Neutral Running Shoes Explained

Man picks running shoe off shelf in shop
(Image credit: Yelizaveta Tomashevska / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Most running shoes are the type that are technically called neutral running shoes. This is because a neutral one is usually what will serve you best, unless you have a specific need for a stability running shoe. Most of the best running shoes are neutral, and you get the biggest choice of shoes if you use this type.

Whichever shoe you need generally comes down to how much you pronate when you run. Pronation is the inward roll of your foot when it comes into contact with the ground. This happens to everyone when they run, but how much it occurs will determine whether or not you have a neutral running style.

What is a neutral running style?

When your foot hits the ground during a run it rolls inwards, or pronates, as you transition onto your toes. This helps to absorb the impact of your landing and spreads your weight evenly throughout the foot and toes as you push off. Asics suggest a neutral runner will pronate around 15% during their footstrike. Your ankle will still be in line with your foot when looking from behind, instead of buckling inwards.

In contrast, those who overpronate roll inwards excessively so the ankle buckles and more weight is transferred onto the inside of your foot, so you then push off using mainly your big toes. If you overpronate, you may need one of the best stability running shoes.

What is the difference between neutral and stability running shoes?

The differences between neutral and stability shoes come down to what is added to stability shoes to make them suitable for overpronators. To counter the excessive inward roll of the foot during, running stability shoes use a variety of methods, though the most common is to have a firmer section of foam on the inside of the midsole that blocks the roll of the foot to keep it in a neutral position. This is sometimes called a medial post.

Other methods that are used to make shoes more stable include sidewalls of foam that contain your foot, heel counters that hold the back of your foot in position, and wide bases that naturally stop you rolling too far inwards on the run. Many of these features also appear on neutral shoes, but they won’t have the medial post. For the most part, neutral shoes are lighter than stability shoes because they don’t have those added stability elements. They often also use softer foams that may be too unstable for runners who overpronate.

How do I know if I need a neutral running shoe?

A gait analysis can be done at a running shop when you are looking to buy your shoes. One of the main things this will assess is your pronation and whether you have a neutral running style or not. You can look at this yourself by setting up a camera to film you from behind as you run to look at the way your foot rolls inwards upon landing.

Also, look at the wear patterns of your running shoes to see if the outsole is more worn on the inside half, which can indicate that you are overpronating (though it is not a cast-iron indication). If you have an even wear pattern then it’s more likely you have a neutral running style.

Even if you’ve been told that you have a neutral style or overpronate, this doesn’t necessarily determine what type of shoe you should get. In general, the advice given by physios is that people should use the running shoe that feels good when they run in it, regardless of running style.

If you’re new to running, a neutral shoe is probably the best place to start. If you are getting injuries then it’s worth visiting a physio, who may then advise that a stability shoe is worth trying.

What are the types of neutral running shoes?

Neutral road-running shoes fall into three categories. 

There are cushioned shoes, built mainly for easy runs, which have high midsole stacks to protect the body from the impact of running. Then there are versatile daily trainers designed to balance weight and cushioning, so they’re suitable for a range of runs. The other category is racing shoes, which are built to be lightweight and fast, though still with enough cushioning so that your legs don’t get tired during longer events. The best carbon plate running shoes are in this category.

Trail-running shoes are, generally, neutral shoes, though they are inherently more stable than road shoes because they have lower stacks and use firmer foams than road shoes. This is because, regardless of whether you overpronate, it’s unwise to use a high stack of soft foam on uneven ground where it’s easy to turn an ankle.

What are stable neutral running shoes?

Stable neutral shoes are becoming common as brands try ways to make shoes stable without the extra weight or intrusive feel of tech like medial posts. One method is a frame of firmer foam running around a softer, bouncier foam, which creates a stable shoe that still has the springy feel of a neutral shoe. 

Other features include a wide base, an external heel counter or heel clip that runs around the back of the shoe, and sidewalls of foam. Stable neutral shoes can be used by any runner and extra stability is no bad thing, even if you are a neutral runner. However, they may not have enough stability for severe overpronators.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.