No, you don’t need more arch support. But here’s what you do need.
Flat-footed runners face a number of challenges in finding the right running shoe—not least of which is a glut of conflicting information on the topic. The internet and your local running store will likely urge you to buy a shoe with more arch support. Experts in the field of sports injury will instruct you to do the opposite. So who do you trust? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer—the optimal shoe for you largely depends on your gait cycle, range of motion, and individual foot, among other factors. But there are a couple of features to look for in running shoes that may help make your low arches feel more supported and comfortable—and a couple of shoes that have been known to work well for flat-footed runners. Here are some things to consider when buying your next shoe.
The Two Kinds of Flat Feet
Some runners have anatomically flat feet, and other runners have what’s known as “collapsed arches,” which are flat because of a muscle weakness. Although the two types can look very similar, how you approach buying shoes for them varies widely, says Dr. Kimberly Davis of the RunLab, an Austin, Texas-based clinic that assesses running biomechanics and offers physical therapy and training.
Dr. Davis says that when it comes to shopping for a shoe for a flat-footed runner with collapsed arches due to muscle weakness, you can add arch support until the foot gets stronger and can support its own arch. But with an anatomically flat foot, arch support just sends stress up into the knee where it can lead to knee problems. That’s why it’s important to know what type of flat foot you have before you settle on a shoe—and take into account not just your foot but your entire body, including knees, hips, and range of motion.
On Overpronation and Arch Support
Runners with flat feet tend to overpronate, which is when the arches of the foot roll inward after landing. (However, this isn’t true across the board—there are plenty of flat-footed runners who are biomechanically sound and efficient, and don’t experience any overpronation.) Up until recently, the running industry steered overpronators toward stability shoes to control this motion. Gradually, all that is starting to change with the realisation that stability features don’t do much to correct the natural cycle of the foot, though some runners prefer having them. Dr. Davis says people with flat feet often have really flexible feet that never get rigid for the push-off. “The footwear industry tries to solve that by putting an arch support in there to give them an arch or create suppination in the foot,” she says. “But that foot is structurally built that way, it’s not something you can solve with a shoe.”
A Full-Contact Midsole
Jay Dicharry, author of “Anatomy for Runners” and director of the REP Lab in Bend, Oregon, agrees arch support can be detrimental because the arch is by nature dynamic, and having extra structure there can stop your foot from moving. Dicharry says flat-footed runners should put more focus on seeking out a shoe with a straight “last,” which is the mold that dictates the shape of the shoe. A straight-lasted shoe has a wider midfoot base and less of a cut-in, a profile that has fallen by the wayside in favour of hourglass-shaped shoes. Most current shoes don’t provide much of a solid support surface for flat-footed runners, he says. “The problem is all these hourglass shoe shapes look nice on the wall, but when someone with a flat foot puts weight on one, part of their foot is bearing weight on the fabric upper,” he says. “The upper doesn’t work as a midsole for foot support. Feet do well when they’re on an even surface.”
Flat Feet Are Just One Aspect Among Many
The truth is most running shoes will work for most runners; however, if the shoes you’re using aren’t comfortable immediately or if you’re experiencing any pain while running, you should try a different pair. Get your movement pattern analysed, whether at a clinic like the RunLab or even a running store that offers gait analysis. Once you have more information about your feet and movement patterns, you can provide all that information to a running store to find the best shoe for you. Don’t be afraid to take a shoe out for a test run following assessment before purchasing anything.
The Best Shoes for Runners With Flat Feet
To reiterate, a flat foot is just one characteristic among many that can determine shoe choice. However, we know that some flat-footed runners struggle to find a more comfortable shoe with enough in-shoe volume to accommodate their foot shape. With this in mind, we reached out to running shoe brands, flat-footed runners, and medical professionals for a list of shoes that could be good options for runners with flat feet. Here’s what they said.
How We Picked These Shoes
Every shoe here has been evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and shoe fitters, and use our own experience running in these shoes to determine the best options for flat feet. Most models have been tested by our staff, and those that haven’t have been carefully chosen based on their value, comfort, and performance.
Brooks Dyad 10
The Dyad has a spacious fit and wider platform, which gives flat-footed runners a straighter last for more contact in the midsole. Dual Arch Pods at the midfoot are designed to provide stability without interfering with a neutral stride; the shoe’s soft feel is intended to adapt to different feet. Injury-prone and injured runners have also found that this shoe has enough space to accommodate orthotics.
Brooks Beast 18
Brooks Mens Beast ’18
Runners who like soft cushioning in a heavy-duty distance shoe have long been fans of the Beast and Ariel (the women’s version). The shoe has a wider platform with extra midfoot support and some added stability features, which many of our wider-footed test runners have appreciated. It also sits on a straighter last, which can help some flat-footed runners make more contact with the midsole instead of the upper.
Saucony Echelon 7
Runners with flat feet or low arches have had a lot of luck with the Echelon. A neutral shoe with little arch support and a wider platform through the midsole and forefoot, the Echelon provides plush cushioning and the durability to handle high-volume training and long mielage.
Saucony Freedom ISO 2
Freedom ISO 2
The Freedom ISO is a bolder-looking neutral shoe with lots of bouncy cushioning underfoot and a stretchy, unstructured upper that gives your forefoot plenty of space to breathe and stretch. Saucony describes the fit as a dynamic one that adapts to the runner’s foot shape and motion—our runners found it to be quite comfortable, with a soft, flexible ride. A new ISOKNIT upper on the 2 makes the shoe even cosier than before.