Overpronation can be an incredibly frustrating process to work through for the avid lifter and athlete. If you’ve dealt with or experienced overpronation, then you likely know exactly what I’m talking about. When working out consistently, overpronation can be a serious pain to workaround, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that is that overpronation can be managed.
In this article, we’re going to discuss overpronation essentials that are useful to equip yourself with. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with multiple clients who have experienced overpronation and have helped them work through it and improve upon their abilities to manage their overpronation when training and make strategic cross-training shoe selections.
- What Is Overpronation?
- What Does Overpronation Look Like?
- What Causes Overpronation?
- How to Test If You Have Overpronation
- How to Manage Overpronation
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What Is Overpronation?
Overpronation is a term used to describe a foot that has moved past its normal pronation range of motion. When someone says they have overpronation, they’re describing an excessively internally rotated appearance of the foot that resembles what many refer to as a “fallen or collapsed arch” and an ankle that is bowed inwards. The act of overpronating is moving into this excessive-end range position while going through one’s gait cycle.
Overpronation is NOT pronation. Overpronation is used to define a physical end range position — excessive pronation — that the feet will move into once they’ve moved through their full pronation range of motion.
Pronation is an action that we all perform during our normal gait cycle. Pronation is the summation and result of ankle dorsiflexion (flexing the foot upwards), forefoot abduction (turning the foot outwards, think duck feet), and subtalar eversion (turning the bottom of the foot to the sky laterally) happening at the same time.
If someone says they overpronate, then this would indicate that their feet move to an excessive degree of range of motion during pronation in their gait cycle. This excessive range of motion then puts them into an anatomically weak position with their foot and ankle relative to their upper body — thus putting them into overpronation.
What Does Overpronation Look Like?
Overpronation’s appearance can vary depending on one’s anatomy. Additionally, there are different degrees of overpronation and some are more severe and noticeable than others. When walking, overpronation will present itself as the feet rolling inward with each step.
In the example below, the pronation image on the left has a slight deviation from the horizontal line across while the overpronation image’s deviation is much greater. The ankle graphic is similar, but what I want you to focus on is the line in regard to its deviation from the horizontal line.
The severity of one’s overpronation can result in pain or discomfort in various areas throughout one’s body. Think about it this way, if the way we displace force and stress in the feet is off due to overpronation, then we can experience issues throughout the full body as different areas will then work to overcompensate for said overpronation.
For example, one’s foot, ankle, lower back, upper leg, and even upper body can all experience various degrees of discomfort if overpronation is occurring on a regular basis. This is why it’s important to recognize the individuality of one’s overpronation as everyone will experience the ramifications of prolonged overpronation differently.
Overpronation is interesting because research is still conflicted on the topic of overpronation being directly associated with overuse injuries. (1, 2) For example, some research has suggested that excessive foot pronation could be the cause of overuse injuries while other research has suggested that the issue could actually be reduced pronation mechanics.
Despite the lack of definitive research linking overpronation to overuse injuries, if you have overpronation and experience discomfort on a regular basis, then you’ll more than likely want to be strategic with your training and gear selection.
What Causes Overpronation?
There isn’t a perfect “one-size-fits-all” answer for what causes overpronation. For some, they’re born with flatter feet with a bias toward overpronation. Others can develop an overpronation bias over time based on multiple factors and settings. For example, pregnancy, excessive bodyweight, and running/sport activities can cause an overpronation bias.
The foot has three arches and these include the lateral longitudinal, medial longitudinal, and transverse arch. The three arches of the feet all work together to support how we move and navigate the world around us while working against gravity to keep us upright and propelled in the direction in which we want to move.
The foot is made up of multiple types of soft tissue. Soft tissue includes everything that isn’t bone in the foot, so things like muscle, fascia, ligaments, tendons, etc., are all deemed as soft tissue.
When overpronation occurs over time due to accumulating excessive bodyweight or poor movement patterns during activities, then we could reason that one’s pronation bias occurred due to them exceeding their foot’s tissue tolerance. Basically, if an arch decreases or collapses over time, then likely the stress one is putting into their foot has outweighed what their musculature and other soft tissues can tolerate and support, thus resulting in a compromised position (overpronation bias).
If we circle back to the point in the previous section discussing the individuality of one’s overpronation, then we can take the information in this section to curate a plan towards limiting one’s overpronation.
It’s typically easier for those who have not always dealt with overpronation to work away from it as it then becomes a question of reverse-engineering the “why” the overpronation has occurred in the first place. Is the overpronation due to a higher bodyweight? Or maybe poor movement mechanics while running? These aspects can be explored, then re-configured with a plan.
How to Test If You Have Overpronation
There are multiple ways to test if you have overpronation. You can do a few at-home tests which we’ll discuss below or you can go into your local running store and have them perform a gait analysis for you.
1. Assess Your Shoes
The easiest way to quickly check if you overpronate is to look at the bottom of your shoes. More specifically, I’d suggest looking at a pair of shoes that are pretty worn and that you used primarily for walking longer distances.
What you’re looking for is where the outsole is most faded and depleted. If the medial side of the bottom of your shoe is super faded especially around the big toe and medial ball of the foot and towards the middle/lateral part of the heel, then there’s a fairly good chance that you overpronate. This fading suggests that you roll the feet inwards when walking, thus creating the faded outsole bias that you’re noticing.
