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

Posted on March 18 2015

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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