Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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The Monday Shakeout: Shoes for Flat Feet Runners, by a Flat Feet Runner
By Bach Pham, Content Manager

Welcome to our second edition of the Monday Shakeout! This is a new segment where our team can drop a few thoughts we've been having recently about a running-related topic. This week Bach talks about his experience testing shoes at Doctors of Running as a flat-feet runner.

It's happened to many a runner. You start your running journey and find that you enjoy it and want to invest time and energy into it. You either go to a store or start taking online tests for shoes and learn for the first time in your life that you have flat feet.

You run to google and type "shoes for flat feet" and suddenly you are bombarded with dozens of articles ready to sell you the "best shoes for flat feet," all of which are flooded with any and all stability shoes in the market today.

If the internet were the end-all-be-all of information, it would suggest that having flat feet is as good as being injured. It's one of the most discouraging things to find that you are expected to boxed into a category of shoes. You're telling me I'm supposed to run in the Brooks Beast for the rest of my life?

Thankfully, I've had the opportunity to test the waters at Doctors of Running over the past two and a half years and get a bit out of my comfort zone. Having had over 75-100 pairs of shoes under my belt, I've been able to really learn a lot more about footwear and find the characteristics of shoes that do and do not work for my flat feet.

Goals of Today's Shakeout

With the understanding that my preferences are still my own and that everyone - even those with flat feet - may have characteristics unique to them, I wanted to share things that have and have not worked for me over the past couple of years. The aim of this feature is to help flat feet runners think outside of the box for their own needs and explore more options than the internet has suggested to date. We'll go over both shoes that have and have not worked for me, particularly characteristics of shoes that are easy to identify.

The Shoes that Have Not Worked for My Flat Feet

In general, there are three characteristics of shoes that have not worked well for me. Let's break them down.

1. Shoes with Intrusive Elements in the Midfoot
This is actually the biggest thing I've learned across testing shoes, and spans a larger variety of shoes then you might expect.

It is funny that posted shoes are often recommended as ways to support the arch, but often extremely firm posts have actually done the opposite for me, pushing into my arch during the run and causing discomfort. Not all posts do this though, particularly recent shoes like the Saucony Guide 16 which does an incredible job of integrating a very unobtrusive post. Some posted shoes that have not worked for me include the 860 series from New Balance and sadly the Newton Motion+, which was an absolute blast of a workout trainer otherwise. That's not to say these are bad shoes inherently, they just didn't fit my needs.

The surprising thing I was finding as I tested shoes were the non-posted, neutral shoes that affected my arch. Some that come to mind are Adidas adios shoes with the torsion system, and Skechers MaxRoad 5 with its H-Plate. I absolutely loved both shoes, but found during later runs in each that the systems would snap into my arch and cause me to end runs or have to shake it off. The latest Reebok Floatride Energy 5 and original Saucony Axon models also feature underfoot technology that has caused me some arch issues over time. Swapping to more trusted shoes always remedied the problem. It's really disappointing because the MaxRoad 5 was such an incredible long run shoe, but reality bites, and it bit me.

2. Narrow-Shaped Midfoot
On the opposite end, truly neutral shoes have also been a big challenge due to the high level of instability under the midfoot. Unstable shoes like the Prime X from Adidas or even the new Cloudsurfer from On have been shoes that are a bit too narrow platformed and difficult to simply stay upright while running. The New Balance FuelCell Rebel and the early RC Elite models are also examples of shoes that I found difficult to run in due to the lack of medial support. Some higher stacked models with narrow midfoots can cause some discomfort as well, like the Triumph 20 which was runnable, but over a very long distance puts a lot of pressure on my arch to work harder than other footwear.

I've noticed this has also applied to firmer shoes that were narrow as well, as the lack of structure under the arch with the firm sole can also feel abrasive on my flat arch. The adidas SL was one of the biggest disappoints for me, as it was a shoe that otherwise would have been my favorite of early 2023, but the narrow, tapered medial side ended up pushing into my arch and causing discomfort very quickly on the run.

