Wednesday, July 2, 2008

0 How to Find The Correct Running Shoe For Your Feet & Pronation Style


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Before heading out to buy your next pair of running sneakers, I strongly recommend that you analyze your feet, your gait & your existing running shoes.

Start by looking at the soles of your feet? Do you have high, medium, or low arches? Unsure of your arch type?! Take the "wet test" over at Runners World!

Next, have a running expert analyze your gait. If possible, get a gait analysis from a knowledgeable saleperson at your local specialty running store.

One of the cool things about visiting specialty running stores is that they really take the time with you to make sure you're buying the correct shoes for your feet (i.e., foot shape, arch height, etc.) & particular gait style. They usually hire people who've got several years experience running, training, & even coaching.

It's so important to get a gait analysis before buying your shoes! Any running shoe expert worth his or her salt will be able to give you a proper analysis of the way your foot pronates.

If right about now you are asking yourself, "The way your foot pronates? Pronation? Huh, what the heck is that?", please do not fret. It's a lot less complicated than it sounds. And yes, I promise I am going to explain all of that technical mumbo-jumbo stuff in plain English in just a moment. ;-)

In layman's terms, pronation is simply a word to describe how your foot moves when it strikes the ground. Everyone pronates to some degree (otherwise, you're feet wouldn't move!), but it's just a question of whether you have normal (or what's often called "neutral") pronation, overpronation, or underpronation (a.k.a., supination).

In normal pronation, a person's foot rolls inward slightly after the outside of your heel makes initial contact with the ground. This rolling-in motion of the foot, or pronation, is what actually helps disperse the force of impact & provide the proper shock absorption when your foot hits the ground & then pushes off again to begin the motion anew. A person with normal (or neutral) pronation should have light-weight, cushioned shoes with a bit of medial (arch) support & semi-curved slip or combination lasts. Runners with normal pronation don't typically require a great deal of heel or midsole support, since they don't need to be overly concerned with stability or motion-control issues.

A person who overpronates rolls their foot inward a bit too much after landing. In other words, the foot continues to roll when it should be pushing off. ;-) The feet, in this case, are overly flexible! People carrying excessive weight, or who have knock knees or flat feet often tend to be overpronators. Overpronation puts more stress on the legs & feet, so it's really important that overpronators stretch adequately before/after exercise & also outfit themselves with the proper shoes to stabilize their running motion. Otherwise, that can mean foot, shin, & knee problems.

Overpronators need a running shoe with lots of stability & motion control, to realign their foot strike pattern & thus, correct the imbalance in their gait -- If this describes you, look for shoes with a firm, dense midsole (especially on the inner side of the shoe!) for medial/arch support, rigid & durable heel counters, straight board lasts (which have more material at the midsole & thus offer additional support for low, flexible arches), & other features which limit pronation. (If you want additional motion-control from your running shoes, you'll typically have to sacrifice a certain amount of cushioning in order to get it!) Over-the-counter orthotics & arch supports will also probably be your best friends! ;-)

Supination (or underpronation) is the exact opposite of overpronation: The foot doesn't roll inward enough after landing. In fact, the arch is lifted & the foot tends to roll in an outward fashion, falling to the outside, which, as you can imagine, typically causes stretching to the outside uppers as well as wear to the outer edges of one's running shoes. People who are bowlegged, possess high arches, &/or have tight Achilles tendons tend to be be supinators.

Like overpronation, supination also places extra stress on the feet & legs, especially on the bones, ligaments, & tendons that stabilize the ankle & the outside of the foot. The supinated foot tends to be very rigid, & since the foot is not fully capable of a complete extension of motion, it becomes unable to absorb shock properly. Plus, the weight-bearing becomes localized on the outside of the foot. If left unattended, supination can result in a whole host of podiatric problems: ankle sprain, iliotibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, peroneal tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, tailor's bunions (on the little toe), knee & back pain, excessive callousing on the outer edge of the foot, ligament ruptures, etc., to name just a few.

So again, it's very important to find a shoe which corrects this motion imbalance. Supinators should look for flexible, light-weight running shoes with curved lasts & a soft midsole to help allow for & extend the motion of the foot. This flexibility is particular important on the heel counter & medial (inner/arch) side of the foot. Cushioning is really important in the heel & forefoot, since your foot isn't doing a great job as a shock asborber.

Also, people who supinate should be sure to sufficiently stretch their calves, hamstrings, quads, & iliotibial band (i.e., the muscle fibers which form the lateral outside area of the thigh; this area is connected to the gluteal muscles & the tensor fascia lata muscle on top, while the lower part attaches to the tibia, just below the knee). Click here to see a demonstration of some of these stretching exercises.

The right shoe will neutralize/correct the imbalances in your specific gait style & foot type. Overpronators & supinators outfitted with the correct shoes will notice that their wear patterns will become more even.

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So how can you tell if you overpronate or underpronate? Simple. Check the wear pattern on your running shoes. To determine your pronation style, take the following test: Put your shoes on a high, level surface (like a table) & then look at the heels. Do they tilt inward? If so, that means you overpronate. (Overpronators have excessive wear on the inside of the shoe.) Do they tilt outward? If so, you're a supinator. (Supinators & overpronators have the exact opposite wear pattern.) Do they rest fairly evenly on the table? If so, you've got normal pronation.

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Your arches can have some effect on your pronation style as well.: Typically, people with medium arches have normal to mild pronation. People with high arches tend to supinate, whereas flat-footed runners tend to overpronate, probably to compensate for the lower angle of their arches, which doesn't typically allow for the same extended foot motion. However, there are some flat-footed runners who run on the balls of their feet, & thus, might also have a more neutral pronation.

Also, your weight will usually an effect on the type of shoes you should buy. Bigger &/or heavier runners often need more a supportive, structured shoe, particularly in the heel section, to cushion their footfalls.

When considering running shoe size & dimension, it's also crucially important to take into consideration that a person's feet will tend to swell some after running; in other words, it's a good idea to allow for some extra room in the width & length of the shoe to accommodate those factors. Some people will find they'll have to size up in running shoes, anywhere from a half-size up or more.

The more you understand about your gait, foot type, & running shoe construction, the better equipped you'll be when it comes time to look for the right shoe type at the store.

Good luck with your sneaker-shopping!

And always, I welcome your constructive comments, questions, & suggestions.

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