25 January 2008

Know your feet type

When choosing a running shoe it's important you take your foot type into account so you can ensure you get the right shoe style to avoid injury during exercise.

Choosing a running shoe is something in which many people, including top athletes, are not as well educated as they should be.

Good shoe selection is based upon the notion that the appropriate shoe will serve to correct the deficiencies of the foot to prevent injury.

There are a number of factors to consider when selecting a running shoe and the following are short pointers, which should aid you in choosing the correct shoe for you.

Foot type

There are three distinct foot types that are easy to identify. The bathroom test is often used for this purpose. Stand in a tub of water so that the soles of both feet are wet. Then step out of the tub on to a dry concrete surface so that the imprints of the soles of the feet are left clearly on the floor. The three foot types identifiable from this test are:

  1. the high-arched, rigid foot;
  2. the flat, hyper-mobile foot;
  3. and the normal foot arch.

The high arched foot is generally a rigid, stable, immobile structure that is unable to perform the most basic function of the running foot - adequate shock absorption through controlled, appropriate pronation.


Pronation is described as a slight raising of the lateral border of the foot combined with a slight lateral bending of the front of the foot. In long distance running, in which adequate shock absorption is essential, the chances of injury with a rigid foot and running shoes with little cushioning are great.

This is particularly true during days of heavy training or in a long race when fatigued muscles lose their abilities to absorb shock. In this case additional stress is placed on other shock-absorbing structures, particularly around the knee.

Flat, hyper-mobile foot

The flat, hyper-mobile foot is usually an excellent shock absorber because of its ability to pronate, but it is very unstable during the push-off phase of the running cycle. Instead of having a firm lever from which to push off, the runner with a flat foot is all but attached to the ground by a "bag of delinquent bones, each going its own way and causing the lower limb to rotate inwards during the stance phase of running" (Noakes, 1992).

It is this excessive inward rotation, or over-pronation, that causes the most common running injuries.

Normal foot

The normal foot is aligned well and has a high enough arch to absorb shock adequately.

Running Shoe Types

  1. Motion Control Shoes: These shoes are the most rigid, control oriented running shoes designed with features such as a medial post to limit over-pronation or slow the rate at which a runner over-pronates. Motion control shoes are generally heavy and very durable.
  2. Stability Shoes: These shoes offer a good blend of cushioning, medial support and durability but are not as rigid as a motion control shoe.
  3. Neutral Cushioned Shoes: These shoes generally have the softest mid-soles and the least medial support. They are usually built to encourage foot motion, which is helpful for under-pronators who have rigid, immobile feet.
  4. Light-Weight Training Shoes: These are lighter versions of standard training shoes. Usually built for fast-paced training or racing. Some light-weight shoes are relatively stable, others are not.

Who Should Wear What?

Motion control shoes are designed for over-pronators who need control features that limit pronation and also give the shoe durability. These runners are very often heavy and have flat, hyper-mobile feet.

Stability shoes are designed for mid-weight runners that do not have severe motion control problems but need some medial support. Runners with normal arches but who pronate moderately often do well in a stability shoe.

Neutral cushioned shoes are designed for efficient runners who do not over-pronate and who need cushioning.

Light-weight shoes are designed for fast-paced runners who do not have mechanical problems. These shoes should only be worn for racing and high intensity training sessions.


The Sports Shoe Injury Prevention System (SSIPS) is a unique system that has been designed over a number of years with the main purpose of matching a runner with the most appropriate running shoe. Sports Physicians who work at the Sports Medicine Division of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SISA) have designed this system.

Sound scientific principles from all available research data have at all times been used in the design of the system. SSIPS is a scientifically based assessment and prescription system, which will identify the group of shoes that are most appropriate for a specific runner based on his/her biomechanical profile.

The SSIPS assessment and prescription is conducted by a group of Biokineticists (Marieke Dreyer, Stephan Du Toit, Nadine Spencer, Nicky Sulzer, and Allan Titlestad) at SSISA, Newlands, Cape Town.

For further information, or to make a booking for a SSIPS assessment, contact the Sports Medicine Division at SISA, ( (021) 659 5644.

Allan Titlestad

B.Sc (HMS) (Hons) Biokinetics

SSIPS Co-ordinator


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