Examining your running shoe wear patterns might seem like a chore, or another thing only professional athletes do – but it can be incredibly beneficial for all runners.
What is a running shoe wear pattern?
In short, a running shoe wear pattern simply describes the location of wear on the bottom of your running shoes. After many miles in a running shoe, parts of the sole and tread will begin to wear down. This wear won’t be even throughout the soles, but will instead be concentrated in certain areas.
The location of the most concentrated wear on the soles of your running shoes provides helpful clues as to wear your weight is distributed with each step. Typically, your running shoe wear pattern will fall into one of three categories – neutral, medial or lateral wear.
Why check your running shoe wear patterns?
Certain wear patterns can signify a foot strike that puts you at greater risk for injury, is inefficient, or would be beneficial in a different style of running shoe.
In some cases, running shoe wear patterns can point out a flaw in your stride that you might have missed if you hadn’t checked. Over time, this inefficient foot strike could lead to chronic pain or injury.
Examining your running shoe wear patterns every once and a while can also give you clues about when the best time is to rotate running shoes, what the best shoes are for your body, and whether or not you have any muscle imbalances.
A difference in wear patterns between the left and right shoe tells you that you are running with some muscle imbalances – which should always be addressed and fixed to prevent injury over time.
What is a normal running shoe wear pattern?
It’s difficult to classify a single running shoe wear pattern as “normal”, since all bodies and styles are different. However, a neutral wear pattern is typically the most efficient and least likely to cause injury.
A supination wear pattern, which signals underpronating, is incredibly rare – as only about 5% of runners actually fall into this category.
Running Shoe Wear Pattern Pictures
Every runner is different, but most running shoe wear patterns fall into one of three categories. Here are some wear pattern pictures to help you identify which of the three best represents what you are seeing on the soles of your running shoes.
3 Main Running Shoe Wear Patterns
In the running shoe wear pattern picture, you can see that there are three common wear patterns: medial, neutral and lateral wear. These three patterns indicate either a neutral foot strike, overpronation, or underpronation (also known as supination).
Neutral Wear Pattern
If you notice that your running shoe wear pattern most closely represents the neutral wear in the picture above, it is likely that your foot strike and stride is neutral as well. This is the most efficient style, and least likely to lead to injury. Here is what a neutral wear pattern indicates.
- Most wear is in the center of the heel and forefoot
- Even distribution of weight with each foot strike
- Midfoot foot strike
- Running with the most energy-efficient stride
- Need for regular, stability (most common) running shoes
Overpronation Wear Pattern
Another common running shoe wear pattern is medial wear. If you notice that most of the wear is on the inside of the forefoot and heel, it is likely indicative of overpronation.
Overpronation occurs when the feet collapse more than usual, causing the runner to land on the inside edge of their foot. Here is what a medial wear pattern indicates.
- Most wear is on the inner edge of the heel and forefoot
- Uneven distribution of weight – rolling the foot inwards
- Not an efficient stride
- More likely to lead to injuries such as plantar fasciitis
- Need for running shoes with firm arch support and a heel drop of over 10mm
- Fitted insoles can help the foot back to its natural position
Underpronation (Supination) Wear Pattern
The third, but least common, running shoe wear pattern is lateral wear. If you notice that the majority of your wear is on the outside edge of the sole, it is indicative of underpronation, or supination.
Underpronation occurs when the foot rolls to the outer edge when it strikes the ground. This wear pattern is the least common, and it is incredibly inefficient. Here is what a lateral wear pattern indicates.
- Most wear is on the outer edge of the heel and forefoot
- Uneven distribution of weight – rolling the foot outwards
- Supination (aka underpronation)
- Not an efficient stride
- Very likely to lead to injuries such as stress fractures or joint issues
- Less than 5% of runners fall into this category
- Need running shoes with more arch support to absorb impact
- Cushioned shoes can help support the bones and joints
How to Read Your Running Shoe Wear Pattern
While the pictures of running shoe wear patterns might look incredibly straightforward, most runners find that when they examine the soles of their running shoes for the first time, their wear is a bit confusing to read.
It is likely that there will be wear in multiple areas on the bottom of your running shoes, so you’ll want to check for the areas in which the wear is most concentrated. For example, a neutral wear pattern is most concentrated in the center of the foot, but there still might be slight wear along the edges or toes.
Here are a few other things to note when reading your running shoe wear patterns.
- A difference between the right and left shoe likely indicates a muscle imbalance
- Holes in the running shoe signify shoes that don’t fit properly
- Tread this is worn off everywhere means that shoes should be replaced much sooner
- Fitted insoles, such as orthotics, can be helpful if you foot needs support returning to neutral
Taking the time to check your running shoe wear pattern on a regular basis is never a waste of time. This simple act takes no more than a few minutes to complete, but provides valuable information that might otherwise be missed.
Examine your running shoe wear pattern with each new shoe to help prevent injuries, correct imbalances and find the right running shoe for your body.