People With Flat Feet Can Still Run Comfortably With the Right Support

·14 min read
Photo credit: Site: Jack Rabbit
Photo credit: Site: Jack Rabbit

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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.

Photo credit: Medical Body Scans/Getty Images
Photo credit: Medical Body Scans/Getty Images

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 Dyad 11

Heavier runners and runners with wide feet have long appreciated the Dyad’s roomy toe box, which has plenty of space to let your feet spread out and feel at home. The shoe has also attracted a fandom among the flat-footed crowd, thanks to that generous fit and a straighter last that allows for more on-ground contact through the midsole. Yes, the shoe can feel heavy—but with that weight comes loads of durable cushion and support. At the midsole, the shoe has a soft, memory-foam feel designed to conform to different foot shapes. Two dual arch pods at the midfoot provide a small amount of stability for overpronators without affecting runners with a neutral stride, while a “heel crash” pad smoothes transitions. Injury-prone and injured runners have also found that the Dyad has enough space to accommodate orthotics—so this shoe is a solid option for walkers, as well.

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Brooks Beast 20

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. For the shoe’s 20th iteration, Brooks has added guide rails to the midsole for bumpering an overpronating foot into place. The overall weight of the shoe has also been reduced, making this version the lightest Beast to date.

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Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21

GTS stands for “go-to shoe,” which should give you an idea of the Adrenaline’s aspirations as an all-arounder. Truth be told, the biggest reason we recommend it as a shoe for runners with flat feet is simply because it’s a stability shoe that works for many different kinds of runners, largely due to firm but not-too-firm cushioning through the midsole and a smooth ride. A previous version, the 20, was described by our testers as “the self-driving car of the running shoe world,” thanks to its ability to steer your stride back on track. That comes courtesy of the shoe’s guide rails, which are designed to bumper your foot back into place when you overpronate. But the effect is so subtle that neutral runners are unlikely to even notice it. This newest version packs even more soft DNA Loft foam into the midsole. It’s not the lightest, fastest shoe, but it lives comfortably at the center of a Venn diagram between “flexible,” “cushioned,” “supportive,” and “long-lasting.”

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Saucony Echelon 8

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 miles. Heavier runners and runners who use orthotics have appreciated the shoe in particular—though its appeal isn’t limited to those groups. Said one of our testers of the previous model: “The Echelon 7 seems like a tough shoe that will last.”

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Saucony Guide 14

Previous versions of the Guide focused on comfort and cushion at the expense of added bulk, but the 14 finds a sweet spot. The shoe is still very cozy, soft, and stable—with a Pwrrun midsole and a medial post and heel counter for added support—but this latest iteration has a more streamlined upper and a lighter, more responsive blend of foam. It also still maintains the custom-feeling fit that originally won it a fanbase among lots of different types of runners, including the flat- and wider-footed. It’s a good shoe for medium to long runs, and does exactly what its name implies—gently steer you toward a more neutral stride.

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Mizuno Wave Inspire 17

Mizuno fans with flat feet have steadily gravitated to the Wave Inspire series for its nice balance of moderate cushioning and stability. The 17 ups the ante with a wider platform and outsole that increases ground contact. Overpronators and heel strikers in particular will find a lot to appreciate here: The shoe has softer cushion in the heel and a denser, reshaped plate at the inner arch, which is designed to support your foot if and when it rolls inward. The 17 also packs more EVA-based foam into the midsole for a softer ride that feels slightly heavier. Overall this isn’t the lightest shoe, but it’s supportive, well-cushioned, and roomy enough to feel comfortable over long distances.

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New Balance 880v11

As running shoe soles have grown more shapely over the years—with more dramatic mid-foot cut-ins—New Balance’s 800 series has remained faithful to the (largely) unsculpted last. These shoes are well-loved for their cushion and support, particularly by those with wider feet, as they’re available in standard, wide, and extra-wide widths. Shoes in the 880 series provide mid-level neutral cushioning and a responsive ride. The latest version has grippy, dependable traction that won’t wear down too early in your training cycle, and a woven knit mesh upper that might not win any cutting-edge style awards but breathes well and has plenty of stretch. It’s also slightly lighter than the v10.

