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Does Stability vs. Neutral Categorization Influence Whether I’ll Try a Given Running Shoe?

I recently mentioned in a blog post that I had purchased a pair of New Balance 1500 running shoes. The 1500s are a lightweight trainer/distance racing shoe that looked like a good match for my personal taste in running footwear. I’ve since received a few questions about whether I was concerned that the shoe had a medial post, or whether the stability elements were noticeable on the run. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this topic here.

First off, for those who might not be familiar with the terminology, a medial post is a firmer wedge of midsole foam located on the inner side of the sole, typically under the heel/midfoot regions. You can see the medial post in the photo below as the region of gray, speckled foam:

NB 1500 medial post

The goal of a medial post is to limit pronation, or the inward rolling of the foot that occurs after initial contact with the ground. The thinking is that excessive pronation can cause injuries, and the medial post in a shoe like the 1500 can help to control this pronation. You’ll find a medial post in many shoes that are labeled as “stability” shoes, though some brands have other methods of trying to make shoes more stable.

So, does the presence or absence of a stability structure like a medial post influence my decision about whether to try a given running shoe? My answer is no, not at all. Personally, I’ve never felt that a medial post does much of anything, and I don’t put much stock in the categorization of shoes as “stability” or “neutral.” For example, the New Balance 1500 doesn’t feel a whole lot different than the New Balance 1600  (pictured below), and the latter lacks a medial post.

NB 1600 v2

Even if stability elements do work, I’m not really convinced that controlling pronation is all that necessary in the first place – short of things like medial tibial stress syndrome and maybe a few other problems, I don’t think there is much strong evidence linking pronation to injury.

My feeling based on having run in a lot of shoes is that each shoe is a little bit different, and a neutral shoe with a firm sole might be just as (if not more) stable than a given stability shoe. I’ve recently run in “stability: shoes like the Saucony Fastwitch, Brooks PureCadence, and Saucony Mirage without issue. I just bought a pair of Asics DS Racers. When I first started running I ran in Brooks Adrenalines and Asics Kayanos. I’ve also run in a bunch of neutral shoes. There is a lot of variation in feel among these shoes, but rarely do I find it to be associated with their stability category. Individual feel is what matters most.

I will add one caveat – I do think there are some shoes that are unstable. Shoes that are too narrow in certain areas for a person’s foot, and shoes that are too soft in a particular area can cause excessive movement. For example, I didn’t like the narrow midfoot of the New Balance 5000, and the medial forefoot of the Nike Pegasus and some Hoka models are too soft and exacerbate my late stage pronation (I wind up caving in the medial border of the sole). But these are more individual shoe issues than differences among broader categories. (I’ll add that it’s worth considering whether a problem with a “category” was more a problem of a bad match with a single shoe than anything else)

I honestly think that for the most part stability and neutral are categories that exist more for marketing purposes than anything else. I’m not aware of any independent scale or test that allows you to determine exactly how stable a given shoe is versus another. However, having categories makes it easier to sell shoes, and some people will not run in a shoe outside of their prescribed category. Therefore, companies feel compelled to produce shoes labeled as stability or neutral to cater to these beliefs (even if the company doesn’t necessarily believe in the need for the categories…).

I’ll finish by saying that what is important to me when choosing a shoe is how a shoe feels on my feet while running and how it fits. I honestly could care less whether a shoe has stability elements.

How about you, do stability elements factor into your decision-making process when choosing a shoe?

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. David Henry says:

    Just got the Fastwitch 7 in from RW’s racing flat sale and really thing they could be sweet for road and trails…light and good stack on 4mm platform. First shoe I think I’ve ever kept with a post, but agree with your assessment that it is not necessarily a huge factor if the rest of the shoe is essentially designed neutral, Fastwitch and 1500 are basically racing shoes and designed that way and they just happen to have a post, but this is completely different than a shoe that is more structured and supportive. For ex. I think most Hoka’s or other rockered shoes like Pearl Izumi’s change your gait more than something like a FT or 1500 does.

  2. Thanks for this post Pete. As someone who works in a specialty running store, this can be a tricky subject to navigate – especially for very new runners. I have observed people run in more stable shoes at one point (e.g. Adrenaline, Kayano) transition into more of a neutral type of shoe with the passage of time.

    I’m not entirely sure why, though I have a theory that weight loss and improved running form might play a role in this. I’ll add that I have met people who have run in stable shoes like the Adrenaline or Kayano and have had recurring injuries with their iliotibial band. Those who have changed to a more neutral shoe (e.g. Ghost, Cumulus) based on having a neutral running gait have resolved their IT band injuries with this change.

    I know that it’s easier to categorize shoes for the sake of simplicity, but I’m watching this process unfold with each person I work with as every runner is so unique.

