At the end of my last post on finding your best running shoe, I mentioned some words you may have heard before in relation to running shoes. They were pronation, motion control, shoe drop and carbon fiber. In this post I plan to unpack each of those things a little further.
Some running shoes are marketed as having “pronation control”. Pronation is a natural movement of the foot that happens when you walk or run. Pronation is a movement word that can actually be used to describe actions at other parts of your body, too. Your hands can pronate. Your entire bodies can “lie prone” if you are facedown on the floor. Over Pronation occurs when the inner portion of the foot and the inner portion of the ankle collapse inward too much. An athletic trainer or physical therapist can take a video of you running and measure your amount of pronation with a motion analysis software. They can tell you whether your amount of pronation is within normal limits.
If you are someone who legitimately falls into the Over Pronation category, you could benefit from a motion control or stability running shoe. These shoes are designed with extra support that reduces the amount your foot rolls inward while running. If you have met me in my clinic yet or attended one of my presentations, you know I am also a huge advocate for corrective exercises. There are excellent foot and ankle exercises that can help your body support itself while running. A good place to start is the “Short Foot” exercise.
Combining the shoe that is right for you with the exercises that your body needs is the perfect recipe for reducing injuries.
Shoe drop or heel drop is the difference between the sole thickness at the heel of the running shoe and the thickness under the ball of the foot. You can think of this somewhat like a pair of high heels. A 3” pair of heels would be a 3” drop. Obviously the drop in a running shoe is not that dramatic. The drop is anywhere from 0 in a pair of racing flats up to about 10-12 millimeters in thicker, more heavily cushioned shoes. In general, cushioned shoes with a higher drop tend to encourage a runner to land farther back on their heel while running. These shoes tend to be more beneficial for a runner who has been experiencing heel pain like plantar fasciitis. The lower drop shoes facilitate midfoot to forefoot striking. This can reduce the risk of other types of injury because this gait pattern reduces overall forces through the lower leg while running.
For about 4-5 years now, the elite field of every major marathon has shown up wearing brightly colored, very thick racing shoes that have carbon fiber plates. A primary reason for this is that the carbon fiber plates have been shown to reduce the “energy expenditure” of running. This means that the runner uses less of their own energy. Over the course of a race like a marathon, this is a HUGE advantage! Lots of research is being done on these shoes to see whether they offer any injury prevention benefits. There is also work being done to determine whether it is safe to do a majority of training runs in them or if they should be saved for races and speed workouts. At Superior Running Medicine, my position is that these shoes can be a great tool to use for road races. Like anything, they should not be used only on race day and they should occasionally be trained in so your body gets used to them. In my experience, they do not last as long as a typical training shoe, so you should not wear them for all of your training miles.