by Chris McClung
For over 30 years, the running shoe industry has put you in shoes based almost exclusively on one single variable – pronation. We are here to say that the industry’s concept of pronation, the need to correct it, and therefore shoe fitting is utterly and completely wrong. Further, the resulting technologies, such as the “post,” designed to “correct” this mythical, biomechanical fault of over-pronation are unnatural, inefficient, and likely the cause of more issues than they were designed to fix.
In fact, there is no such thing as over-pronation.
There, I said it.
Pause. Breathe. [Duck].
Since some of you might be reacting as people did when Nietzsche declared, “God is dead,” I’ll take a minute while you compose yourself, change your pants, or unfurl yourself from the fetal position clutching your Runner’s World shoe guide.
First, a few disclaimers:
1. I am not a scientist and this is not intended to be a science paper. This is just a conversation starter designed to promote discussion and encourage change in the industry’s concept of fitting so that you end up happier in your shoes and therefore happier with your running.
2. We are still learning too. Even though the degree of pronation has only been a small part of our fitting philosophy, the term “over-pronation” has been and still is embedded in our vernacular. With this blog, we are taking a stand against the use of the word and making a shift in our philosophy. This updated perspective has been honed through the input of scientific studies and with the experience of collectively fitting thousands of runners in our store over the last 5+ years. Many of these runners also train with us, providing a feedback loop and level of accountability for perfecting the fit that few stores have. This is just the tip of the iceberg on this discussion, and I am happy to discuss further with anyone interested. My email is at the end of this blog. In addition, we are “putting our money where our mouth is” with the Rogue Shoe Challenge, discussed below.
But first, let’s back up.
What is pronation?
Pronation is essentially the rolling inward of the foot as it comes into contact with the ground through each step. Most runners (or about 98% of you) pronate, generally landing on the outside of the heel as the foot contacts the ground and then rolling inward from the heel strike to toe off. The other 2% of runners supinate, rolling from the inside/out instead of outside/in. Those of us who pronate all pronate to different degrees depending on how the feet, ankles and legs work together. Beyond the mechanics of it, pronation is simply the body’s way of dissipating the forces associated with each foot strike. Without pronation, which spreads the load of ground contact over many milliseconds (instead of one) and over more muscles and tendons and bones, you would likely break your ankle when you hit the ground with one an intense thud.
For those not familiar with the term pronation, you might be familiar with terms related to shoes and pronation such as “motion control”, “stability,” and “neutral cushioned.” The terms motion control and stability are typically associated with the word “over-pronation” or a foot that is supposedly pronating too much and needs correction. According to the running shoe industry, “over-pronation” is a biomechanical affliction evident when the foot/ankle rolls inward past the vertical line created by your leg when standing.
Most of us have seen such “over-pronation” in action, likely played back to us in slow-motion after running on a fancy, camera-equipped treadmill at your local running store or marathon expo. When we see it, we tend to cringe because we love symmetry, and we can’t help but want to correct or align anything that’s not symmetric. And, in this case, because we also love and are enamored by technology, often at the expense of validity.
But, there are two problems here:
1. The term “over-pronating” implies that there is a standard line over which “normal” pronation becomes “over.” But, who created that standard? If you look, you won’t find an answer. I submit that the line was created in the 1970s by our need for visual symmetry and by what has become millions of marketing dollars spent to sell you shoes, not by any true scientific definition of how the foot and ankle should work. What if those who pronate more than average have a greater need for force dissipation than others, a need that shouldn’t be hindered but rather facilitated? What if there is nothing to correct at all?
2. There is no scientific link to so-called “over-pronation” and injury. You can find studies like this one or even this one from a running shoe company itself that dispel the myth that “over-pronation” causes injury. As a coach, I deal with injured runners daily, none of whom have had injuries caused by pronating too much. In fact, I challenge anyone to name one single injury caused by this “dreaded” affliction. Not Plantar Fasciitis… that’s caused by tight or weak lower legs/calves. Not Runner’s Knee…. weak hips/ankles. Not shin splits… overuse or tight/weak shins/calves. Not IT band syndrome… instability/weakness in the hips and core. And the list could go on. In fact, as this article from Running Times points out, most of the issues that keep you from running start well above the feet.
Now many of you might say “But Chris, if it wasn’t for my trusted, high stability Brooks Adrenalines, I wouldn’t be able to run.” That might be true. I submit, however, that one of two things is possible in your case. Either a) you are responding favorably to something in the shoe, such as it’s relatively stiffness, that has nothing to do with the “post” or the perceived correction of “over-pronation;” or, b) you would actually be happier in something else and just don’t know it.
So, if there is no such thing as over-pronation and if excessive pronation doesn’t cause injury, then how did we get here? One word: marketing. In marketing, you simplify the world to tell a story, a story that is easy to understand and that ultimately sells the product you want to sell – lots of it. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when running shoes were becoming a thing during the jogging boom, the shoe companies latched on to this singular variable because it was easy to understand, easy to develop a fitting philosophy around, and ultimately easy to sell. Then, an assault on “over-pronation” began as if it was an epidemic. Shoes were developed around it, the gloriously hard and dense foam “post” was invented to correct it, running stores were opened to preach it, and you were educated about it with everything from articles in Runner’s World to fun at-home wet-foot tests.
Now, I am embarrassed to say that you/I/we have been sold a truckload of bulls**t. I am embarrassed because I am the co-owner of a running store and am proud of the expertise that we provide. And, even though our fitting philosophy is different and our long-established ten commandments of shoe fitting mention nothing about pronation, our credibility is tied to the credibility of our peers and the shoe companies that work with us.
“Over-pronation” is not a thing and correcting it does more harm that good, inhibiting natural motion instead of facilitating it, like putting your foot into a cast with a brick underneath it. There are so many other variables that are important in shoe fitting – the relative flexibility/stiffness of the shoe, the cushioning, the weight, how it fits/feels, the way the upper hugs your foot, or the relative heel to toe differential (aka “drop”). I don’t even like to call it “shoe fitting” because that makes it about the shoe. It’s really about making your feet happy and allowing them, with your body, to move in a natural and efficient way so that you run free and effortlessly.
So, humbly, we take a stand for change by declaring, “over-pronation is dead” and by issuing a challenge to you. For anyone currently running in the chains of a posted shoe (see list below), we challenge you to let us fit you in a new, neutral shoe without the so-called correction.
If you aren’t happier and injury free with the new pair after 30 days (even if you run them ragged), come in for a full refund or exchange with no questions asked. And, on top of that, if you aren’t happy, we will throw in a $25 gift card to spend on anything else in the store as our way of putting our money where my mouth is. Take the Rogue Shoe Challenge. If you don’t live in Austin and can’t come see us in person, then we recommend shopping for “neutral” shoes with our online retail partner with a generous return policy: Road Runner Sports. We dare you to be happier on your feet!
This challenge will run through June 30 at both Rogue Running locations. The shoes eligible for the challenge include:
Brooks Transcend (sorry Brooks, but those “guiderails” are just a 360 degree post)
Nike Structure Triax
Nike Lunar Eclipse
New Balance 860
New Balance 1260
Mizuno Wave Nirvana
Mizuno Wave Alchemy