Understanding Pronation in Running: The Three Key Types and Their Impact

Jason Papp

January 9, 2024

All products featured on THE GOODS are independently selected by either Jason or Kelcie. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

To receive the THE GOODS newsletter, sign up here.

“The greatest wealth is health,” so penned the Roman poet, Virgil. And it’s a line that has run through time. Of course, good health takes many forms. But there is a direct correlation between the quality of our physical wellbeing and mental health. The National Library of Medicine in the US published a paper on this in February 2023.

Asics launched ‘A New Personal Best’ campaign for World Mental Health Day in October 2023, partnering with charity, Mind. With a thought-provoking tagline, ‘A personal best is not a number, it’s a feeling’ it spotlighted everyday people, Asics employees reaching their personal best.

And with the rallying cry of Asics’ comms. team, the fitness brand has consistently promoted good mental health through exercise across LinkedIn (and by other means). But their unified effort across LinkedIn particularly really caught my attention. It felt as if almost every Asics employee published photos of themselves doing their ‘personal best.’ A really powerful purpose-led campaign.  

And now, with January upon us, according to McKinsey & Company’s Future of Wellness Survey in April 2022, “As evidenced by fitness classes, wearable technology, and mindfulness apps, wellness continues to be a major priority for consumers, increasingly becoming a part of their everyday lives. We estimate the spend on wellness products and services to be more than $450 billion in the United States and growing at more than 5 percent annually.”

They said, “Consumers are spending more on wellness than they ever have before. Wellness is now a $1.5 trillion market globally—and it’s growing at a clip of 5 to 10 percent each year.”

Commenting on the future of wellness, Eric Falardeau who heads up McKinsey’s global fitness and wellness work said, “We’ll also see a next step in terms of giving people the ability to track their fitness: “How do I know I’m improving?” Tracking will play a very strong role in motivation, guidance, and coaching.”’  

If tracking improvement is a strong motivation then the thought of starting fitness seriously, especially following this season, can be daunting. Especially when twinned with any pitch sessions, planning and product launches back on the agenda during Q1.

A study from the European Journal of Social Psychology found an average of 66 days was required to form a habit, with a range between 18 and 254 days.

Even more difficult than starting is sticking with an attainable fitness routine if we are wearing sneakers that actually make a meal out of our run.  

So to get us all ready for the January fitness push and to keep us going beyond Q1, we want to help you make the right choice when purchasing your next running sneaker. Because if our ankles and shins are feeling good, we’ll be more likely to push on.

What is pronation?

“Pronation is the inward movement of the foot as it rolls to optimally distribute the force of impact on the ground as you run.” Runner’s World say, “Although pronation is a natural movement of the foot, the size and strength of the runner’s arch can affect the foot's ability to roll, causing either supination (underpronation) or overpronation.”

And choosing the right sneaker depends on how flexible or rigid our foot is.

What are the three types of pronation?  

The three types of pronation are:

Neutral pronation  

Overpronation

Underpronation

Image courtesy of ASICS

How can I determine my pronation?

To ascertain your type of foot pronation, observe the way your foot rolls during walking or running. Here are some techniques to identify your pronation style:

Footprint test:

Moisten your foot and step on a surface where your footprint will be visible, such as a piece of thick paper or a concrete path. The footprint shape can give you clues about your pronation.

If you are a neutral pronator you'll see a noticeable curve on the inside of your foot with a band connecting the heel and toe, covering less than half the foot's width.

Runners who overpronate will notice a complete footprint with a significant inward curve. The connecting band appears quite broad. Underpronation involves seeing the outside of your foot leaving a larger gap, indicating minimal contact of the arch with the ground.

Examine shoe wear:

Look at an old pair of frequently worn shoes and see how the sole is wearing down.

Neutral pronation will show wear evenly distributed across the ball of the foot with slight wear on the outer heel. Overpronation will show more wear on the inner edge of the shoe.

Underpronation will highlight more wear on the outer edge of the shoe.

Professional gait analysis:

Consider getting a gait analysis at a specialty running store or from a podiatrist. This process typically involves a treadmill run or walk while being videotaped for a precise evaluation of your foot movement.

Consult a specialist:

A trained healthcare professional, such as a podiatrist or physical therapist, can observe your walking style and offer insights into your pronation type.

Why is understanding our pronation important?

Choosing the right running shoe can not only improve the comfort and performance of your run but can also contribute to a longer lasting sneaker. So understanding the level of support you need is intrinsic to choosing the right footwear.  

Imagine taking a look at your most frequently worn shoes and noticing they are wearing down unevenly on one side. If we are choosing footwear that isn’t right for our pronation, even for everyday walking, we could be placing extra pressure on our joints.

I used to feel a line of pain running up the fibula after running so I wouldn’t last long. The fibula runs from the ankle up the lateral side of the tibia to the knee. And, is supposed to act as an attachment for the muscles, not as a weight-bearer. After visiting my physiotherapist and subsequently going in for a gait analysis I had some custom insoles made. Now, the pain no longer exists when I run. So, without the correct running sneakers, the fibula comes under a lot of strain.

Understanding your pronunciation is vital for selecting appropriate footwear and avoiding potential injuries, particularly if you're physically active or spend substantial time on your feet.

What are the benefits of choosing neutral pronation sneakers?  

Ultimately, we all pronate differently. And so the reason I purchase neutral pronation running shoes is because I can fit my custom made insoles inside to truly reflect the way I walk and correct any imperfections that can ruin my run.

For my tried and tested top seven neutral running shoes for men, check out this article.  

Neutral pronation sneakers are also a little bit more flexible. Great if you have a foot that is more rigid; I also appreciate the even cushioning throughout the mid-sole.

What are the benefits of choosing stability (or overpronation) running sneakers?

Stability shoes provide a firm high arch support. If you’ve discovered you have flat feet or your arch turns inward whilst running, these will mitigate the risk of this happening. They will aide in maximising support and shock absorption, and to help reduce the risk of injury. You will also notice that Stability shoes have a higher density foam on the inside of the midsole and this offers extra support and comfort near the big toe, the heel and ball of the foot. It’s estimated that 50% of runners overpronate.

New research by Asics shows that out of 5000 UK runners surveyed, a third of them didn’t know their running style despite running at least 2 KM a week; 68% had never had a gait analysis.

Neutral or Stability: What shoes to choose according to independent research

A 2013 research piece by Rasmus Oestergaard Nielsen, a Sport Scientist at Aarhus University focussed on novice runners using neutral footwear. Ramsus et al. challenged the notion that moderate pronation significantly increases injury risk.

A 2010 study by Dr. Michael B. Ryan et al. at the University of British Columbia questioned the standard practice of recommending specific in-shoe pronation control systems based on foot type, suggesting it might be an oversimplification and potentially harmful.

More recent studies present mixed findings.

Research from 2016 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that overpronators might have a reduced risk of injury when wearing motion control shoes. However, in the same year, a study featured in Sports Orthopaedics and Traumatology argued that cushioning in shoes doesn't necessarily guard against injuries related to running.

Codd points out that with advancements in running shoe technology, particularly the introduction of carbon fibre plates and so-called 'super shoes,' there's still much to learn about how various shoe designs impact running efficiency and the likelihood of injuries.

Whatever the case, if there’s a way to increase the comfort of your run; If buying the correct running sneakers can make reaching your ‘personal best’ that bit more enjoyable and attainable beyond January, then we think it’s worth a shot.

Perhaps discussing your pronation with a professional and researching whether custom made insoles and neutral sneakers could be a good option for you is a good first step.

Happy running and may this article contribute to increasing your wealth - your health.

Brand Marketing. Executive-level.