The 'perfect' runner's gait - the neutral runner

The gait of the neutral runner

The neutral runner's gait is said to be the perfect running motion for avoiding injuries over long distances. This gait sees the neutral runner supinate and pronate at the right levels, with the runner's feet perfectly balanced when he or she is running. Here's a guide on what makes neutral running so desirable and how it can be attempted.

The word 'neutral' is an overused term that most runners have, or will be hearing, in the near future. This is the term used to describe a running gait (the cycle between when your foot first hits the ground through to the next time the same foot hits the ground again) that both pronates and supinates in the right places at the right times.

Pronation is the flattening out of the arch when the foot strikes the ground. This is what the foot needs to do to absorb impact effectively and usually happens just after the foot hits the ground. Too much of this though puts added stress on the stabilizing muscles in the outside of the shin.

Supination (the opposite motion of pronation) allows the foot to become a more stable when we push off on our next step. Too much supination can also overstretch the muscles necessary to stop the foot rolling over, which in extreme cases can result in a sprained ankle.

However, a neutral runner describes someone whose feet do as they should, pronating and supinating in the right areas and in the right amounts.

How do I know if I am neutral runner?

Start off by taking a look at the sole of your running shoe to see if parts of the sole are compressed or worn away. With a neutral running gait it should be evenly compressed along either side of the shoe, so that if you sit the shoe on a counter top and look at it from behind the shoe doesn’t lean over either way.

The good news is that a runner who runs this way should find greater distances easier to cover with less injury than someone who pronates or supinates too much. However, it is important to remember reading the wear of a shoe is somewhat of an art; your running shoe will hold a few subtle signs that may take a more expert eye to recognize.

Furthermore, even if neutral runners are less prone to injury because their neutral running style, it wouldn’t do any harm to observe the following:

  • As with all runners the right shoe will help you, the wrong shoe can create problems. Make sure your shoes are fitted correctly. If possible go to a running-specific shoe retailer that has both pressure plate and video analysis to confirm what you believe.
  • If you’re taking your running seriously, a soft footbed to spread out the weight bearing areas of the foot could possibly help. Make sure the person making them is experienced in the sport you are doing.
  • As your distances increase, it could be a good idea to involve a physiotherapist or physical therapist in your training. It’s better to stop injuries before they stop you doing what you enjoy.

Comments (3)

  • Phil_Crisp 'All wonderful stuff for selling cushioned shoes and an introduction to the mystical world of orthotics but no mention of alternative minimist and barefoot running. Is this all now non PC? I note minimist shoes actually appear to improve as they wear over the months and so do not need the 500 mile replacement of their foamed cousins. Or is it perhaps the pendulum is now swinging back to favour foam wedges and wigets and sprocket reactivators to help acheive that natural flowing ride? While lack of wings acounts for mans natural inability to fly un-assisted can we really say the same for walking and running? Other than a level of puncture protection do we really need the added foam "impact protection" to get to nirvana? I suppose I may be one of the fortunate few, a neutral runner, but what running shop will sell me nothing and advise me go barefoot. In the end their business is selling shoes. If it takes 20 pairs to iron out "your problems" so be it I'm sure. Just a personal thought. '

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  • kirstentodd 'It does sound logical that we should run almost unshod, and I'm certainly with you on the inability to run issue having nothing to do with a lack of impact protection in shoes. People "can't " run these days because they sit around on their bums too much. They are out of practice. They simply don't do it enough. And it is this lack of activity, coupled with the types of shoes we wear in everyday life with a reasonably high heel offset, which means most people are better off in a running shoe than not. As a running coach, I have seen an increase in Achilles and calf injuries in the last 18 -24 months as people leap onto the minimist bandwagon with too much haste and not enough thought to developing strength in all the right places, to cope with the dramatic change in gait a change to minimist footwear will generally bring. For many people 6-12 months is not an unrealistic time frame to transition into minimist footwear, and that's if they're prepared to really work at it. Generally we are not, hence we get injured and blame our footwear!'

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  • KyleKranz_dot_com 'Technically, there is no such thing as a neutral runner ;) Everyone pronates and supinates and the degrees of these change with foot fatigue, shoes, terrain, speed, etc. '

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