3. Highly flexible footwear
I remembered when I received a pair of Puma Liberate Nitro. I was incredibly excited about the shoe. I loved how light and soft it felt, while still being low to the ground. Unfortunately, the shoe was too flexible and unstable for my arch, causing me to roll my foot or causing my foot to want to bend too much, which also stressed my arch. Flexibility in the forefoot has never been an issue, as long as the midfoot has some stiffness as we'll discuss in the next section.

Sample of Shoes that Did Not Work for Me

The Shoes that Have Worked for Me

Stability is something we talk about all the time at Doctors of Running, particularly about how much - or more importantly, how little - stability you need to run. I've found that most neutral shoes work well for me as long as they aren't entirely unstable and ultimately are a little on the ordinary side. Shoes like the latest Nike Pegasus 40 (which is just a bit wider than the 37, 38), On Cloudgo, and Brooks Revel 6 are a few traditional trainers I've been able to get along with really well without issues. The shoes we categorize as stable neutral, especially those that have a wider geometry and a firm sole, are often my favorite shoes to grab for just about any run. All of these keep things really simple and have just a bit of inherent stability from being slightly firmer soles.

While I mentioned some of my disdain about being boxed into stability, there are absolutely stability shoes that have worked for me and that I've enjoyed tremendously. The Mizuno Wave Horizon continues to get better and better each year and provides ample stability through geometry and it's unique wave system which is well integrated from heel-to-toe in the shoe. This is a shoe I'd easily recommend to any runner worried about stability when it comes to their first running shoe. Similarly, the growing list of shoes that focus on geometry and non-posted stability like the new Asics Kayano 30 and On Cloudace are solid entries to take a look at. Mizuno's Wave Inspire 19 also features a big new update to its design that is more guidance-based and less intrusive than past models. It's a shoe that I think has snuck under the radar for runners this year, but provides a really excellent option for everyday training.

Shoes with guidance are also solid choices, though the high level of guidance may not be for everyone. This includes the Hoka Arahi and the upcoming Brooks Hyperion GTS which is a stellar workout shoe.

Speaking of workout shoes, I've had success with some plated trainers that have some inherent stability. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 4 and Pro 3 have been great options for my needs, along with the Puma Deviate Nitro and Puma Deviate Nitro Elite. None of these are stability trainers by any means, but have just enough supportive measures to be comfortable.

I've really enjoy traditional, non-plated performance trainers in particular though. I loved the Mizuno Wave Neo Wind from 2022 along with surprisingly the New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo v2, another quietly good shoe from 2022. I found the Tempo v2 has just a bit of stiffness in the midfoot to protect my arch while providing forefoot flexibility that never caused me any issues. The Wave Neo Wind may come at a premium, but the firmer sole, aggressive outsole, and confident platform works really beautifully together. In the past, some firmer workout options like the Hoka Mach Supersonic also worked well.

Ultimately, a stable, simple platform with few bells and whistles underneath tend to be great options that have been workhorses for my needs.

Sample of Shoes that Have Worked for Me

Putting Everything in Perspective

With all that said, it all comes down to something we discuss here all the time - comfort. Finding shoes that match your feet and your needs may take time, but could unlock a whole new world of running to you, especially if you feel like you've been boxed in a corner for a long time due to what others on the internet and sometimes even in stores tell you. While stability shoes can absolutely get the job done and there are better options today than ever before, there may be simpler options that do the job equally well, or even better. The only way to find out though is to take a chance and branch out.

If budget is an issue, I recommend visiting stores with good return policies like Running Warehouse or REI which provide ample opportunity to test shoes and really help you hone in on what your needs really are. I also recommend checking out our Affordable Running Shoe Guide for deals on some of last year's top models as a good way to dip your feet into unknown territory.

Happy running!


How Long Do Running Shoes Last?
, By Matt Klein


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