A blog by runners. For runners.

New runners don’t need special shoes, study says

Whenever a friend tells me they want to give running a try, I always respond the same way, “Wonderful! Just make sure you get fitted for proper shoes first.” (We even have an article here on WalkJogRun on the importance of running in quality shoes and how to find them.)

For decades, experts have said that getting fitted for shoes at a running specialty store is a must. There, knowledgeable employees can assess your foot’s posture, also known as pronation. If your feet roll inwards when you run, you overpronate — if your feet roll outwards, you underpronate. They can the recommend the shoe best for you. After all, running in shoes that meet your pronation needs will be more comfortable and reduce the risk of injury. Right?

The controversial study

Not necessarily — at least for new runners, recent research says. The study, published in the June 14, 2013 version of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed 927 novice runners for a year. They were each given the same neutral running shoe, the Adidas Supernova Glide 3, regardless of their foot’s posture. The researchers found:

  • Healthy newbie runners can safely run in any neutral running shoe.
  • When compared to runners with neutral foot pronation, pronating runners did not have a higher risk of injury when running in neutral shoes.
  • In fact, after 1000km of running, the number of injuries was significantly fewer in runners who overpronated or underprontated compared to runners with neutral pronation.

These findings are controversial because it has long been thought running in shoes fit for your pronation needs lowers the risk of injury. But according to this research, if you’re a healthy, novice runner foot pronation does not seem to be a significant risk factor for injury. Instead the scientists say for new runners, other factors may play a bigger role in injury risk — such as weight, training volume and intensity, and previous athletic injuries. The researchers said new runners can choose shoes based on comfort rather than foot posture.

Note, like all studies, this one comes with limitations. The scientists did not look at experienced runners, people with extreme pronation problems, people with previous injuries, or other types of shoes.

The take home message

Rasmus Nielsen, Ph.D., of Aarhus University in Denmark, a lead researcher on the study told Runner’s World these results “question the validity of using pronation as a method to select the ‘correct’ shoe.” While that’s true, keep in mind this is just one study (though a 2011 study found similar results). More research is needed before experts change their recommendations around getting fitted for proper running shoes.

Our suggestion? If you’re considering becoming a runner, it’s still a good idea to head to a local running specialty store before you hit the ground running. You’ll still need comfortable running shoes and it won’t hurt to get shoe suggestions from an expert.

Written by Jen Matz