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Find the Best Running Shoes for Flat Feet

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. Read on for our picks and buying advice.

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 realization 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 favor 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 analyzed, 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.

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 Adrenaline GTS 20

Pros

  • Lighter mesh upper
  • Smoother ride than previous versions

Cons

  • Doesn’t excel for speed workouts

This latest version of the Adrenaline, one of our longtime favourite stability shoes, uses guide rails to prevent pronation without hampering neutral runners. We recommend it as a shoe for the flat-footed simply because it’s a shoe that works for lots of different types of runners, largely due to firm but not-too-firm cushioning through the midsole and a smooth ride.

Saucony Guide 13

Pros

  • Smooth ride
  • Durable, bouncy midsole

Cons

  • Not as much support as the Omni

Built for comfort and cushion at the expense of a little extra weight, the Guide 13 is a somewhat burly shoe with moderate stability features. At the midsole, a TPU frame combats overpronation without being too obtrusive, and lots of bouncy foam keeps you rolling through your stride.

New Balance 880V9

Pros

  • Soft cushioning
  • Breathable upper

Runners with lower to flat arches should check out New Balance’s 800 series, which are engineered on a largely unsculpted last and offered in a variety of widths. Shoes in the 880 series provide plush neutral cushioning and a responsive ride. The latest model runs slightly smaller but has a more breathable upper than its predecessor, the 880v8.

Asics Gel-Kayano 26

Pros

  • Firm midsole
  • Works for many different types of runners
  • Smooth ride

The Kayano has long been a favourite with our flat-footed testers for its dual-density midsole and firmer foam through the arch. Make no mistake, this is a stability shoe designed to correct overpronation—but one that works for a lot of people. The ride feel is smooth, with layers of plush cushioning underfoot.

Nike Air Zoom Structure 22

Pros

  • Pronation-fighting stability wedges
  • Our test team liked the style

Cons

  • Stiffer at the heel than previous iterations

For flat-footed runners who prefer Nike’s style, the Air Zoom Structure 22 is a favourite. The shoe has lots of cushion and added stability tech through the midsole, including foam wedges at the ankle designed to smooth transitions and cut down on overpronation. A heel counter holds the foot in place, as does a close-fitting upper made from engineered mesh.

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