As a runner, you understand the importance of proper biomechanics when it comes to running injury-free and often faster. But what does it mean when someone says you’re underpronating?
Pronation is a normal part of any foot landing. But when we start to see excessive motion, we call that overpronating or underpronation.
We’ll discuss what underpronation is, how to tell if you’re experiencing it, and how to correct it. Additionally, we’ll touch on everything you need to know about pronation in general because it’s not uncommon for your foot strike to change over time or with different shoes.
What is Pronation?
Pronation is a natural motion of the foot that occurs when running or walking and occurs during foot landing. It’s a normal and necessary part of running, but when too much or too little pronation occurs it can lead to inefficient movement and injury. Pronation helps to absorb shock, distribute weight evenly throughout the foot, and help stabilize the body while running.
There are three main types of pronation: either it’s neutral, it’s too much, or it’s too little. Let’s look at each of these and lay out the terms you’ve most often read or heard about in the running community:
1. Neutral Pronation
Neutral pronation occurs when your foot naturally rolls inward to absorb shock and keep you balanced. It is typical for the foot to roll inward about 15%.
2. Underpronation (Supination)
Underpronation is marked by the foot rolling outward upon the ground or not rolling inwards enough, meaning less than 15%. This is more common in those with high arches and can result in Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and IT band syndrome.
Overpronation happens when your foot rolls inwards more than 15% as you make contact with the control. Overpronators are often known to have ‘lat feet, and they are at risk of injuries such as IT band syndrome.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on underpronation and what it can mean for you as a runner. So let’s dive into it more to understand its impact:
What is Underpronation of the Foot?
As I mentioned earlier, underpronation is a condition where your foot does not roll inward enough when you run or actually rolls outward. It’s also commonly known as supination.
This is a very small portion of the running population, which is why you probably hear a lot more about neutral running or overpronation.
The result of your foot rolling more outward during underpronation is placing greater stress on the lateral side of the foot, along with changing the desired straight line of your leg from hip to ankle.
It’s often reported that a high percentage of runners will experience lower extremity injuries.
Different studies have shown that our feet play a big role in the development of these injuries from different foot strikes (ball of foot to heel striking), the impact of landing, and foot posture (pronation).
Issues from Underpronation While Running
With a foot strike that rolls too far inward or lacks enough mobility we are open to a lot of issues due to the excessive force placed on joints, tendons and overworked muscles. Including, but not limited to:
- ankle pain from running
- knee pain after running
- hip pain from running
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome
- shin splints
- plantar fasciitis
- calluses, bunions, blisters and other running foot pain
In fact, one 2019 study in Frontiers in Physiology showed that elite runners have more foot stability. This could point to why they are better able to prevent running injuries based on what we are now understanding about the power of your foot in the kinetic chain.
What Causes Underpronation?
Underpronation can be caused by a few different things, including wearing the wrong shoes or having high arches. Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
Many of the causes of underpronation can be due to the mechanics of the feet and legs that you’ve inherited. This includes leg length differences, the width of the foot, and even ankle stability
Building on the previous point, the structure of the foot’s arch may also increase the risk of supination. In fact, runners with high arches are more susceptible to supination than other people.
This is because high arches lead to pushing the foot out when landing as it is not collapsing enough to absorb impact.
Good shoes provide arch and soft tissue support, which helps to prevent the foot from injury. This is especially true when running or walking on hard, flat ground.
Supination and other foot issues might result from wearing the wrong footwear, such as hard or tight shoes. Supination is sometimes caused by wearing shoes that are worn out or lack arch support
If the body is not properly aligned, certain parts must work harder to support posture and balance. In the same vein, improper form during running can cause various muscles and bones to overcompensate, which can lead to supination.
This can also be caused by weak hips and glutes which are not holding the body in alignment as you move.
Prior or Current Injuries
Previous, old injuries can make the bones and soft tissues of the body weak and less stable.
Plus, another current injury could be altering your gait which can affect the way you run and also lead to underpronation. Runners with Achilles tendinitis, for instance, are particularly susceptible to supination.
