The scoop on stability shoes: Should you be wearing them or do you need corrective strength training
Who doesn't love NEW running shoes?
The new technology
The speedy looking swoopy designs
That new shoe smell of potential and new running adventures! (no, just me? Well, moving on then…)
But especially in the fall where mileage increases as temps decrease, buying new shoes is kind of a thing.
And it's all new and exciting until the overwhelm kicks in.
You know what I'm talking about if you've ever felt betrayed by a new model of running shoe. Especially of it was a shoe you repeat-purchased until the manufacturer changed the newest model ever so slightly.
Or if you’ve realized over your running journey that you might need a corrective shoe of some kind. And then it gets complicated.
Are you a pronator?
Are you over-pronating?
Or are you a supinator and oversupinating?
Do you really need that stability shoe or can you get away with a neutral shoe because you have an orthoses and
….OMG what dO ThEsE AlL MeAn??
I get it.
I really do.
Even as a healthcare and fitness professional.
Because feet are complicated.
And adding a shoe that's loaded from the toe box to the heel drop with technology that neither of us fully understand can COMPLETELY change your gait.
But the questions is…is it the shoe or is it YOU responding to the shoe?
(I know, sort of meta, but hang in there with me.)
In today's blog, I want you to leave with an understanding of why a runner might need a corrective shoe vs. very specific corrective strength exercises. I want you to know ahead of time, this is NOT an exhaustive, comprehensive list. It's just impossible to put everything in one blog post because each running is unique in how they move, how their bodies are made, and what each runner's strengths and weakness are. These all factor into the WHY behind why a certain shoe works for one runner but not the next.
So let's jump in, taking it one step at a time.
What are we trying to correct?
Let's talk about that correction part first. With either shoes or strength training, what we're trying to "correct"?
Our feet are complicated with so many moving parts. It's easy for one of those parts, or 1 motion to go "too far". That's what we end up trying to correct.
What we sometimes misunderstand is that what we're trying to correct isn't necessarily "bad". We hear "over pronation" or "over supination" and this can lead runners to think something is drastically "wrong" with their foot.
Here's what we need to understand.
Feet are complicated.
Feet are unique.
Almost as unique as fingerprints.
All feet move through the standard motions of pronation and supination.
But that doesn't mean each foot is going to be a textbook example.
Let's break down the big, scary, fancy words for starters.
Pronation and supination are BOTH umbrella terms, meaning each of those big motions is actually composed of 3 tiny motions.
(For your nerdy reference:
Pronation can be described as or broken down into: dorsiflexion, eversion, and abduction
Supination can be described as or broken down into: plantarflexion, inversion, and adduction.)
Every foot requires every one of these motions and goes through each of those motions with every step and stride.
What a shoe is trying to correct is when one of these tiny motions within the big motion is not quite dialed in correctly. (It's like too much cinnamon in a coffee cake. You definitely want some added, but a little goes a long way!) When there's too much of one motion or too little of the next, you're still able to walk or run but not always as energy efficiently or with the overall correct biomechanics which could set you up for injury in the future. These are some of the reasons WHY running shoes are as high tech as they are.
When would I prescribe a stability shoe?
When it comes down to it, running shoes are personal. And very depending on the type of ride or feel that you like.
A cloud like cushion or a more rigid carbon plate?
A hard-core very stable feeling shoe vs. something that bends with your foot?
The times when I get serious about prescribing any type of stability shoe is when a runner consistently has foot, knee or hip pain in addition to what their body mechanics look like while running AND taking into consideration the unique architecture of their foot.
That was a lot wasn't it?
Maybe an example will help.
I personally need a stability shoe because I overpronate.
Again, pronation is NOT a bad thing! It's a necessary movement that my feet MUST move through.
But does this overpronation look like?
Let's talk about my right foot.
I have flat feet in general but my right foot when I'm just standing, is much "flatter" or collapsed (more pronated due to a valgus midfoot posture).
My arch looks like a puddle on the floor.
This is just how my feet are made. And if I genuinely ran well without any extra correction without pain or history of injury, then I would NOT be actively looking for a stability shoe.
However, because my feet will hurt over time and I do have a history of injury without something to correct my feet ever so slightly, then I do need that extra support.
And for me, I get the best support in the form of custom made orthoses. (people usually say orthotic, but the correct word is orthoses and the physical therapy nerd in me has to say it the right way.)
Now what can happen here is a runner has both an orthoses (either for overpronation or oversupination, doesn't matter which one) AND a stability shoe.
This COULD be helpful! This double duty kind of correction maybe be necessary for some runners.
OR it could quickly lead to OVERCORRECTION.
Back to my example… I have orthoses but will often be given a stability shoe in a running store. I know this is TOO much correction because it jacks up my gait.
Because now you've overcorrected me. I may still need a little extra stability help because I have such a flexible arch and midfoot, but my orthotic Is the big dog here. It's what's creating the true correction. Adding the super duper stability shoe is TOO MUCH. Sometimes more is just more.
Let's jump to other end of the spectrum now…
Who needs corrective strength training?
This easy answer is "everyone!"
But we're not here for the easy answer.
The most notable way to tell if a runner needs corrective (NOT just general) strength training, is if their gait and running mechanics is REALLY off. And I mean, really NOT textbook.
Take a look at the examples below.
Heel whip: An atypical way of running where you start whacking the inside of your calf with your opposite foot. (click on "heel whip")
This can predominantly happen for 2 reasons.
There are some foot, ankle, and hip biomechanics that need to be addressed and possible retrained. The runner might have some weak glute muscles, specific to the glute muscles that perform and control a motion at the hips called internal rotation.
Egg Beater: (Opposite of heel hip) an atypical way of running where your legs kick up behind you to the outside. (click on "egg beater")
This can also happen due to poor biomechanics and weak glutes, but this time, the glute muscles that perform external rotation may need some help.
Correcting biomechanics can get a little trickier.
Unless you have a professional eye watching you, you can end up still doing these drills incorrectly. (I'm speaking from personal experience where I thought I was doing them perfectly! Turns out, I wasn't.)
Here some examples of biomechanical drills I like to use AFTER performing the corrective strength exercises above.
These are just a small sample! There are numerous variations of each of these. That doesn't mean you need all of them. You just need the 1 exercise that helps YOU.
The purpose of any biomechanical and form drill is to help you practice generating power, reciprocal arm swings, and correct upward driving of your knee and the correct placement of your foot coming back down. With the two examples we talked about above, the focus during these drills would be so that the foot lands in-line with the body rather than wandering off to the inside or outside resulting in heel whip or egg beaters
Whew, that was a lot!
But hopefully, now you can start to understand the science behind running shoes. And the science behind WHY running shoe might not be enough. Our bodies are amazing movement miracles and they have the gift to adapt and change. A running shoe can only create so much change.
We have to also be open to addressing possible muscular weakness or poor neuromotor control and running mechanics. Sometimes we have to re-teach our bodies how to move!
So when you're out on your next run, pay attention to your movement. Does it feel easy and effortless? Does each stride feel equal side to side? But more importantly….
P.S. looking for more running and movement drills to help re-train your body and improve your body mechanics? Check out my FREE running guide! It's jammed pack with these!