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Cross Training For Runners

Overpronation vs Underpronation – How To Tell if you Over- Or Underpronate

6 Mins read

Whether you’re a beginner runner or have been around the block for a while, you’ve likely heard of pronation.

You might even understand the level to which your feet pronate during a running stride can have a huge impact on your ability to run comfortably and pain-free.

In this article, I’ll explore the definitions of overpronation and underpronation, the risks of each style, symptoms, and what to do to address any underlying problems.

What is Pronation?

Pronation is simply the natural motion of your feet during walking and/or running gait.  It describes how your feet roll from to toe as you walk or run.

Pronation occurs when the outside of your heel makes the initial contact with the ground. The foot rolls inward roughly 15 percent, makes complete contact with the ground, pushes off with forefoot.

Pronation allows your feet to support your body weight without any issues by evenly distributing the shock from each step.

In a perfect world, the arch of your foot curve somewhat upward. This, in turn, helps distribute weight and impact even, which protects your muscles, joints, and ligament health.

During a healthy gait, the foot rolls slightly inward. But too little or too much pronation can be problematic—as we’re going to see later.

Overall, there are three kinds of pronation: neutral arches, high arches, and flat feet.  Your type depends on the natural shape of your arches and feet.

How To Determine Which One Are You

There are many ways to determine your pronation type.

Though you might need to visit a specialist for a thorough assessment, the quickest way to figure out your pronation type is by performing the Wet Test.

All you need is some water, a container, and a blank piece of cardboard.

Here’s how to proceed.

Start by pouring a thin layer of water into a shallow pan. Make sure the pan is big and wide enough to fit your foot and for the water to get to all parts of the bottom of your foot.

Next, step into the water and wet the sole of your foot, then carefully remove your foot from the pan.

Last up, shake off the extra water and step onto a shopping bag or a flattened brown paper bag or apiece of cardboard, then step off and examine the imprint left behind.

Now all you have to do is to assess the shape of the imprint and match it with one of the foot types here.

Neutral Arch

You have a normal arch if you can see roughly half of your arch in the imprint. This is the most common foot type. You’re also considered a normal pronator.

High Arch

If you can only see just the ball of your foot and your heel, with a thin line on the outside of your foot (or without much in between), you have a high arch.

Flat Arch

If you notice that your footprint looks like a complete foot, as in totally filled in with little or without any curve in the center, then you likely have a flat foot, which means you’re likely an overpronator.

Additional Resource – Here’s your guide to running shoes for flat feet.

Underpronation Explained

Also known as supination, underpronation occurs when the ankle doesn’t roll inward far enough—less than 15 percent—when striking the ground or pushing off.

This places a lot of pressure on the toes and ankle and forces the outer edge of the foot to do most of the work.

Left ignored, underpronation can cause serious discomfort, damage, and injury to the tissue of the feet.

Plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains are common problems among runners who underpronate.

Here’s the full guide to underpronation

Symptoms of Underpronation

If you tend to underpronate, you might be placing a lot of stress on the outer edge of your foot as you walk or run.

Depending on your weekly volume—and how long you spend on your feet—symptoms of excessive supination can vary.

The tell-tale sign of supination is pain through the foot’s arch, and the ball of the foot as well as the surrounding tissue are strained by the abnormal gait.

This may result in calluses, shin splints, bunions, as well as pain in the balls of your feet and your heels.

What’s more?

Your running shoes may shoe uneven wear and tear on the outside edge of the sole.

Causes Of Underpronation

In most cases, chances you were born with feet that tend to supinate. This might be because you have leg length discrepancies or your arch is too high.

Supination might also be caused—or contributed by—overuse, injury, or standing on hard surfaces for extended periods of time.

Shoes for Underpronators

Running in supportive and well-fitted shoes is key—runners who with excess underpronation need footwear with plenty of cushioning and toe room.

Cushioned shoes tend to be light and flexible, providing the right, high-arched feet with a higher degree of motion.  These also reduce the overall stress experienced on the foot, especially the heel.

The good news is, there are plenty of running shoes in this category. Runners who tend to supinate excessively need flexibility, cushion, and support in the heel to counteract the outward roll of the foot.

Have serious supination issues?

Consider consulting a podiatrist for custom orthotics.

When choosing these inserts, go for flat ones and feature a deep heel cup. You should also use running shoes that suit and can accommodate these inserts.

Additional resource – Running shoes for overpronators

Who Is At Risk Of Underpronation?

If you fit into any of the following categories, you might underpronate:

  • Have high arches
  • Have a foot or leg injury that alters your gait, such as knee injuries, shin splints, and hammertoes.
  • Tightness in the Achille’s tendon
  • Using The wrong running footwear

Exercises For Supinators

There are a few exercises designed to help people who supinate by stretching the leg muscle to improve ankle range of motion.

Some of these include

Calf raises

Ankle flexion

Forward bends

Calf Foam rolls

Foot pulls

Overpronation Explained

Also known as excess pronation, overpronation happens when your foot rolls toward the inside and arch flattening out as you walk and run.

During overpronation, the foot makes initial contact with the ground on the outside of the heel first, but then the ankle rolls inward more than usual as you walk and run.

When you overpronate, your ankle may roll too far downward or inward as you walk and run.   Then, it keeps on rolling when the toes should imitate the push-off stage.

Because of this, the big toe and second performs most of the push-off, and the foot twists excessively on each.

The Symptoms

The excessive stress stemming from overpronation can strain the big and second toe and cause instability in the foot.

What’s more?

Excessive overpronation may also put undue strain on the posterior tibialis tendon, thanks to the excessive rotation of the foot.  This, in turn, may contribute to shin splints and posterior tibialis tendon dysfunction.

If you tend to overpronate, your running shoes will display uneven wear on the inside part of the sole. Keep in mind that overpronation is a more common gait issue than underpronation.

Additional guide – Running with bunions guide

Running Shoes For Overpronators

In general, runners who overpronate should opt for motion-control or stability shoes

Usually, stability shoes are the go-to for mild cases, but if you tend to overpronate severely, you’ll be better off with motion-control shoes.

Motion-control shoes tend to be heavier and stiffer than the average running shoes. They’re typically designed with a stiffer construction and increased medial support to help correct gait.

Extreme overpronators may also find relief in orthotics, but that’s a talk to have with your podiatrist as inserts are not always the answer.

Overpronation Exercises

Again, there are a few exercises that can help runners who overpronate.

These include

Foot rolls

Big toe stretch

Towel curls             

Arch lifts

When to see a doctor

I’d recommend consulting a physician if you have any type of chronic foot pain.  This could be a doctor or a podiatrist—depending on your needs and budget. You should also ask for help from a sports trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor—if needs be.

One of the best measures you can take is to have your walking/running gait analyzed. Thee can help:

  • Enhance your running technique
  • It helps find the most suitable running’s shoes
  • Prescribe the right orthotics to address your specific needs or shortcomings
  • Prescribe the right strengthening and stretching exercises to deal with supination or excess pronation

And so much more.

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