Finding the proper running shoes

When we run, our feet strike the ground in one of several generally predictable patterns depending on the shape of the feet, the size of the arches, running mechanics, and muscle strength and stabilization capability. There are, in general, three groups of runners.

The first are the “pronators” or “neutral” runners. The pronators make up about 85% of the running population. When they run, they exhibit a naturally occurring motion called pronation. During pronation, the outside area of the heel strikes the ground first and the foot then gradually rolls down and inward, finishing in a flat or neutral position as the toes push off.

The second are the “over-pronators.” Over-pronators still begin their foot strike on the outside of the heel, however, as their foot rolls down and inward, it does not stop in a flat position at the toe push-off point, but rather, continues rolling inward so the push-off occurs at the inside corner of the forefoot and big toe. The knee also “caves in” toward the inside in an over-pronator. This movement inward by the knee of an over-pronator can lead to injury if the motion is not checked by the proper running shoe. The over-pronators generally have low arches or “flat feet.”

The third are the “under-pronators” or “supinators.” These runners begin their foot strike on the outside of the heel, but remain on the outside of the foot throughout the motion of the foot on the ground until the push-off. This motion requires the least amount of stabilization in a running shoe. The supinators generally have high arches.

How do you determine if you have low, medium, or high arches? One easy way is to do the “wet foot test.” Put a piece of paper on the ground next to a bucket of water. Wet your feet in the bucket and then stand on the piece of paper. You will have left your wet footprints on the paper. Match your wet footprints on the paper with the diagrams below to find your foot type.

Low arch low arch diagram


Medium arch medium arch diagram


high arch diagramHigh arch


Shoe companies make running shoes designed to address the issues of pronation, over-pronation, and under-pronation. You will see the following labels for shoe types:  “Stability shoes” for the pronators or those with medium arches, “motion control shoes” for the over-pronators or those with low arches (flat feet), and “cushioned shoes” for the under-pronators or those with high arches.

All quality running shoe companies will offer several shoe types within each of those three broad categories. The difference in shoes within each category is usually based on your weight and frame size. For example, you may have flat feet and need a motion control shoe. However, if you also have a medium to large frame (Men – 180 pounds +, Women – 150 pounds +), you will want a motion control shoe with maximum cushioning, as well.

If you have a low arch, or flat feet, you will generally tend to over-pronate. Therefore, motion control shoes, which are designed to prevent excessive pronation movement, would be the shoes for you.

If you have a medium arch, you are probably a pronator. Therefore, you would want stability shoes, which are designed to let your foot pronate naturally.

If you have a high arch, you will most likely under-pronate. Therefore, cushioned shoes will be the ones for you. They are designed to promote a normal pronation movement.

Another way to determine what type of runner you are is to look at the wear on a previous pair of running shoes. Look at the diagrams below to see if your running shoes are worn in this way:

Over-pronatorover-pronator diagram

Neutralneutral runner diagram

Under-pronatorunder-pronator diagram

Most quality running shoe stores offer a foot strike analysis to help you purchase the correct shoe. If this service is offered, take advantage of it.

Once you determine your arch type and running mechanics, you will be prepared to purchase a properly fitting pair of running shoes to suit your specific needs. Once you find the proper shoe, they are only designed to last between 300-600 miles of running, so be sure to replace them in a timely manner to ensure you are receiving the proper support of the shoe.

You will find running to be infinitely more enjoyable and safe with the proper running shoes. Take the time to find the correct pair for you, and then hit the pavement!

2 thoughts on “Finding the proper running shoes

  1. Steve Sharp

    I’ve had a couple of injuries; calves and piriformis muscle since just before Christmas. I should probably replace my running shoes….and get some coaching for my run.

    1. Camelback Coaching Post author

      Hi Steve,

      Wearing the incorrect type of running shoe or wearing the right shoe for too long are the most common reasons for running injuries. Definitely replace your shoes first to address the injuries. Also, be mindful of the surface you are running on. Avoid hard surfaces like concrete. And I don’t know if this is the case with you, but don’t force a forefoot strike. Of course, we’re always here if you’d like to do a run technique analysis session.



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