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New to Running? Try Neutral Shoes

No matter their foot type, new runners face same injury risk in neutral shoes

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To new runners, picking out that first pair of running shoes can be daunting. What style of shoe to buy?

There are minimalist running shoes, neutral shoes, motion control, stability and more—and this is before you even try them on.

But according to a new Danish study of 927 new runners, newbies probably shouldn't worry so much about the ins and outs of foot pronation and shoe style. When it comes to the risk of injury in the first year, neutral running shoes—which cushion a runner’s footfall, but also flex with his/her natural foot motion to balance out what’s already a structured step—are just that: neutral. It turns out runners had the same rate of injury in neutral footwear regardless of their arches.

Of course, as runners are human beings, the novices tripped, tumbled, pulled muscles and got hurt in the course of their newly established running routines. The study tracked the injuries that kept them from running for a week for the report. About a quarter of the novice runners—252 in all—had an injury like this over the course of the year, after which the researchers crunched the numbers.

At the beginning of the experiment, the runners had their feet examined to see how their feet hit the ground when they ran. That's because people run differently depending on the height of their arch and other factors in the foot. Underpronators, who tend to have high arches, run by putting more weight onto the outside of the foot than the inside of it and using the outer toes to launch their feet again. Overpronators, who tend to have flat feet, do the opposite and put too much weight on their big toes to bring their feet off the ground. Normal pronators, who tend to have average-height arches, push off evenly across the foot and make up the vast majority of runners.

In the study, 422 feet (yes, they measured individual feet rather than participants) were overpronated, 140 were underpronated and 1254 had normal pronation. Though it's popular wisdom that beginner under- and overpronators should wear corrective shoes to prevent injury, the study found that that these stride differences had no effect on injuries when all runners wore the neutral shoe.

This means that for new runners, corrective running shoes—stability or motion control shoes for overpronators and highly cushioned neutral shoes for underpronators—aren't yet necessary to prevent injuries. Mind you, the study looked only at new runners. More advanced runners should stop by their local running store and talk with an expert if they're not sure what type of running shoe is best for them. As for injuries from trees, potholes and general clumsiness—well, that's your responsibility alone.

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