- Underpronation: Lateral Heel + Toe
- Normal: Lateral Heel + Middle Forefoot
- Overpronation: Lateral/Posterior Heel + Medial Big Toe/Ball of Foot
Note, this isn’t always a perfect means for testing overpronation especially if you’re a lifter or athlete that performs activities that could create this fading. For example, if you perform a lot of lateral movements, then your faded outsole could be more representative of your training style compared to an overpronation bias.
2. Wet Test
Another simple at-home test is called the “Wet Test”. This test will help you understand what type of arch you have which can result in an overpronation bias. Remember, those who overpronate, generally, have flatter feet and less of a structured arch.
For this test, you’ll need a few paper towels (use plain white or brown if you have them) and a container that your foot’s length to poor water in (long Tupperware containers work well!).
Poor a light layer of water in the Tupperware container, them set a paper towel to the side of the container. Dip your foot in the water, then step onto the paper toward and hold it for a second, then step off.
Assess your foot’s imprint on the paper towel, if you used a white paper towel, you may need to hold up it to light. What you’re looking for is your foot’s arch, more specifically the medial longitudinal and transverse arches (the medial and middle inner part of the foot). Imagine the feet below are imprints on the towel you used.
Repeat this dip and step process two to three times, and note what you see every single time. I always suggest doing this a few times and using the averages of what you observe in the event you bias how you step due to knowing you’re doing a self-test.
When looking at your foot’s imprint, if there’s no arch and your foot’s imprint looks relatively flat (right example above) especially on the medial/inside, then you may have an overpronation bias.
3. Have Your Gait Assessed
The best and most accurate means for assessing overpronation is to see a specialist. This could be a sports performance specialist or visiting your local running store for a gait analysis.
Oftentimes, if a client has severe overpronation and it’s bothering them in regard to pain and discomfort, then I always defer them to finding a specialist. A specialist can look at one’s gait and then provide insole/orthotic recommendations that can be really useful for those with fairly severe overpronation.
How to Manage Overpronation
It’s important to recognize that you can’t out train and exercise overpronation, however, there are multiple things you can do to mitigates its effect on your day-to-day and training.
For those with flatter feet who were born overpronating, then “correcting” overpronation may be more of a question of mitigating stress compared to completely limiting excessive pronation. While you can’t necessarily change your foot anatomy, you can certainly train with more strategy and use the correct gear.
1. Focus On the Hips and Core
The musculature of the hips can be incredibly important for helping to limit overuse injuries from overpronation. The glutes, adductors, and core muscles play an important role in pelvis stabilization.
If you’re an overpronator, then you’ll want to focus on what the pelvis is doing and how you’re stabilizing it. By building stronger stabilizers, you’ll be able to mitigate loading forces better during running, ballistic movements, and long walks when overpronation forces can accumulate.
Below, are 10 of my favorite exercises to build the glutes, adductors, and core musculature for overpronators.
- Reverse Lunges (Glutes)
- Walking Lunges (Glutes + Quads)
- Squats (Glutes + Adductors Quads)
- RDLs (Glutes + Hamstrings)
- Single-Leg Deadlifts (Glutes + Hamstrings)
- Hanging Knee Raises (Hip Flexors/Core)
- Split Squats (Glutes + Adductors + Quads)
- Copenhagen Planks (Adductors)
- Active Foot Split Squats (Glutes + Adductors + Quads + Foot Musculature)
- Step-Ups (Glutes + Quads)
Exercise selection should be based on your overall program goals and needs and I’d highly suggest working with a coach/trainer if you’re confused about programming and how to progress some of the exercises listed above. You can also reach out to me and I can help you with programming if you’re in dire need.
2. Shoes for Overpronation
Those who overpronate can also benefit from utilizing the correct shoes. Flat shoes that have little to no arch support will not the best option for the overpronation population.
This is why many overpronators often have a hard time finding good pairs of cross-training shoes that support their feet and provide them with enough arch support. Most cross-training shoes are often designed to be a bit flatter in nature for lifting purposes, so if you’re on the market for cross-training shoes, then opting for pairs with more dedicated arch support can be incredibly useful for overall comfort and performance.
Not every cross-training shoe that I’ve reviewed will be great for supporting athletes that overpronate, but there are a few that could be worth exploring if you’re set on finding cross-training shoes.
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3. Orthotics for Overpronation
Another useful tool for overpronators is finding and utilizing custom orthotics. Orthotics are custom-made medically prescribed insoles designed to match the needs that your feet need to move with more mechanical proficiency.
For overpronators, these can be useful for providing additional mid-foot and arch support when their training shoes may have limited support. Not every overpronator needs to invest in custom orthotics and could benefit from using inserts, but if you are experiencing overpronation-related issues often, then they may be worth exploring.
Wrapping It All Up
Overpronation can be a serious pain for active individuals, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. If you experience overpronation, it can be really useful to gather and develop an individual approach to your overpronation because everyone’s overpronation will be slightly different.
How your overpronation impacts your training and daily life might be different from your peers. If you have any questions about cross-training shoes for overpronation, then feel free to reach out!
1. Ferber, R., Hreljac, A., & Kendall, K. (2009). Suspected Mechanisms in the Cause of Overuse Running Injuries: A Clinical Review. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 1(3), 242-246. doi: 10.1177/1941738109334272
2. Nielsen, R., Buist, I., Parner, E., Nohr, E., Sørensen, H., Lind, M., & Rasmussen, S. (2013). Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe: a 1-year prospective cohort study. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 48(6), 440-447. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092202