If you’ve ever seen a photo of yourself crossing a finish line at a race, watched an exciting track meet on the television, or even just observed other runners along the trails, odds are you’ve noticed everyone runs a little bit differently. From leg strides to head tilt to hand movements to posture and pronation, no person looks quite the same when they’re running.
If you read that list and are wondering, what is pronation, exactly? In gotchu. It’s the way your foot flexes and falls to the ground as you run—specifically your arch as it drops downward, says Annick Lamara USATF and RRCA-certified running coach with New York Road Runners.
Meet the experts: Annick Lamar is a USATF- and RRCA-certified running coach with New York Road Runners. She has 15 years of experience and is a former collegiate cross country and track and field coach.
Pronation is pretty key for runners and anyone playing sports in general. “Pronation is super important for shock absorption,” Lamar says. “You need your foot to pronate when you run so that you don’t injure yourself,” she notes, and you also need your hips and knees to flex. When you pronate in a way that incorrectly suits your body and natural gait it can lead to injuries and discomfort, Lamar says.
If your feet are touching the ground, pronation is at play when you are. This is why it’s super helpful to understand pronation no matter your sport—whether its soccer, football, running, tennis, and more.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to all things pronation from an expert running coach so you can understand whether you overpronate or supinate, how to stay injury-free, and more performance tips.
What is overpronation?
While pronation is a normal part of any foot movement, there is also overpronation, which can sometimes hurt your running performance. Specifically, “overpronation is when the collapsing or lowering of the arch is significant or severe enough to alter a runner’s gait to their detriment,” Lamar says.
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In this case, the arches of your feet would feel and look closer to the ground than necessary for most. The increased contact with the ground might negatively impact shock absorption, causing more pain in your feet and, usually as a consequence, your lower leg.
That said, just because you overpronate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed or more injury-prone, Lamar says. Many people overpronate naturally in their gait—so you should only worry about overpronation if it’s out of character for you, Lamar says.
This might indicate you’re injured and as a result, overcompensating. And FYI, overpronation can be caused by a number of things, including ankle weakness, footwear choice, and the like, Lamar says.
Now, how do you even *know* your normal pronation pattern? “The wear patterns at the bottom of the shoe will tell you,” Lamar says. (Go grab your sneaks and check.) Notice where your running shoe is worn down, as it should show you some kind of curve and the way your feet pronate. A sign of overpronation is visible wear near the arch area of your shoe.
What is underpronation, or supination?
In short, underpronation (AKA, supination) is the opposite of overpronation. “It’s when a person’s arch stays too high, and they tend to roll on the outside of their foot,” Lamar says. Want to see if you underpronate? Again, flip over your shoe and check the wear pattern. If it’s worn flat on the outside, odds are you’re supinating.
Like overpronation, there’s no particular reason that someone might underpronate, although it can sometimes foot weakness or improper shoe fit can play a role. It can also be a natural part of your gait and, again, it doesn’t always signal injury. You should only worry if you feel pain or notice that you’re underpronating when it’s *not* your norm.
Common Pronation Injuries And Treatments
As mentioned, many people go through their entire running careers without experiencing injuries or pain from over or underpronation, studies indicate. Some, however, still experience pronation-related injuries, Lamar says. These can include lower leg issues like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, heel and IT band pain, or even lower back pain.
“A hitch in our foot placement can create an upchain of issues,” Lamar says. Thankfully, there are different ways you can correct your pronation if it bothers you. “Anyone can improve their gait, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Lamar says. Here’s what you can do that, over time, will help you work on correcting your pronation.
- First, you can try to increase step rate/cadence. “A lot of runners have a slow turnover, which means they’re hitting the ground per minute at a slow step rate,” says Lamar. “If you increase your step rate you can improve your running form and where your foot lands on the ground.” To practice touching down quickly, imagine you’re walking on eggshells on the ground.
- Next, you can focus on getting stronger. “The other thing that can help with the ideal running gait is getting stronger in the ankles and lower limbs,” Lamar says. You can do this by performing exercises like toe curls, calf raises, air squats, and picking up marbles with your toes. “You want to strengthen the small tendons and ligaments inside your foot so you have support when you plant,” Lamar says. Got that down?
- And, head to your local running store and get checked. “We’re not great at seeing our own feet when we’re walking and running ourselves,” Lamar says. Pros that a store can watch you run and recommend the right shoe fit for you based on your pronation, and ideally you’ll get a fit that’s “extremely comfortable” to you, Lamar says. In addition to cozy feet, that cush pair helps prevent injury.
- Finally, you can stretch. Yep, stretching can help you mediate your pronation issues by strengthening and loosening your lower limbs if you do it regularly. Be patient, it won’t change anything overnight, Lamar says.
Try these stretches for pronation issues.
Lamar recommends the following stretches to balance out pronation problems. Remember you need to be consistent in order to see any potential changes in your pronation.
1. Calf Stretch
A calf stretch will help loosen your ankle and achilles muscles to make you feel loose and comfortable while you run, preventing any over or underpronation.
2. Hamstring Stretch
A hamstring stretch will both work your feet and the entirety of your leg so that you’re less prone to wear and tear that could lead you to overcompensate your pronation while running. ‘
3. Downward Dog
Downward dog works your entire body, from back to feet, loosening up your posterior chain and, in turn, helping your feet stay in the correct pronation as you run.
Madeline Howard is a writer, editor, and creative based in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in Esquire, Nylon, Cosmopolitan, and more. Among other things, she was formerly an editor at Women’s Health. Subscribe to her newsletter ‘hey howie’ at madelinehoward.substack.com.