  3. When I first started running, I did the whole treadmill camera thing to watch my gait, sure enough I ‘massively overpronated’ – in reality I just didn’t have good form. Shortly after I developed awful ITBS, and I still to this day blame the IT band issues on the control shoes. I’m scared out of my mind of stability shoes, even if it’s just a small post for that reason.

    I still get flare ups, but as I’ve posted in the past, I stick to efficient, neutral shoes and focus on form and comfort, and that seems to work above anything else.

    • I had a very similar experience to Adam’s, except for me I had the ITBS before I got my running form analyzed. I spent the $350 to get my form analyzed and I was called an “excessive pronator” and prescribed a nice new pair of stability shows. Those shoes certainly did not help and I still believe they actually hurt me. What I should have been doing was working on form, not worrying about my shoes.

      Anyhow, after my experience I also will not purchase shoes with significant medial posting. A “stable” shoe like the GoRun Ride is fine, but I don’t think trying to control foot motion through the shoe is the greatest idea anymore.

  4. Brad Patterson says:

    Ok ok, I’ll admit it, Pete – you got me. I usually don’t even look at stability shoes when I am trying to find “the next good shoe” but part of that also is just that there are soooooooooo many shoes to choose from that just sticking with the “neutral” offerings makes the choice hard enough.

    I have been paying a little closer attention to my pronation and noticed one of my feet rolling towards the medial side at the end of a long run in a mega cushioned shoe that also has a pretty high stack height. This is a shoe that is in development that I am wear testing, so I didn’t know if it was a shoe design problem or a bad gait/strength/balance problem. I have noticed that some of the other shoes in my rotation just seem to be inherently more stable due to riding closer to the ground and being more firm. Maybe one of these days, I’ll open my mind a little more and try on a stability shoe at my LRS!

    Very timely topic and interesting discussion, Pete. Oh, and by the way, when is that Launch 2 review coming? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it!

    • I want to do one more mid-length run in them, then a run in the original for a refresher, so maybe a review sometime next week if all goes well. I like them, a bit more shoe than I typically go for these days, but a bargain price for a solid shoe.

  5. I no longer buy posted shoes and I never will. When I started racing 20 years ago the shoe store clerk decided I was a pronator and steered me toward them. I’ve been injured by a few of them (hip and knee) and have definitely felt the post at work in many of them, forcing my foot out of its natural transit. There’s no reason to even consider them when there are so many non-posted alternatives.

  6. I’ve learned to be wary of classification of shoes. I tend to ignore this for the most part and gravitate towards shoes that support my foot and gait in such a way as to help my form efficiency. I have a quiver (ok more than a quiver…is there megaquiver word? LOL) of shoes of all sorts from more minimal types like Skora Core all the way to Hoka Bondi’s. I’m learning how to identify the elements that create a successful shoe experience for me. I have a collapsed arch and metatarsal issues so the shoes I choose have to work with that issue so whatever support I need (not necessarily posting or other “motion control” features) is present. I’m a petite female so my shoe choices are also impacted by my size and frame. I find I like a firmer shoe (not hard) that, if it is soft, is softer in forefoot than heel. I’m not a drop snob but find, in general, lower drop shoes position me better to run with a more correct form. I think that has much to do with the weight of the heel in relation to the forefoot. I require a toe box height and width that lets my toes splay well – this is the other key well beyond stability or neutral that is critical to me.

    So I now look for shoes with wider toe boxes or flexible uppers to accommodate my feet better- which either have a firmer feel (Altra Paradigm, Pearl Izumi N2 and M3) or, if softer in the sole, provide better lockdown for my foot (Altra Provision 2.0). I look primarily for forefoot cushioning or a good balance of cushioning as I don’t need a ton of heel cushioning (Saucony Zealot, Asics DS Trainer 20, and Brooks Launch 2 or Pure Cadence in this area).

    I also tend to choose a shoe to wear based on what I need at the time – so for my speed, interval type workouts I usually use my Skora Core or Form or the Pearl Izumi. If I’m going long it’s likely to be a more cushioned shoe that’s balanced like Launch 2, Asics 33 DFA or an Altra. The right tool for the job.

    I have all sorts from different drops to stack heights to classification. What matters is what works. Great post!

  7. Yeah, I was wondering why you had that shoe when I read that post.

    You mentioned the ASICS DS racer. I don’t have that shoe, but from the pictures, it reminds me of my Adios Boost v1, except for the medial post. But that posting doesn’t seem like it would do anything, because it’s not like the arch is built up to keep the foot from pronating. I mean, if the sole is basically flat, the foot and ankle are still going to squish inward even if the foam in that area is a little firmer.

