The Difference Between Neutral & Support Shoes
by Coach Sarah Portella
Running shoes. As runners and triathletes you know that getting the right shoe is important to help you protect your feet, run faster, and prevent injury. But how do you know what shoe is best?
There are two basic categories of (good) running shoes:
Neutral Shoes. The Neutral shoe is designed for a runner that has high, rigid arches that do not flex or for a runner that tends to supinate (walk along the outsides of their feet). Neutral shoes range in cushioning from low to high depending on how responsive (low) or how soft (high) you would like your ride to be. All neutral shoes have some form of guide rail that is inserted into the midsole of the shoe to help keep your foot aligned and…neutral!
Support Shoes. The exact opposite of Neutral, they are designed for a runner that has low or flexible arches or for a runner whose ankles tend to rotate inward causing the arch to collapse (over-pronation). Support shoes also range in cushioning from low to high. The key difference is that each support shoe has some type of medial posting (a wedge of sorts) that is built into the shoe under the arch area to prevent the arch from collapsing and/or rotating inward.
So, how can you tell if you need a Neutral or Support shoe?
- If you have a specialty running store in your area the employees there should be trained to help you. They can look at your feet, watch you walk (or run on a treadmill) and let you know what category of shoe to wear.
- If you don’t have access to a specialty running store you can do this yourself…just grab a full-length mirror. Slowly walk toward the mirror (trying to walk as natural as possible) and watch to see what happens with your ankles and arches. Do the ankles rotate in or not? Do your arches collapse to the floor with each step or do they stay rigid? Do you feel a lot of pressure along the outsides of your feet (supination)?
- Wear pattern. Take a pair of your worn shoes and turn them over. If the wear of the shoe is on the inside, you could be over-pronating. If the wear is directly in the center you are staying neutral! If the wear is all along the outside of the shoe you are supinating.
Running in the proper category of shoe can help in a number of areas, mainly keeping injuries to a minimum and in severe cases, injury prevention. If you are a runner that has flexible arches and your ankles rotate in and you are wearing a neutral shoe, I’d encourage you to think back over the last several months and ask yourself a few questions:
- Have I had achy knees (chronically)?
- Has my IT Band been tight or sore (chronically)?
- Do my arches sometimes feel fatigued at the end of a longer training run?
If you answered yes to a couple of these it may be worth considering a Support shoe, or at least talking with someone at your local specialty running store.
If you want to know anything else about Neutral or Support shoes, or the proper shoe fit, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org