For years, runners have been warned that overpronating is at the root of all their injury woes. New research suggests, however, that correcting the ‘issue’ might not actually be a good idea. Here’s why.
If there’s one thing runners tend to fret about, it’s overpronation. That means that your ankles tend to turn in as you run so that the inside of your foot constantly hits the ground.
It’s often cited as the main cause of overuse injuries in runners because a naturally overpronated foot tends to result in the lower leg, knee and thigh rotating internally. That then increases the stress on muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower leg, which can lead to things like shin splints, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinopathy – all incredibly common and painful issues.
The myth of pronation as a ‘problem’
That overpronation tends to get picked up by physios when you come hobbling in complaining of lower leg pain, or by running shop attendants who are quick to suggest new trainers and insoles for correcting the issue. Once diagnosed, perhaps you do invest in new kicks and accessories. Maybe you just get used to having painfully collapsed arches or start avoiding running long distances and settle for the fact that you’re not a natural runner.
All of that is wrong – as is the narrative around overpronation being a problem that needs to be fixed, says Marthe Solberg, technical representative at On Running.
“Pronation is the inward (rotational) movement that naturally occurs when you land with your foot flat on the floor,” she explains. “This movement is a natural mechanism designed for your foot to absorb and distribute the ground impact your body experiences when running.”
Although injury prevention and correction has been at the heart of running shoe fitting for years, Solberg says: “Recent biomechanical research suggests that you are actually less likely to get injured when your body is allowed to move freely and with less restriction.”
How you run naturally is the ‘right’ way to run
“The comfort of your running shoes also plays an important role in preventing running-related injuries. In other words, runners are less likely to get injured when running in shoes that feel comfortable and natural to them.”
That means that running in super-cushioned but restrictive shoes that try to stop any movement in the ankles probably isn’t a good idea because it’s stopping you from running as you naturally would.
“Comfort is perceived differently in each individual runner and it’s all about being able to stay within your naturally preferred movement path,” Solberg explains.
She reminds us: “Running is a sport – not an illness, and your natural running motion will change over time and from training, so get your gait checked on a regular basis.” As a beginner runner, she recommends going for a more supportive shoe that can help guide your body when your muscles are fatigued and then, as you get stronger and more experienced, transitioning to a more agile shoe (it’s a good idea to ask your local running shop about the difference).
Good trainers can’t replace good form or full-body strength
Ultimately, trainers can only do so much when it comes to injury prevention and comfort. If you’ve got weak glutes or lop-sided quads or underactive hamstrings, you’re going to run into trouble – whatever shoe you have on.
Looking at how you run is arguably as important as what you run in. While there’s no ‘correct’ way to run, research suggests that running towards the front of your foot rather than the heel can reduce the impact on your knees – adding extra stress to the calves and shins instead.
Rather than trying to change which part of your foot you land on or investing in expensive trainers, Solberg recommends practising “landing with your foot straight under your body rather than in front to allow your muscles and tendons to store the energy from landing and use it to propel you forwards.”
You also want to ensure that you regularly strength train to balance out those lower body muscles, ensure that the glutes are firing effectively and that the core is working to keep you upright and moving freely.
Want to build some serious running-related full-body strength? Join our four week Strength Training for Runners programme.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.