To understand stability running shoes you first should understand what a neutral shoe is. Neutral shoes allow the foot to flex as it normally would when barefoot. A stability shoe does the complete opposite. Stability shoes guide and cushion the foot.
Of course, there are different kinds and levels of stability. Everything you need to know about stability shoes is right here.
Why Do Some Runners Need Stabilizing Shoes?
Every athlete has a slightly different body. Some runners are most comfortable in a minimalist running shoe which most closely mimics running barefoot. Shoes like this have very little cushioning or structure to them. These minimalist runners may gravitate toward a Nike Free or other type of “free-running” shoe.
Other athletes pronate or supinate and find they need a different structure than a minimalist shoe would provide. Although athletes do sometimes transition from a support shoe to one with less support, this should be done cautiously and gradually to fend off possible injury.
The Evolution of Running Shoes
Shoes can be categorized from simplistic and similar to a barefoot motion to those that control and limit movement the most. They evolve in this order, from least restrictive to most:
- Motion Control
✓ Mild Stability or After Market Insoles
Some shoes have mildly stabilizing factors and many runners make this choice. Other runners prefer to purchase a more neutral shoe and use aftermarket insoles to provide stability. Let’s start with over the counter insoles for added stability.
Dr. Scholl’s, a popular name in foot health, makes over the counter insoles that are specific to the shape of the runner’s foot. A simple visit to the local discount store often will find you the opportunity to stand barefoot on a scale like a scanner that helps diagnose your foot shape. Four or five minutes later, a computer tells you which insole would best work for you.
For other people, a shoe that touts itself as mildly stabilizing will do the trick. Pick up the shoe and, using your hands, flex it in the middle. The more stability features in the shoe the more effort you need to put into flexing the shoe.
The easiest to spot feature on a stability shoe is the medial post. Most shoe manufacturers make this portion a darker color. The bigger the medial post the higher the stability factor.
The heel counter (the very back of the shoe) should be snug and not allow for motion, which is another stabilizing feature.
✓ Stabilizing Shoes
Runners with a low to medium arch tend to feel most comfortable running in a stability running shoe. If you have a medium arch, the stability shoe will help prevent too much bend in the shoe.
Runners with low arch (or no arch) will often wear a shoe with maximum stability and cushioning. These shoes have a very little movement to them.
✓ Motion Control Shoes
Motion-control shoes do exactly that, they control the motion of the foot. These sturdy shoes help people correct severe over-pronation. Motion control shoes offer the most stability of all running shoes.
Levels of Cushioning
- Level one cushioning is the least amount. These shoes are flexible and lightweight and are often used for racing.
- Level two cushioning remains light and flexible but has clear cushion qualities. These shoes may be used for racing longer distances or for athletes looking for a more minimalist feel with some protection.
- Level three cushioning offers just a little bit more protection. This is a great balance between offering cushion and flexibility. A marathoner might favor these for some cushion over 26.2
- Level four cushioning is appropriate for training shoes and the daily grind that comes with distance running.
- Level five cushioning is good for maximum protection and is recommended for the new runner. Also, a heavier runner might find an additional cushion to be preferable, even while racing and for fast efforts.
For many years the shoe industry was pushing cushion and support in shoes. Runners were made to believe that they would sustain injuries if they did not protect their feet. Runners wore heavy, bulky shoes that, for many runners, were unnecessary.
When the book Born to Run hit stores, it transformed running for many people. Citing evidence that humans were, indeed, born to run, a minimalist movement was born.
Shoes such as Vibrams, which are like running barefoot, became popular. But, is it a movement anyone can or should join?
Many specialists say no, others say yes.
How to Decide Which Shoe is Right for You?
Look for an upper that is shaped appropriately for your foot. If it’s uncomfortable, too loose or tight, or moves awkwardly, move on to another shoe. There should not be any binding, chaffing or discomfort.
The ankle collar should hold your foot securely and not allow your heel to slip and the heel collar should allow for comfortable motion. If there is rubbing or discomfort when you roll your ankle in circles, try again.
Pay close attention to how your arches feel in the shoe. It should feel natural and comfortable to your foot shape.
How is the toe box? Can you wiggle your toes ever so slightly? Remember that on distance runs the feet tend to swell. Is there adequate room? Can you flex your foot comfortably?
Does the sole of the shoe fit your needs? For example, if you tend to run on gravel your soles may need more protection.
The bend and flex of the shoe should match your running style, needs, and foot strike. For example, if you are a forefoot striker you need more flexibility through the center of the shoe.
Ask yourself if the cushioning is comfortable and in the appropriate places. A heel striker may find comfort in more heel cushion. Don’t forget to consider your socks for running. Is the combined cushioning too much?
The heel-toe drop is a matter of preference but is very important. Going to a zero drop shoe is not for everyone.
Unsure of What to Buy?
If you are still unsure of what kind of shoe to buy, there are two pieces of advice. First, consider visiting a local running store for a shoe fitting. Often these local establishments have specialists who can help guide you to the right fit.
Second, purchase shoes you can “take for a ride.” Or actually, purchase shoes you can take for a run. Many shoe stores are equipped with treadmills so you can try before you buy. Also, many online running companies offer full refund money-back guarantees for 30-90 days satisfaction guaranteed.
If you need a neutral shoe, stability shoe or cushioned shoe is not a cut and dry decision. Ask questions. Try on a lot of pairs. Purchase from a reputable company. Your feet will thank you!