Neutral? Cushioned? Stable? Gait Analysis? For some, the science behind finding the correct shoe is baffling. Especially for those of us who have been overtaken by runners in wellies, and sandals (both happened to me) while sporting the latest in shoe technology. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to pull on any pair of shoes. If they’re the right size and feel comfortable that’s all we need. For others getting the shoe that feel ‘just right’ can take more attempts than Prince Charming looking for Cinderella with a glass slipper.
The Mechanics of Running
Let’s ‘analyse’ gait analysis which means first discussing the mechanics of running. There is more to your gait than how your foot lands. The science of propelling yourself forward is a combination of movements that includes much more than your feet. What every part of your body is doing during your run strides determines where your foot lands.
To propel you forward, your feet take turns to strike the ground with a down and back force. As you make contact with the ground your weight should ideally be directly above the foot, providing the force you need to propel you forward again. Ideally your foot would land forefoot to mid-sole. If you aren’t sure what this feels like then jump in the air with both feet together and note how you land. If in doubt about why landing on the back of your heels isn’t ideal, then repeat the exercise and land on them. You will have a much heavier landing.
When we analyse someone’s gait to fit them with shoes we look at the first point of the foot to hit the ground, and the last part to leave. In a coaching environment we look at the whole body in motion. We would look at full flight running, running over objects. We’d watch you run straight on, from behind, at ground level. I have even, on occasion, been seen to lie flat on my belly on Regents Drive checking soles of runners as they fly past me into the distance.
When we coach we look at the whole body, because usually when someone is overpronating or supinating (I’ll come onto that) it’s because they have ‘something else’ going on further up. Something in coaching terms we would refer to as a technical mismatch.
This could be twisting at the waist, the recovery leg ‘swinging out’, inefficient arm drive, or a combination of a few things. This can’t be resolved by a shoe, indeed, sometimes it doesn’t need ‘resolving’ at all. There are many athletes at a professional level who do not model ‘perfect’ run form, do not get injured, and do very well. Changing your run form is something you might work on yourself, or under the supervision of a coach……. We can’t fix that with a pair of trainers so that is not how your gait is ‘analysed’ in store.
So why do we carry out gait analysis if we do’t change your gait?
When we say a runner ‘overpronates’, it means they land with their ankles ‘sloped in’ so the inside of their foot impacts the ground first. If they supinate, this means they land closer to the outer edge of their foot. We usually carry out in-store gait analysis with some exercises such as squats to look at your body’s motion. Often the story of your run style is told on the sole of your trainer and it’s wear pattern. If a runner lands mid foot, or supinates we recommend a neutral shoe. If a runner overpronates then we may suggest a stable shoe. This is a shoe with a firmer, or built up, section in the midsole, near and around the arch which supports your foot on landing, distributing the impact more evenly and encouraging your ankles not to roll in. If you are under the care of a physio, they might provide you with custom insoles to help with this which should be fitted into a neutral, ideally wider fit, shoe.
Is that all there is to it?
Not quite. We all have different shaped feet, and different brands all have their own technology. We often get asked why the prices can vary so much in shoes which look quite similar. As with anything you buy, this is down to the quality of the materials and the technology invested in the shoe.
For example some manufacturers include a ‘rocker’ to improve your run motion, especially helpful for those with a reduced range of movement in their foot, gel cushioning or foam cushioning, extra durable sections where wear is expected, and wider fittings. We also describe shoes in terms of ‘drop’ which measures the difference between the heel and toe in relation to the ground. If you have ever bought a new pair of shoes and suddenly found your Achilles tendon is sore, you may have picked a shoe which has a lower drop than you are accustomed to. Ultimately finding the right shoe for you means understanding what your expectations are from your shoe.
Before you buy
At Run Unlimited we encourage all our customers to do their research. In store, or online, you can speak to a coach or shoe sales specialist. We try to link all the trainers we stock to an independent review for an unbiased opinion. We would never try to sell you a shoe which we didn’t think suited your foot, and encourage you to try on a few different pairs. Even your socks make a difference which is why we have high quality technical socks available for you to try on under your shoes. Ultimately you could purchase the most expensive, technical shoe on the planet, that suits everyone…. but you.
As anyone who has ever had a night on the town will tell you, you sometimes don’t know how comfy your new shoes are until you’ve given them a test drive on the dance floor, or in the case of our trainers, the road. This is why we have a treadmill in store so you can give them a test run before leaving, and spend as long as you need making sure we get your shoe ‘just right’. Like Prince Charming finding Cinderella.
That is if Prince Charming was a grey haired Irish fella, and his kingdom was 9c Marquis Court.
by Holly Kelleher
EA CiRF, EA Athletics Coach, BTF Coach L1.
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