Let Your Foot Pick Your Shoe
Do you pronate? Do you supinate? How’s your heel strike?
If you’ve been to a specialty store for athletic equipment—especially running, tennis and hiking gear—you may recognize those terms. So, today, we’re going to share the scientifically tested and proven secret to getting exactly the right shoe.
For the record, when the salesman starts yammering about pronation and supination, it refers to which side of your foot lands first and how it rolls as you walk.
Pronation means that when you walk you roll inward. You land on the inside of your foot so you can push off for the next step with your big toe. If you pronate, your shoes will show wear on the inside of the heel and big toe first. Think, “Toe Pro” to remember.
If you supinate, you roll outward. Your shoes will show the most wear on the outside of the heel because that’s where your foot strikes first. Then it rolls outward so that you push off for the next step from your outer toes. Remember supination as “Throw the soup out.”
Pronators and supinators need different shoes. And some people are neither supinators nor pronators. They have a neutral stride, which calls for yet another shoe type.
The whole business of buying an athletic shoe can get quite complex. If you receive the deluxe treatment, when you go shopping for walking, running, or athletic shoes, the salesman may videotape you to assess your mechanics.
When all this is done, along with some more discussion of your stride length, where you land, how hard you land, plantar fasciitis, surfaces, the strength of your ankles, what sport you are playing, your running schedule, etc. you probably won’t roll inward or outward….
You’ll roll right over… for a $150 bit of canvas and rubber that will likely fall apart within three months and can’t even be resoled.
Is it worth it? To some extent, yes. Wearing the wrong shoe when you are playing hard or walking long miles can lead to injuries.
Someone once told me I should switch to a certain brand of tennis shoes, so I went out and bought a pair. Every time I put them on, my ankles buckled. I tripped constantly. I could hardly walk a straight line.
The shoes were ideal for pronators like my friend. But I’m a supinator.
So I returned to the formerly beloved pair that I had picked out from a giant table display at a going out of business sale.
Feet are smart. It turns out that what feels good to you probably is exactly the right shoe.
Benno Nigg, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary, has been studying shoe mechanics for years. He has discovered that a lot of what we believe about the “right” shoe is a myth. And what the fancy salesman tells you is based on those myths. Nigg has also found that attempts to correct over-pronation or correct supination are ineffective.
In one study that Nigg designed, 206 soldiers were tested with and without shoe inserts. The group that got the inserts were allowed to choose from several models that varied in cushioning, arch support, heel shape and thickness. The researchers asked them to try them on, then choose the one that felt best to them. They wore the insert that they chose for the next four months during training. The control group got standard shoes.
At the end of four months, the soldiers who picked their inserts based on comfort had fewer stress fractures and as much as 13% less pain than the control group.
A good, sturdy shoe for exercise, sports and walking has some nice features we don’t get in our every day flats, clogs, and sandals. They are built up so carefully that they even feel a little like shoe inserts on the foot.
So the next time you shop for tennis shoes, be like a soldier. Treat your shoe as if you were choosing an insert. Try a few models. Lace them up. Walk around. And take the pair that feels good.