Other Causes for Underpronation
Other common causes for underpronation include:
- Standing for long periods of time
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Restricted range of motion
- Running or exercising too much
- Age-related stiffness or arthritis
What is a Good Pronation for Running?
As noted EVERYONE has some pronation to their foot and this is a good thing. According to Podatrists, the average person should have about 15% or a little less pronation to their step.
In order to absorb the shock of hitting the ground, your ankle and arch will slightly collapse in to the ground. During this your foot will roll from heel to forefoot so that you end up with more of your weight on the big toe. Your big toe is actually a powerful driver in your quick push-off the ground.
The degree to which you roll inward or outward determines the type of pronation that you have and will help guide you to making any necessary changes.
How do I know if I Overpronate or Underpronate?
There are several ways to tell if you underpronate, and most of them you can do easily at home. So if you’ve been dealing with injuries, this is a great time to take a few minutes and see what you might need to address.
#1 Analyze Running Shoes
The long standing advice to determine if you underpronate is to look at your shoes for their wear pattern.
Put your old running shoes on a table so you can examine the heels of both shoes together at the same. If you observe excessive wear on the outer, or lateral, component of your shoes, you are likely underponating.
When you supinate, your foot’s outside heel makes contact with the ground first. Because the foot does not turn inward sufficiently after impact, the force of impact remains concentrated on that specific part of the foot.
As a result, you’ll notice significantly more wear on the outside heel as well as in the forefoot, just behind the toes.
*However, more and more data is saying this probably isn’t as accurate as we used to think. Shoes aren’t wearing as much with better rubber. So let’s look at the other ways.
#2 Assess Your Footprints
An even better way to ascertain if you experience underpronation is by looking at your footprints. This will help you assess for foot type. A great way to do this at home is the wet test.
Get your feet wet and step down on a piece of cardboard or any surface where you can clearly see the print.
- If you have a normal arch, your footprint will show a good amount of the middle of your foot.
- If you have a high arch, your footprint will show less of the middle of your foot.
- If you underpronate, your footprint will show more of your heel and less of the middle of your foot.
#3 Tight Achilles and Calf Muscles
Another way you can tell if you underpronate is by assessing your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. If these are really tight, it may be a sign that you’re not rolling inward enough when you run.
This can cause pain in the Achilles tendon and calf muscles, and make supination develop or worsen.
#4 Stress Fractures, Shin Splints, or Sprained Ankles Are Common Injuries
If you have excess supination, you may be more likely to experience shin splints, stress fractures, or sprained ankles. This is because your foot isn’t rolling inward enough when you run, which can lead to the impact being focused on the wrong areas of your foot.
More force is placed on the outside of your foot when you run, which is where your smaller toes are. These smaller toes are doing more than their share of work, making them prone to these injuries.
#5 You Experience Pain From Plantar Fasciitis
Underpronation can also lead to plantar fasciitis, which is pain in the heel or arch of your foot. This is because the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, is being overstretched and strained during underpronation.
#6 Doctor Diagnosis
If you’re still not sure if you underpronate, or if you want a professional opinion, make an appointment with an orthopedist or physical therapist. They will be able to assess your feet and determine if you have a supination problem.
I highly recommend this over the free gait analysis at running shoe stores. While they have a lot of experience, looking just at your foot to determine pronation is not correct. You need to know if there is weakness stemming from your hips or glutes causing the foot to roll.
A doctor can perform tests to determine if you suffer from supination and, if so, how severe or rigid it is. These tests typically involve walking or running on a treadmill.
It’s easy to fix supinated feet that are ‘flexible,’ but it’s much harder to fix supinated feet that are ‘rigid.’ Supination flexibility or rigidity may be inherited, or it may be a result of your age. It’s best to get a doctor to check and help you diagnose the issue correctly.
How to Correct Underpronation While Running
For many people, underpronation starts from weak hips, glutes, and core. So if you want to prevent underpronation from worsening or correct an existing underpronation, strengthening these areas will help.
