Modern running shoes are feats of design. As the single most important piece of equipment a runner needs, shoes have to provide support, flexibility, grip and stability. For many people, the last feature is the most crucial: Pronation, or inward rolling when the foot hits the ground, can result in serious injury over time. Motion control and stability shoes both address pronation, but at different degrees for different levels of need.
Foot Shape and Shoe Types
To understand shoe types, you first need to know foot mechanics. Test your foot shape by wetting the bottom of your bare foot and standing on a surface that will leave an imprint. If your footprint is relatively uniform in width, you're flat-footed and your feet and ankle may tend to roll inward, or pronate, when you run. If your footprint cuts in severely at the arch, you have a high arch and your foot may tend to roll outward. If it's somewhere in between, you have a normal arch.
Stability shoes are recommended for people with a normal arch, to help decrease mild pronation. People with flat feet, or runners weighing over 180 pounds, have more pronation and may need a motion-control shoe to provide extra stability and reduce potential injury.
Motion-control shoes, or high-stability shoes, are designed to hold the foot firmly in place. They will generally have a stiff heel and a relatively straight shape.This can make the shoe heavier, but it provides added support under the arch. The midsole, or the area between the rubber bottom of the shoe and the flexible upper, is usually very firm.
Stability shoes offer some motion control but tend to have more support, flexibility and cushioning. They often include a firm area within the midsole to reinforce the arch, and may have a variety of added support features. The majority of running shoes and trail shoes are stability designs.
While stability and motion-control shoes make logical sense, there has been some controversy over how effective they really are. A 2010 study found that many women runners reported increased pain when they switched to the shoe that should logically fit their foot type. Another study found that assigning shoes by foot type had no real effect on the rate of injury. Conversely, there is some evidence that motion-control shoes can ease over-pronation and associated motion in the quadriceps.
Because scientific evidence is still inconclusive, you'll have to be your own expert when choosing a shoe. Consider your foot shape, but also pay attention to the way your foot moves when choosing between a stability and motion-control shoe.
Always buy your running shoes in person, so you can try them on and see how they feel. Try shoes on at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen; this can help you get a better fit. Wear the socks you'll wear to run and test the shoes by running up and down the street outside the store. When you buy new shoes, test them on short runs before taking them on long distances. If they give you discomfort or pain, try switching to a different shoe type or consulting a podiatrist.
- REI: How to Choose Running Shoes
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: Running Shoes by Level of Stability
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: Running Shoe Anatomy
- "British Journal of Sports Medicine"; The Effect of Three Different Levels of Footwear Stability on Pain Outcomes in Women Runners; Ryan MB et al.; Jun 27 2010
- "American Journal of Sports Medicine"; Injury Reduction Effectiveness of Assigning Running Shoes Based on Plantar Shape in Marine Corps Basic Training; Knapik JJ et al.; Sep 2010
- "British Journal of Sports Medicine"; Motion Control Shoe Affects Temporal Activity of Quadriceps in Runners; Cheung RT, Ng Gy; Dec 2009