Running shoe guide for Dummies Part III
How much stability do you need in your running shoes?
Posted Friday, 8 October, 2004
Our previous two sections described the advantages of buying a serious running shoe, foot types and the down and dirty details on midsole cushioning. Now, we’ll move up the evolutionary chain to stability features. We’re not talking about your 401K or even a sanity check here – though for some of my running friends that’s highly recommended.
We’re talking about HOW MUCH stability you need in your running shoes for your running style. If you’re confused about stability features in running shoes – join the club. Stability features seem to be the thing that many shoe designers add to shoes to make them look technically elite and charge more.
You’re not tipsy - so how much stability do you need?
The short answer is:
You want enough stability to keep you running healthy and pain free, without compromising cushioning or adding too much weight. You want a shoe that can fit an orthotic comfortably and has perhaps more support in the upper to snug-up your instep. Finally, you might want a shoe you can run in every day, as well as an occasional race.
Let’s cut to the chase – you want a comfortable running shoe that’s not a brick!
Runners should be careful to choose shoes with the right amount of stability features for their gait and not be convinced to buy shoes with more stability features than they need. Most runners ask for shoes with stability features, it gives them that secure feeling that they are preventing injuries.
Words of caution:
You decide you’re going to run a marathon. Since you will be increasing your mileage, maybe now you should wear a “stability” shoe?… Not . . . I hear this all the time from runners. High mileage runners wear what is appropriate for their foot and running style. Just because you increase your mileage doesn’t necessarily mean you should switch to a stability model.
Where to Start:
If you’re fortunate to have found someone knowledgeable about footwear who will watch your foot plant while running, you can get a good idea of how severely you “pronate”, or how much your foot rolls in. Even better, maybe you have been professionally fitted for orthotics that correct for over pronation.
If not, here’s a simple way to check. Take an old pair of heavily worn running shoes and inspect the outsole. Look at your wear pattern in the heel and forefoot. Do you see exactly where your heel strikes and wears out the sole on the outside of the shoe? Good.
Now look at the forefoot carefully. Is it worn out on the outside of the shoe as well? Then you are a direct descendant of an ancient tribe of supinatorious runners, AKA supinators. that rare breed of special athletes that can run effortlessly over rugged mountain trails on the outside of their feet!. (Authors note, so I supinate) Here’s your get out of stability jail free card. Supinators do not need a stability shoe.
OR - The middle section of the forefoot is worn most – congratulations again. You are most likely a neutral runner who needs little or no stability features. Maybe a small medial post would be is helpful (read more below), maybe not.
OR - The inside forefoot is worn out most –
(blue circled areas)
You are most likely over-pronating. Your foot
is rolling in on toe-off and creating excess
torque on your ankle all the way up to your hip.
You’re not stable (but your friends tell you that!)
You need a stability shoe.
Stability Features to look for:
Running shoes come with a range of stability features, from a modest level in cushioning shoes to mid level “stability shoes” to the most stable “motion control” shoes. All stability features are designed to control the excess movement of the foot during the landing cycle. A very common problem among runners is buying more stability than is needed for their training. This makes for heavier, less flexible shoes, and a less comfortable ride. Here are some of the features that add stability to running shoes.
The heel counter (the internal piece of the shoe’s upper that wraps around your heel) should be well formed and fit snugly around your heel. It centers your heel in the shoe and prevents excessive movement.
Supportive upper patterns
Upper patterns can add significant stability. Look for patterns
that make your arch feel snug and fully wrap your foot.
Contoured foot bed
Midsoles are no longer flat in running shoes, they have a cupped
base that adds support from the counter all the way down to the
flex point. Make sure the contour does not go so far as to
prohibit good flexibility.
Medial EVA post
The most obvious stability feature is a harder density “EVA “medial post” positioned on the medial, inside of the shoe’s midsole. You can easily see the post as most manufacturers make it a contrasting color.
This harder foam takes more pressure to compress and slows down the pronation motion. Make sure this medial post is not too hard. Medial posts can be many sizes. For the best stability they should start at the middle of the heel and extend to the flex point.
Straight last/ heel board lasted
Look at the shoe’s outsole. Does it have a curve to it, or is it straight from heel to toe. Straight lasts are not for everyone. Make sure to run in any straight lasted stability shoe before you buy it. Heel board lasted or combination lasted refers to the board that is put into the heel. It is actually cardboard.
To find out – simply lift up the sockliner and look for a board.
Beware of too much of a good thing…
Beware of stability shoes that have overly hard medial posts. Sometimes shoe designs go too far towards stopping pronation and end up being too hard. Try not to compromise cushioning in you shoe choice - unless you are a serious pronator. Then, we recommend a custom orthotic that controls the pronation with a stability shoe that retains its cushioning properties. Remember, running shoes are designed to handle the shock of 2.5 times your body weight on impact.
It’s not a SUV
Most shoes, even lightweight trainers, have built in a number of features that you could label “stability technology”, even lightweight trainers. Today’s lightweight shoes have better stability features than many stability shoes of 20 years ago. Most good shoes on the market have incorporated effective heel counters, contoured foot beds and dual density “medial post” stabilizers. For most runners that train in the 15 to 50 miles a week range and have no serious bio-mechanical issues, most basic stability features work just fine. Find something that works and stick with it.
Remember that with running shoes, more is not always better. A serious, uncomplicated, light, comfortable running shoe with stability features will make your running more enjoyable and fun.
Just remember to smile when you pass someone in a race wearing a brick.
Cool Running Note: Mike St. Laurent is the designer and founder of Loco Running, the shoes designed by runners for runners. See www.locorunning.com for more information.