In fact, before you look to running shoes for high arches or insoles to correct supination, try strengthening exercises and stretching.
They will help you get to the root of the problem so that even if you do need new shoes or orthotics, you are setting those things up to help you successfully correct the underpronation.
👉Checkout the 30 Day Core Program for guided workouts that are 10 minutes a day. These are going to focus on hips, glutes, core and include mobility exercises as well.
Step 1: Incorporate Strength Training Exercises
Here are some strength training movements to get you started when thinking about how to effectively work your hips and glutes for better stability.
- Glute Bridges
- Reverse Lunges
- Hip extensions with the stability ball
- Dynamic Planks – Side planks, planks with shoulder tap
- Banded monster walks
- Windshield wipers
Step 2: Do Other Exercises for Additional Strength and Mobility
- Walking barefoot on sand or grass to help strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles
- Doing calf raises to stretch and lengthen the Achilles tendon
- Rolling a tennis ball under your foot to massage the muscles and tendons
- Doing ankle circles to loosen up the joints in your ankles
- Doing toe raises to strengthen the muscles in your feet
Step 3: Make Sure to Start Stretching
In addition to strengthening exercises, stretching is also important.
Underpronators tend to have tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles. So it’s important to stretch these areas out. Some good stretches to do are:
- Achilles stretch – place hands on wall and step one leg back, leaning forward until you feel the stretch
- Calf stretch – feet on the edge of a step allow your feet to drop below the step for a full stretch
- Hamstring stretch – laying on your back with one leg in the air and pulling it gently towards your chest
- Foot yoga – checkout this video for some great foot strengthening exercises from Elevate PT
Step 4: Work on Your Running Foot Strike
If you are a runner dealing with an underpronation issue, it is important to pay attention to your running form. An incorrect running form can cause many problems related to foot and ankle issues.
Focus on landing softly and lightly, making sure to strike the ground as near to the midfoot as possible as opposed to the heel. So instead of pounding your feet on the ground, stay light on your feet and make an effort to land softly.
Also, reduce your stride length and increase your running cadence.
Studies have shown that reducing stride length reduces the impact of loading on muscles, joints, and soft tissue. This can reduce the risk of injuries such as stress fractures, IT band syndrome, and patellofemoral pain.
However, this can depend on your natural and specific mechanics. If you’ve worked through everything and but still find yourself supinating, I highly recommend checking out my Running Technique Program. By spending only 10 minutes a week, you’ll be able to get the correct running form!
Step 5: Wear Shoes for Underpronation
If you are a supinator, one thing you will want to do is replace your running shoes before they wear down too much on the outside. This wearing-down pattern happens when you underpronate, but it also makes your underpronation worse over time if left unchecked.
What you might be surprised to hear is that you’re just fine wearing a neutral running shoe.
A large scale study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, of nearly 1,000 runners showed that despite different types of supination their injury risk did not increase from using a neutral running shoe.
It’s VERY hard to find stability shoes that are going to help with underpronation, while remaining comfortable.
Instead we want to look for a few other features:
- Running shoes for high arches
- Good arch support
- Good cushioning
- Possibly a stability shoe
I tend to recommend HOKA running shoes because their wider base and higher stack provide an inherently level of stability that is not in traditional running shoes.
Step 6: Consider Wearing Orthotics
One way to correct underpronation is by wearing orthotics, which are custom made insoles that you insert into your shoes.
Orthotics help support the arch of your foot and control pronation. Standard running insoles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you can find them at most drugstores and sporting goods stores.You can also buy them online. In this case, you are probably looking for one to support high arches.
However if you have done the test above and do not have high arches, but supinate, you will likely need to get custom orthotics created for you by a podiatrist or orthopedist.
All right, I hope this gives you way more information about how your feet work and what you need to consider to help you keep running injury free. But if you need a little more…
- What are the different types of running shoes
- Why you need to rotate running shoes
- How long do running shoes last
- Altra vs Hoka Running Shoes
- Best Running Socks
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