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Hot Topic: Stability vs. Neutral

Posted on 24/04/2019

About the Author: Grant (Boss) Bryant is the shoe guru and foot geek who works at both the Edward Str and Bree Str Run Specialist Store. Legend has it he owns over 200 pairs of running shoes dating back to the 80’s. He is also a sports therapist and manager and has the title of friendliest guy on the block. Listen to Grant. He knows his stuff.  

What does stability do when it comes to running, and do we actually need it?

This is a really hot topic at the moment, in particular due to the rise of minimalist, barefoot running and the trend towards a more ‘holistic’ and ‘natural’ lifestyle. However, do people actually know what stability means when it comes to running, running shoes and how they are constructed? Does the old notion of anti-pronation still ring true?

Over the last few years the trend has been largely away from the traditional form of medial posting (a firmer/harder density foam or plastic pillar on the medial side that resists the inwards rolling action of the foot) – a technique that has been around since the 1980’s into a substantially more advanced developments – but is it all necessary?

The answer is a bit more complex then ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and that’s essentially where the debate lifts off.

The Meaty Debate

In the midst of the 80’s running boom, came along a new type of shoe called the ‘control’ shoe or ‘anti-pronation’ shoe – it was developed to stop the ankle rolling inwards during the ground contact phase of running and supposed to reduce running related injuries – and it took off in a massive way. In the 80’s, stability shoes outsold traditional neutral shoes, and a completely new category and way of selling shoes came around. Pronation was considered evil, and needed to be stopped at all cost. Anyone with flat feet or low arches were recommended stability shoes. Since then however, research has changed opinions, and that train of thought has gone out the window, as scientists discovered that the movement of pronation is a natural movement, and that it plays a crucial role in the body in terms of shock dissipation.

Images: A gait analysis done at the Run Specialist Store depicts a neutral gait (right) vs over-pronation (left). One would then look at the cause of the inward rotation of the foot in order to determine the shoe that would fit best. 

So while excessive levels of pronation may be linked to certain injuries in certain individuals, the biggest issue with stability shoes is the fact that there is no set amount of pronation that is considered correct and everyone has a natural amount of pronation that is or can be considered correct for their specific biomechanics, so what may be considered excessive or problematic for one individual may be well within a normal range for someone else, and hence the conundrum begins.

The other factor often overlooked is why are the feet rolling, what is causing it, is it stemming from the problem with the foot that may be resolved with a more structured shoe, or are the problems able to be addressed with stretching, strength work, biomechanical rehabilitation, or medical intervention? It is becoming common place for clients to blame all their injuries and niggles on the shoe, when the shoe is merely offering some cushioning, traction, and helping to support biomechanics of the individual, not fixing the root cause of the problems.

The latest research seems to suggest that pronation does not need to be stopped at all, but merely that the severity and velocity of the pronation may cause specific issues, and in certain cases, the severity and velocity of the pronation may need to be slowed down or controlled but not necessarily stopped.

This is evident in the new shoes hitting the shelves, New Balance have launched a revolutionary shoe called the Rubix – with banked ramp angles that gradually guides the foot, while allowing an amount of pronation to occur and supports the foot in different positions through the gait cycle, while Brooks have taken a substantial gamble turning one of their biggest selling anti-pronation shoes and removing the old fashioned medial post in favour of a less aggressive and more guidance aimed technology called guide rails. Salomon have launched a shoe called the RA Max which has geometric decoupling lines on the outer sole which give additional guidance to the over pronator without any medial support.

So what is the answer?

The fact of the matter, is that everyone has a different and individual gait, and there is never a one size fits all approach to anything in this world. I honestly believe that anti-pronation shoes are heavily over prescribed in many instances in running shoe shops where biomechanics are not understood. The old paradigm of ‘if you have a flat foot, you need a stability shoe’ is long gone, and research is catching up. While I don’t believe traditional stability shoes will ever die out completely any time soon, we have been able to very successfully transition people from ‘traditional’ stability shoes into the newer generation without any hassles, and I believe many brands will follow suite with the guidance shoes over traditional support shoes.

Here at Run we are all about community so let us and your fellow runners know your thoughts and experiences with stability vs neutral shoes in the comments section below!

Author: Grant Bryant

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