What are neutral running shoes?

If you’re considering investing in a new pair of trainers, you may have heard about different types of running shoes, including neutral and support footwear. Neutral running shoes are designed for people who have a neutral, ‘correct’ running pattern, whereas support shoes are designed for people whose feet either roll in too far or not far enough – and they therefore benefit from having that corrective extra support.

So, what is a neutral running shoe exactly, what makes them different and how do you know if you need a pair?

To understand types of running shoes, you must understand pronation

‘Pronation’ is the term which describes how our feet roll inwards as we walk or lightly jog. Normally, when a person walks or jogs, the outside heel of the foot makes the first contact with the ground. The heel then smoothly rolls in by about 15 degrees and the rest of the foot comes flat into contact with the ground. Then, the foot pushes off from the ground with all toes at the same time.

  • This is called a neutral walking or running movement – around 50–60% of runners have a neutral running style.
  • However, around 30–40% of people overpronate. This means that their feet roll in further, so the feet are never fully flat on the ground. Instead, only the inside of the foot touches the ground, and they push off with just their big toes.
  • Finally, around 5–10% of runners underpronate (also known as supination), where only the outer foot is in contact with the ground, and they push off from their smaller toes.

Neutral shoes are generally suitable for neutral runners

Neutral shoes are, essentially, designed for runners whose feet move in the neutral motion described above.

For people who either over- or underpronate, there are special stability running shoes which are designed to counter their pronation and give extra support. These shoes encourage the foot into a more neutral position when it hits the ground. If you do over- or underpronate but wear neutral trainers, you may feel pain in your feet and ankles, as neutral shoes do not offer quite enough support for your pronation style.

That said, if you are a neutral runner but weigh 13 stone or more, you might still benefit from more supportive shoes.

Typical features of a neutral running shoe

You can usually tell a neutral running shoe by looking at the way the trainer is designed (although most manufacturers label their shoes as either ‘neutral’ or ‘stability,’ so it’s normally evident). Neutral running shoes tend to:

  • Provide most, if not all cushioning in the heel: This is because it is less necessary to offer additional cushioning elsewhere in the sole, since the whole foot comes into contact with the ground and weight is distributed evenly.
  • May be lighter: Unlike stability trainers, which use more and thicker foam in parts of the sole, as well as plastic posts to give additional structure, neutral running shoes don’t need to add so much support, meaning they’ll often be a few grams lighter.
  • Curved or semi-curved: You may notice that some neutral running shoes have been built on a curved last, which means the sole of the shoe does not all touch the ground at once. Again, this is because they need not include additional support in the front half of the sole, so they can be designed for faster running.

How do I know if I need neutral running shoes?

If you have never had your running gait analysed, it’s definitely worth visiting a running store where staff will film your feet running on a treadmill to ascertain your pronation level and can then advise you on the kinds of shoes which will be best suited for you. However, if you would prefer to do this at home, there are a couple of methods for finding out which kind of shoes you need.

1. Look at how you stand

Stand in your regular shoes and look down at your feet. If they both face straight forward, you’re probably a neutral runner. If they spread out from back to front (so it looks like a V when looking down), it’s likely that you over-pronate. Finally, if they curve inwards from back to front (looking like a capital A), then you probably under-pronate.

2. Do an arch test

The arches of your feet help you to stand upright. Some people have ‘flat’ feet, where almost all the foot is in contact with the ground – these people are often over-pronators. Other people have high arches, where the middle of the foot is off the ground – these people often under-pronate. And – you guessed it! – neutral runners will usually be somewhere in between.

To do an arch test, put some newspaper on the ground, then dampen your bare feet. Briefly stand on the newspaper then step off. Now, look at the imprint your feet have left:

  • If almost the whole foot’s outline is visible: You have flat feet
  • If the heel and front foot are visible, but none of the middle is visible: You have high arches
  • If the heel and front foot are visible, and some – but not all – of the middle is visible: You are neutral

Now that you know what kind of shoes you need, you can browse running trainers to find shoes that fit your particular style. Using our shoe finder is a great place to narrow down to the right shoe for you.