What Is a Neutral Running Shoe? The Basics of Buying Footwear for a Neutral Stride

Buying a pair of running shoes is not as straightforward as one thinks. In fact, choosing the perfect footwear for runners requires some research–about shoes, and about your own feet. One of the primary considerations is the running pattern of the user, which is critical to maximizing comfort and minimizing injury risk.

What does this mean? It means you can’t just pick shoes based on product reviews that swoon about comfort or looks and assume that they will be good for your feet. Different shoes are designed to work with how different runners contact the ground. Some runners have feet that roll inward as they land. Others have feet that roll outward.

When a runner just buys off-the-shelf without understanding their running behavior, they risk discomfort, potentially to the point of injury. If you can’t answer “What is a neutral running shoe?” or “What is barefoot running footwear?” or whether you over-pronate, under-pronate, or run neutrally, then read on. Your feet will thank you.

Determining Your Running Pattern

The first step in understanding whether neutral running shoes are for you is to check the wear pattern on your current pair of shoes. Whether you are a trail runner, road runner, or just someone who works running into a fitness program as a type of cross-training, knowing your running pattern and the terms to describe it is important. The key term here is pronation: where the balls of the feet, and a small portion of the heel are centralized.

  • Neutral Pronation

The word pronation simply means the natural roll of the ankle during your stride. It is normal for your foot to roll inward about 15 degrees as it contacts the ground. This motion helps absorb the impact or walking, running, and jumping, which relieves pressure on the feet, ankles, and knees. If your foot rolls about this much, you have neutral pronation. This article is for you.

  • Over-pronation

Over-pronation can be spotted by checking the inside edge of a shoe’s heel. If the inside heel of your shoes shows more wear than the rest of the heel, your feet roll inward more than the normal 15 degrees. This is over-pronation. This is a fairly common condition, and often coincides with fallen arches or flat feet. Over-pronators have difficulty absorbing the shocks of running, risking knee pain and other ailments.

  • Supination (also called under-pronation)

Supination can be spotted by checking how the outer edge of a shoe’s heel is worn. This condition is fairly rare, and coincides with high arches. Since high arches can reduce your foot’s ability to flex with impact, supinators might look for more cushiony shoes than the recommendations below.

What Is a Neutral Running Shoe Best for? 

One should buy their running shoes according to their running pattern. For this article, we are going to focus on shoes for the people in the middle: the neutral striders.

Neutral running shoes are for those with neutral or basic pronation. But mild pronators will do well in neutral shoes as well. Neutral shoes offer some amount of shock absorption, as well as an arch-side or medial support.

In general, shoes for neutral runners avoid the bulky stability or motion-control features of shoes for serious over-pronators. Because neutral shoes do not need to provide stability for the foot and compensation for flat feet, they can be somewhat lighter and more streamlined.

On the other hand, neutral runners typically do not need the additional cushioning favored by under-pronators struggling with foot flexibility. Again, this can lead to slightly lighter shoes.

And if you are a neutral runner, don’t discount “barefoot” shoes that offer the bare minimum of protection and support, and are by definition neutral. Proponents of barefoot shoes, and even actual barefoot running, insist that these minimal shoes, or avoiding shoes altogether, forces a runner toward a neutral stride (a conclusion open to debate). These shoes may have no cushioning or support in the heel pad…just a thin layer between the ground and the skin. Barefoot shoes have “zero drop,” meaning the toe and the heel are on the same level, as opposed to traditional shoes, which elevate the heel.

The Best Neutral Running Shoes on the Market

Knowing what a neutral running shoe is helps in finding the best footwear for your running needs. There are plenty of makes and models of neutral shoes. Here are some of the best:

Mizuno Wave Creation 20

The Mizuno Wave Creation claims to be the perfect choice for neutral runners. Mizuno’s Intercool feature provides a midsole ventilation system, reducing both humidity and heat build-up. This neutral running shoe is popular for its durability and excellent cushioning.

Nike Men’s Air Zoom Vomero 14

The Nike Men’s Air Zoom Vomero+ promises to maximize the runner’s performance by helping position the foot closer to the surface using the Zoom Air shock absorbing system. The road-specific shoe is light and comfortable for those with neutral pronation. This model also has a pocket found underneath the sock liner, where you can place a nanosensor to maximize the Nike+ iPod sports kit hookup.

Saucony Kinvara 10

The Saucony Kinvara promises a comfortable fit. It is a light running shoe that’s equally at home in a short speed workout as it is providing stability and comfort for longer runs.

ASICS Gel-Nimbus 21

The ASICS Gel-Nimbus boasts excellent cushioning and shock absorption. Lightweight and comfortable, this shoe also boasts a ComforDry insole feature to allow the feet to stay dry. It is perfect for those with under-pronating and neutral strides.

Understanding Running Shoes Is Crucial

Many people think that buying running shoes is just a matter of getting a pair off the shelves or ordering online. However, this is not true.

Those who are serious about running and want to invest in buying shoes are better off understanding the different categories of running shoes and knowing their own running pattern. This is crucial in determining which kind of running shoe will work best for you. Don’t assume you, or your shoes, are neutral, or that all shoes are basically the same.

Those with basic pronation–neutral runners–are lucky as there are a lot of shoemakers offering high-quality neutral running footwear for a range of budgets.

The Wired Runner