable on your feet when wearing neutral shoes. If you’ve been wearing neutral shoes, but you’re constantly having foot pain, ankle pain, or getting injured, you may want to try a pair of stability shoes.

Motion Control Shoes

If you’ve been wearing stability shoes, but you’re still dealing with overpronation-related injuries, it might be a good idea to consider upgrading to motion-control shoes. Unless you can tell immediately that you’re a severe overpronator, it might be best to try stability shoes first.

You should also choose a motion-control shoe from the start if you’re a heavier runner who overpronates. The extra support will be valuable in keeping your feet firmly in place and preventing rolling, as a higher body weight means more pressure on the feet as you run.

Tips for Making the Right Choice

Wondering whether or not you need a stability shoe or motion control shoe? Here’s how to analyze your feet to figure it out.

Consult With a Podiatrist or Gait Analyst

The best way to know what kind of shoes are appropriate for your feet is to consult with a podiatrist or a gait analyst. They know what to look for so they can give you the most accurate information on your arch type, pronation type, and anything else you should look for in shoes based on your feet.

However, this is a pricey option, and not everyone’s going to be able to do this. If you have the means, we highly recommend it. But if not, you can try some of the methods below to help you make the right shoe decisions.

Do the Wet Foot Test

The wet foot test helps to nail down your arch type, which is different from your pronation type. Wet your feet and stand on a piece of cardboard, on a flat floor. Make sure you stand normally, and stand for just a few seconds before stepping off.

You probably have high arches if your footprint features a very thin sliver on the outer edge with empty or dry space underneath the arch. On the flip side, if your footprint is almost entirely wet with no dry space under the arch at all, you’ve got low or flat arches.

If you see an almost equal dry and wet section in the arch area, you most likely have a neutral foot and don’t need any kind of stability or motion-control shoe.

Check the Wear Pattern on Your Shoes

One of the easiest ways to figure out what kind of shoe you need is to check the outsoles of your old shoes. If there’s a lot more wear and tear on the inside edge of the sole, it’s an indication that you’re an overpronator.

If the wear is quite even across the whole sole, you probably don’t need a stability shoe or motion control shoe. Stick a neutral shoe. If the wear and tear is mostly on the outside edge, you’re likely an underpronator and will need to look for shoes to support you differently.

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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.