The type of arch a runner has and the way the runner pronates will determine the type of running shoe they should buy: Stability, Cushioned or Motion Control. These are the broad categories with some variations to accommodate different arch types and running styles.
Knowing the type of arch you have will help you determine what type of running shoes you will need. The suggestions here are generalizations. To get an accurate understanding of the shoe type you should purchase visit a local running store and have a gait analysis done. Even within a shoe category there are different styles and models of shoes that will be better for different feet and body types.
Besides having a gait analysis done, you can look at your current shoes to give information as to what type of shoes you need. Look at the wear patterns of the soles. The wear on the heel tells you whether you strike your heel excessively hard. But the wear on the toes will tell you whether you pronate normally, underpronate or overpronate. If your ankles and feet roll in to the big toe, then you probably have flat feet and overpronate. A strong wear pattern on the outside toes (smaller toes) show that you underpronate and probably have high arches. More medium, or normal, arches will pronate normally from the outside of the heel to the ball of the foot. There will be more wear in the area behind the first 2 or 3 toes.
Getting the right shoe for your foot type and body mechanics will mean fewer injuries and less pain in your joints. The wrong type of shoes can cause pain in the ankles, knees, hips and lower back. If you have flat feet or high arches, the right shoes may feel odd at first because they are trying to help your body absorb the impact and distribute the weight of each stride. You get used to the shoe doing its job: especially if you see nagging aches and pains disappear.
A person with a middle arch, or commonly called a normal arch, will typically use stability shoes. This person tends to run by landing towards the outside of the heel and rolling through the foot to push off with the ball of the foot. This is normal pronation. A stability shoe promotes this motion by helping the runner to not roll excessively in or out during foot-strike and toe-off.
Because the other types of shoes force the foot to travel either to the outside of the shoe (correcting overpronation) or to the inside of the shoe (correcting underpronation) a runner with a middle arch should use stability shoes.
A heavier runner (typically considered more than 180 pounds) that needs stability shoes should consider stability plus, or stability+ shoes. They are a bit stiffer than a normal stability shoe and will help support the extra weight. These are also recommended for people putting in high weekly mileage as they are more durable. They tend to be heavier though.
A runner with a high arch tends to underpronate, or supinate. This is means that their tendency is to land on the outside of the heel and transfer their weight through the stride towards the outside of the shoe. They never roll their ankle and foot towards the inside like you would for normal pronation. A cushioned shoe is what this runner needs to help correct the effects of underpronation.
The problem with underpronation is that all the weight is absorbed through a very small portion of the foot. Because the foot and ankle are stiff and rigid in this type of runner, they don't dissipate the shock of each stride efficiently. They typically will have more knee pain than other runners.
A cushioned shoe has a high arch support allowing the weight distribution to spread throughout the surface of the shoe and not just on the outside of the foot. Cushioned shoes are more flexible, allowing the runner's foot to pronate more naturally.
Motion Control Shoes
Runners with flat feet, or low arches, pronate too much. Overpronation occurs when the runner's foot and arch "break down" during the weight transfer from heel to toe. The ankle rolls too far inside causing the runner to push off with only his big toe instead of the ball of the foot. This can lead to foot, ankle and joint pains. A flat footed runner needs motion control shoes.
Motion control shoes are very stiff and help limit the amount of roll that the foot experiences from the outside of the heel to the inside of the toe. These shoes help the runner use more of the middle of the foot. They also provide the most support of the three types of shoes.
Pairing up the Right Running Shoe for Each Arch Type
Generally speaking each of the three arch types correspond with the different running shoe categories.
- Stability Shoe = Middle Arch
- Cushioned Shoe = High Arch
- Motion Control Shoe = Low Arch
There are cases where the foot mechanics and the running style of an individual runner can alter the shoe category they should buy. The risk of doing permanent damage by wearing the wrong type of shoes is slim. But the wrong shoes can cause unnecessary aches and pains for the runner. It is best to have a coach or running store employee look at your feet and running style to help determine what type of shoes you need. Having a gait analysis done is often free at a local running store if you buy a pair of shoes from them. When you talk to a coach, or have a gait analysis done, be sure to take an old pair of running shoes that they can examine. It will help them make the right recommendation.
If you are just starting out as a runner, or even if you have been running for a long time, take the time to examine your foot and running shoe types to determine which shoes are best for you. Try on several shoes from the recommended category. While there are 3 major types of shoes, there is quite a bit of variation in how shoes feel.