    That’s why the Kinvara always feels like a stability shoe to me. Even without denser foam, the way the sole is structured on the medial side, it kind a pushes the ankle in and up. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

    The whole posting thing seems bogus.

    • “The whole posting thing seems bogus”? Tell that to the legions of Brooks Beast users. What you’re really trying to say, I think, is that there’s a big difference between the DS Racer and shoes like the Beast or even the legendary Asics 2000 series of moderately posted shoes. The buildup on a shoe like the Kinvara, or all the Hokas, of soft foam is considerably different from what a dual-density shoe does to so-called stability.

      • OK, see that’s what I wanted to know–if maybe my take on it was not quite right.

        Jesus, are there really “legions” of Brooks Beast wearers? Maybe running’s just not their thing…

        • “Jesus, are there really “legions” of Brooks Beast wearers? Maybe running’s just not their thing…”

          This is the sort of elitist garbage that riles me.

          Medial posts do work – at least for me. I have footage of me running in both Nimbus and Kayano some time back to prove it. The camera doesn’t lie or have some eitist agenda to pursue.

          • Roadrunner says:

            I am with you, Steven. Medial posts conclusively work for me – I started in neutral shoes and it nearly ended running for me. I switched to posted shoes and haven’t looked back.

            Pompous, arrogant individuals who make blanket statements for the whole of mankind, based on their personal experience, really hack me off.

            As for saying “maybe running isn’t their thing” – sheer conceit.

  8. I’m jealous of runners who can simply choose neutral shoes depending on their beliefs and preferences. Unfortunately my experience is different. I have collapsed the medial side midsoles of the Mizuno Cursoris after only 40 miles (what little midsole there was). Likewise, the Saucony Mirage only made it to 60 miles before I couldn’t use them anymore. This gets to be expensive. The answer for me is a traditional medial posted “stability” shoe that will maintain the integrity of the midsole for the life of the shoe. But even then it’s no guarantee. The new Adidas Sequence Boost is not adequately posted and I rolled them over after about 50 miles.

    What are the consequences of running in a rolled over shoe? Well, for me it can be any combination of soreness in the achilles , arches, knees, or lower back. I want to be injury free so I simply do not run in rolled over shoes.
    Recently, I’ve had the best luck with the Mizuno Inspire, and Asics Kayano and GT-2000.

    When it comes to racing shoes, I have no problem using neutral shoes. But I only expect 50-100 miles of use before I discard them. I’ve used the Mizuno Ekiden, Nike Lunarspider. and Adidas Adios Boost successfully if one considers fast races and not shoe life longevity as the main factor of success.

    As for what Michael says: “Jesus, are there really “legions” of Brooks Beast wearers? Maybe running’s just not their thing…” I have to say that I have had a few pairs of Brooks Beast and Addiction in the past. And I think I’m a respectable runner having been doing it for 35 years with some ok PRs (2:04 800m, 4:29 1500m, 9:50 3000m, 33:27 10K, 1:14:34 1/2 marathon) and now I’m pushing 50 years of age without any long-term injuries.

    After you get to be a certain age, you no longer take for granted your health, especially your joints. I could care less about minimalism, maximalism, stack height, heel drop, or the latest and greatest trends. I just want to continue running healthy and be able to race as I continue aging, and I’ll do what it takes to make that happen whether it’s fashionable or not.

  9. I’ve noticed personally that the shape of the shoe,more than the posting, affects the feel of the shoe. I do better in a straighter-lasted shoe (running in the Omni and Kayanos) at the moment, and I think it’s less the posting and more the shape and stiffness that helps.

  10. Blazing Bob says:

    Is this post a joke? Is this Peter guy a joke?
    Spend some time in your local running specialty store with one of those “clerks” and shadow some of their shoe fits. I guarantee your perception will change about stability shoes and pronation. Sure, medial posting might not be the only answer or the best answer, but pronation is not a myth. Medial posting is perhaps the most convenient answer to pronation.

    • Why is pronation a bad thing? IT has rarely been linked to injury in any scientific study, and the most recent systematic review found only weak evidence of a link between overpronation and just two types of running injury. Also, studies that have fitted people in appropriate categories for their degree of pronation have not shown any benefit, in fact neutral runners did better in stability shoes, and pronated runners did better in neutral shoes.

      • From my experience, and of course this is not scientific, the benefit is one of shoe durability. As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to roll over shoes onto the medial side if the shoe is not adequately posted. Once the shoe is broken down in this manner, the injury risk is higher because I definitely experience pain in the achilles, arches, knees, and/or lower back. If I could replace my shoes every 50 miles I’m sure I could run in neutral shoes, but that’s not a practical solution.

      • Peter, when you say they “did better” in the study, do you mean they were less likely to be injured or that their actual running performance improved?

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