Pronation: How to Know When Enough is Enough!
Lots of people ask questions about pronation: what causes it, what it does and how to get rid of it. In fact, both pronation and its functional opposite, supination, are necessary adaptations to allow the body to respond to the act of walking (and running). Everybody pronates and supinates to some degree with every step. It is the excessive motion, most commonly overpronation that causes most of the problems. The word pronation has developed a bad reputation because people often forget about the 'over' part. Let’s define some terms.
Pronation is the flattening of the arch when the foot lands on the ground. This flattening aids in balance and provides some shock absorption. As the foot flattens slightly, the ankle tilts inward toward the midline of the body, and the muscles of the lower leg help keep the ankle from rolling too far inward. Supination is the opposite motion of pronation. A foot is supinated when the ankle is slightly tilted outward and more weight is on outside of the foot, away from the arch. This gives the foot a more rigid, stable platform for the heel to lift off the ground and to roll off the toes. Excessive supination puts the ankle at increased risk for rollover injury because the stabilizing muscles of the lower leg are not balanced. We’ll talk about overpronation in this article because that seems to be more common among runners and walkers.
Folks with flatter feet tend to have highly flexible arches which are more likely to flatten too much. This is known as overpronation. In this case the foot provides plenty of its own cushioning but does not retain enough of its own structure, so other parts of the leg, such as the medial tibialis (the 'shin splint' muscle) and the knee, try to pick up the job of providing support. They aren't designed for this, and when they are overworked, they send pain signals indicating they can't keep doing the extra labor.
Conversely, people with high arches often have inflexible feet, which limits the amount of natural motion the foot undergoes as it lands. These people don't get much natural shock absorption in the foot, and the ground forces will once again travel farther up the leg looking for a place to be absorbed, often in the shins, the knees or elsewhere. Both these scenarios happen to a large number of people. However, not everyone with flat feet overpronates, and some people with high arches may experience some excessive inward ankle rolling as well, due to instability in the muscles of the lower leg.
Poor stride mechanics also contribute to overpronation. Heel striking (leading with your legs), a slow stride, or pushing off with the toes can also cause excessive motion in the foot. Chi Running reduces these effects by emphasizing a midfoot landing and a shorter, quicker stride, both of which reduce the amount of time the foot spends on the ground and limit the amount of motion necessary to get the foot into position to lift off the ground at the back end of the stride.
So if you want to give yourself some relief from the effects overpronation, do yourself a favor by introducing some of the following focuses into your workouts:
- Maintain a constant cadence of 85-90 strides/min. (counting only one leg) no matter what speed you're running.
- Practice landing with your foot below or even slightly behind your center of gravity, not out in front. This is commonly called a midfoot strike.
- Hold your pelvis level with each stride. This works to strengthen all the connective tissue that runs between the arch of your foot and your pelvis. It's a great way to stabilize your ankles and protect against overpronation.
When you consistently apply these focuses to your running, you'll feel stronger, smoother and more relaxed. And eventually, your feet will possess just the right amount of strength ... and motion control will no longer be an issue.
Resources to help you master the Chi Running basics:
- Chi Running Book: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless Injury-Free Running
- Chi Running DVD: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless Injury-Free Running