Pronation and barefoot running

pronation-imageWhenever we’re selling Xero Shoes at a public event, a few people will come up to our booth, examine our barefoot sandals, and claim (with a strange tone of almost arrogance), “I can’t wear these. I pronate.”

Sometimes they’ll pull out the third party endorsement, “My doctor says I pronate.” Or the less-convincing, “The shoe store did gait analysis on my and said I pronate.”

It’s as if they expect me to say, “Oh, my gosh! That’s horrible! I would never argue with an actual doctor or, even more, a 23-year old who works at a shoe store that sells ‘motion-controlled’ shoes! You  totally can’t wear Xero Shoes, then. In fact, I’m amazed you were able to walk over to our booth!”

Instead, I bite my tongue for a second (so I don’t say something incredibly sarcastic), and then say,

Pronation is not an issue. First of all, many world-class runners pronate more than you ever will. Pronation is part of the natural spring-mechanism of the lower leg.

Now, hyper-pronation (showing weakness) *might* be a problem, but it rarely is. And…

When you run with barefoot style and land on your mid-foot or forefoot, it’s much less likely that you’ll pronate at all, since those ways of landing usually put the foot and ankle in a strong position when you land.

But now I have something else to add to my “pronation isn’t evil” arsenal… SCIENCE!

Aarhus University in the Denmark just published a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine called “Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe.”

What I LOVE about this study, reported at ScienceDaily.com, is that it studied almost a thousand runners for an entire year. That’s a good amount of data to work from.

And, in short, what they discovered is that putting runners in non-supportive shoes did not increase their chance of injury (and this is with them NOT switching to a mid-foot or forefoot landing, which arguably reduces their pronation).

Says Rasmus Nielsen, the PhD student who led the study, “This is a controversial finding as it has been assumed for many years that it is injurious to run in shoes without the necessary support.”

My addition to that would be, “Well it was ‘assumed’ for many years because the companies making motion-control shoes TOLD us that and we believed it.”

Now, admittedly, the study is not the be-all-and-end-all studies about pronation. Even the researchers say that they “still need to research the extent to which feet with extreme pronation are subject to greater risk of running injury than feet with normal pronation.” And, I’m going to contact Mr. Nielsen and suggest he look at barefoot running in the future.

But, I’m never one to complain when another nail is added to the coffin of, well, foot coffins 😉