UNDERSTANDING NEUTRAL VS. STABILITY RUNNING SHOES
Brian Metzler | February 8, 2021
WHAT TYPE OF RUNNING SHOE YOU NEED?
There’s been a tidal change in the running shoe world in recent years, with a major shift from stability running shoes designed to control your feet to shoes that let your feet move more naturally and uninhibitedly.
Statistically speaking, we’ve gone from 70 to 75 percent of runners wearing some kind of stability running shoe for training and racing less than 10 years ago to about 70 to 75 percent wearing neutral shoes in 2019.
Why such a drastic change? What is best for you? And how do you know how to find the right shoes for you?
HOW DO NEUTRAL AND STABILITY RUNNING SHOES FUNCTION?
First things first: Whereas neutral shoes have no stabilizing features, but instead allow the foot to flex and move without any guidance, stability shoes and motion-control shoes are designed to help offset excessive pronation, or the inward rolling of a runner’s feet after impact with the ground.
Every runner naturally pronates to some degree and that’s OK, but excessive pronation can lead to common overuse injuries like Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, and patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee).
While the minimalist revolution of the early 2000s led to many shoes with little or no cushioning or protection, it also cued shoe brands and their designers to build both neutral shoes and mild stability shoes with slightly fewer guidance features that are lighter, more nimble, and more flexible—ultimately shoes that allow feet to move more freely and naturally through the gait cycle.
The advent of mild stability shoes helped melt away the old-school belief about the need for rigid control in running shoes, and as a result, the motion control category — maximum support/stability shoes that greatly limit how a foot moves while running — has become almost non-existent and stability shoes have become less domineering to a runner’s stride. And generally speaking, those changes have been a good thing.
“For years, the running shoe industry was focused on building shoes that control how a foot moves and limit how a foot moves,” says physical therapist Jay Dicharry, MPT, director of the REP Lab in Bend, Oregon, and a leading biomechanist, running gait expert and shoe company consultant. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten away from that. The more we can stop using words like stopping and limiting and controlling when it comes to running shoes, the better off we’ll be. Wearing shoes that allow the feet to move and flex naturally is the best starting point for most runners.”
But, Dicharry says, some recreational runners do need more support in their shoes than others, either by way of mild stability shoes or neutral shoes with after-market insoles that offer enhanced stability. And, he says, most runners can benefit from a bit of stability in the later miles of a long run or a marathon when the muscles in the feet and lower legs fatigue and can’t continue to maintain good running form.
BEST STABILITY SHOES FOR RUNNERS
Some of the best mild stability shoes for runners include:
- Asics GT-2000
- Brooks Adrenaline GTS
- Brooks Glycerin GTS
- Brooks Launch GTS
- HOKA ONE ONE Arahi
- Mizuno Wave Inspire
- New Balance 860
- Nike Structure
- On Cloudflyer
- Saucony Guide
BEST NEUTRAL SHOES FOR RUNNERS
Some of the best neutral running shoes include the following:
- Altra Escalante
- Brooks Ghost
- Brooks Glycerin
- HOKA ONE ONE Rincon
- Nike Infinity React Flyknit
- New Balance Fresh Foam 1080
- New Balance 880
- Nike Air Zoom Pegasus
- On Cloudswift
- Saucony Endorphin Speed
- Saucony Triumph
DO YOU NEED A NEUTRAL OR STABILITY RUNNING SHOE?
So how do you know what’s best for you? And how can you find the right shoe for you?
Start by visiting your friendly neighborhood JackRabbit running store and work with an expert shoe-fitter to understand your gait. (Your running gait is the distinctive way your body moves as you run—especially between your feet and your hips. It’s entirely unique to you based on your anatomy, almost like a fingerprint of your running stride.) If that’s not an option, you might get help from a running-oriented physical therapist who can help decipher how your body moves.
“Everyone has their own individual running form,” says David Gettis, the store manager for JackRabbit’s Hoboken, N.J., store. “The best way to prescribe shoes for someone is to understand what their running gait is all about. Often we’ll perform a gait analysis to see what’s happening with a runner’s foot strike and what the degree of pronation of their foot is as it rolls through the gait cycle. If a runner is an overpronator, we generally try to put them into mild stability shoes to help offset that.”
You can also have a friend use a smartphone to video your stride while running, either on a flat surface or a treadmill and play it back in slow motion. When you’re watching the playback, look to see if your feet and knees are tracking straight ahead or excessively rotating inward (or rubbing) when you run. If there is noticeable inward rotation, you’re probably overpronating to some degree when you run and could benefit from stability shoes.
Other telltale signs of needing stability shoes include an excessive wear pattern on the inside (or medial) edge of the bottom of your current running shoes. If that side is considerably more worn than the outside (or lateral) edge, it’s probably a sign that you’re overpronating and need stability shoes.
Lastly, the age-old “wet test” can also be helpful, although not as decisive as it was once thought. Lay a clean piece of cardboard or kraft paper (from a grocery bag) flat on the ground and then wet your feet and step onto the paper and bend your knees and sink into a partially squat before stepping off.
This low-tech test will determine if you have a high, medium, or low arch and generally, but not always, people with lower arches need stability shoes.