What Is a Neutral Running Shoe?

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If you’re like most runners, you probably haven’t paid much attention to the ins and outs of running shoes. You might have heard of neutral running shoes, stability running shoes, and motion-control running shoes – but what are they?

In this article, we’ll cover neutral running shoes, what they are, and who should be wearing them.

While they are the most common type of running shoe, they’re not the right choice for everyone. So it’s in your feet’s best interests to confirm whether or not they’re right for you!

Here’s what you need to know about neutral running shoes…

What Is a Neutral Running Shoe?

A neutral running shoe is designed for runners with a neutral gait. Neutral shoes generally have minimal arch support, but you can find them in a wide variety of designs, including:

  • Maximum-cushioned shoes
  • Minimalist shoes
  • Stiff-soled shoes
  • Flexible-soled shoes
  • Breathable, light uppers
  • Stiffer, leather uppers
  • Wide or narrow options
  • Road, trail, or cross-training shoes

Who Should Wear a Neutral Running Shoe?

Runners with a neutral running gait should wear a neutral running shoes. To understand this in more detail, let’s look at what it means to have a neutral gait.

What Is a Neutral Running Gait?

When you walk or run, most people’s feet naturally roll inward from heel to toe. Usually, the roll is slight—about 15%—and doesn’t affect the joint or the kinetic chain. This is what’s known as a neutral gait.

Some people overpronate, which means their feet roll in excessively, more than 15%. And for others, it rolls outward – called supination. If your feet roll in this manner, you probably would feel most comfortable wearing a specialized shoe.

For overpronators, these are stability or motion-control shoes. Runners who supinate often find a highly cushioned shoe most comfortable.

But if your foot only rolls inwards slightly, you don’t need a specialized shoe and can run perfectly well in a neutral shoe.

How to Tell If You Have a Neutral Running Gait

Most runners have a neutral gait, but don’t assume you do! You can do a quick test by wetting your feet and standing on a piece of cardboard on a flat surface.

If you can see a very thin line on the outer edge of your foot, you probably supinate. You might overpronate if you hardly see a dry space throughout the middle of your foot. However, if you see an almost equal wet and dry space in the arch, you probably have a neutral foot.

You can also figure this out by looking at how your old running shoes have worn across the outsole.

If the wear is equal across both the outer and inner sides of the shoe, then you most likely have a neutral foot. If you notice more wear on the inside or outside, your foot is probably not neutral.

Benefits of a Neutral Running Shoe for Neutral Feet

If you have a neutral foot, you’ll be best served by wearing a neutral shoe. The shoe’s specific design helps keep your foot joints naturally aligned, improving your balance, stability, and comfort.

This leads to a reduced risk of injury, both in the feet and ankles, and further up the kinetic chain. Also, when your feet are protected and aligned correctly, your performance should be improved.

What’s the Difference Between a Neutral Shoe and a Stability Shoe?

While neutral shoes have been designed for those with a neutral gait, stability shoes are designed for those who overpronate. Those whose foot rolls more than the normal 15% when they walk or run.

Neutral shoes don’t require extra support in the arch. However, stability shoes are designed with more robust support in the arch, which is meant to hold your foot in a neutral position so that it doesn’t roll excessively.

Many stability shoes also include other support features—GuideRails, roll bars, and medial posts—to help keep your foot in the right position. This makes them heavier than neutral shoes, as they contain more material than neutral shoes.

Can You Run In a Neutral Shoe If You Overpronate?

Most runners start with a neutral shoe. If you go to a running store and find a shoe you like the look of, the chances are higher of it being a neutral shoe, because they’re the most common.

However, those who overpronate may make the mistake of choosing a neutral shoe without realizing it’s not the most supportive for their feet. But can you run safely in a neutral shoe if you overpronate?

Firstly, it’s important to note that overpronators CAN run in neutral running shoes—but just like anyone CAN run in high heels, it’s not advisable!

The right answer typically depends on your level of pronation. If you’re a mild overpronator, you could get away with wearing a neutral shoe. You may have to use a slightly more supportive insole to give you more support than the shoes offer.

Moderate overpronators should consider a stability shoe. These use more built-in support to keep the foot in a neutral position and encourage a neutral gait rather than leaving the foot to fall over on the stride.

Severe overpronators may consider a motion control shoe. These shoes typically use more robust stability features than regular stability shoes to keep the feet in position.

Note that overpronators can run in neutral shoes, but the risk of developing foot conditions or injuring your joints further up the kinetic chain will be much higher.

While you may be able to get away with it for a few years, the repetitive rolling motion will eventually lead to problems that require extra stability. It makes more sense to start with a stability shoe from the beginning, so your feet are always properly supported.

What Level of Stability Is Ideal?

It may be a good idea to go for a lighter stability feature—like GuideRails—upfront, to give some support while still allowing your foot the flexibility it needs to build strength and move naturally. You can always move to a motion-control shoe later if your overpronation gets worse.

In the case of someone with severe flat feet that puts strain on the knees, it’s advisable to go for motion control shoes upfront.

Wearing a Stability Shoe If You Don’t Overpronate

While old-fashioned stability shoes often had clunky support features, modern stability shoes feature more subtle supportive mechanisms. Even neutral-footed runners can usually get away with wearing stability shoes.

In the case of Brooks’ GuideRails, they’re only designed to kick in IF your foot deviates from a neutral position. If your foot stays in the neutral position, as a neutral foot would, the stability features won’t even come into play.

On the other hand, features like rollbars may be more noticeable. For some runners, this will reinforce the feeling of a high-quality, stiff shoe. But for others, it may feel intrusive and ruin a good run.

It’s important to test the shoe, or at the very least, research it from the point of view of performance for neutral runners. Keep in mind that stability shoes are usually also heavier than neutral shoes.

Remember that while stability shoes won’t necessarily harm your feet, wearing them has no added benefit if you’re a neutral runner. The only time we suggest going for a stability shoe as a neutral runner is when you like a particular design or model, but it’s a stability shoe.

Can You Run In a Neutral Shoe If You Supinate?

Supination—or underpronation—is the opposite of overpronation. It happens most often to runners with unusually high arches—due to the foot’s structure, it tends to roll outward during the step instead of inward, like neutral and overpronation.

Between 5 and 10 percent of runners supinate, so it’s not common. So uncommon, in fact, that there aren’t specific shoes designed to counteract supination. This means in most cases, supinators end up wearing neutral shoes anyway.

In most cases, neutral shoes are fine for supinators. Some stability shoes can place too much pressure under the arch, worsening the outward roll of the foot. However, a mild stability shoe with light features like GuideRails could be helpful.

Ultimately, a shoe for supination should have adequate—but not excessive—arch support, a deep heel cup with a heel counter, and good enough cushioning to absorb the shock of each step.

So if you supinate, your best bet is to choose a neutral or a mild stability shoe with unobtrusive features.

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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.