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Asics Gel Kayano Lite

For years flat-footed runners in our test crew have responded positively to the Kayano due to its dual-density midsole and firmer foam through the arch. The shoe was designed to be a stability shoe for overpronators, but it served a lot of high-mileage neutral runners as well, with a smooth overall ride and plenty of plush cushioning underfoot. The latest model, the Lite, solves some of the criticisms of previous iterations—primarily that it was overbuilt for shorter distances. Yes, it is lighter (by a full ounce!) but also more flexible and streamlined through the engineered mesh upper without losing its padded tongue and heel counter. The often-helpful stability features, like the wider platform for more ground connection, are even more unobtrusive now that the shoe is so slimmed down overall. It’s a big leap forward for a shoe we already loved, though the price tag might raise some eyebrows.

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Asics GT-4000 2

The GT-4000 has held cult favorite status among low-arched runners for so long that Asics describes it as its “flat-foot hero.” If you look for flash and style in a running shoe, this model’s upper won’t be the first to catch your eye, but it’s got it where it counts—primarily through the midsole, where it packs the support and durability that heavier runners in particular tend to appreciate. There, you’ll also find loads of firm cushion and some mild stability features, like a guidance line to keep your gait consistent. The shoe sits on a longer support piece and a straighter last than many of the brand’s other models, which means your foot can find more contact. Wider-footed runners will also like the spacious toe box and broader base intended to disperse shock over a larger surface area. You can also find it for well under $100—a steal compared to some of the other shoes on this list. The newly updated 2 maintains everything we love about the first version and adds a softer heel and more stylish, streamlined upper.

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Hoka One One Gaviota 3

We love the Gaviota for its smooth ride and Goldilocks cushioning—the shoe finds a happy medium between being plush enough to prevent soreness over long distances, and firm enough to hold onto some snap. Flatter-footed runners have also gravitated toward the shoe, as well as Hoka’s line in general, drawn to that blend of added support and responsiveness at the midsole. For smaller runners it might feel a bit bulky due to its size and stability features, including denser cushioning designed to guide your foot into place as you move through your stride. But medium to Clydesdale runners will appreciate the support in that thick slab of EVA foam. The toe box has ample room for feet to splay, and the engineered mesh upper is forgiving, yet protective and secure.

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Hoka One One Arahi 5

The Arahi is proof that a stability shoe can still feel lightweight and responsive, as opposed to bulky or clunky. With an open construction and roomy forefoot section, this iteration of the shoe brings a lot of comfort and cushion to runners of all foot types—especially runners with slightly wider feet. The 5 also boasts a new streamlined upper and lighter-weight feel, plus a stiffer midsole that works well for heavier runners.

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Altra Provision 5

At the core of Altra’s philosophy is a dedication to creating running shoes with an enlarged toe box, so the foot can expand and toes can fan out, and a zero or very low drop from heel to toe. For many runners, this widened shape, plus a straighter last, works well for flat and wide feet. The Provision is Altra’s moderately cushioned shoe with a widened heel and guide rails for stability. Runners with all foot shapes have found it to be comfortable and supportive enough to give up their orthotics. This version of the shoe brings in a guide rail to provide moderate support and stability for overpronators in such a subtle way that neutral runners won’t even notice it. Alta has also updated its “InnovArch,” a mesh layer beneath the inner side of your foot that hugs your midfoot like a hammock and ensures a more secure, customized fit.

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361-Strata 4

While the industry tweaks its ideas about what constitutes “stability,” 361 has decided to just play the hits, so to speak, and retain all the familiar features runners have long loved in its flagship stability shoe, the Strata. But that doesn’t mean the brand doesn’t know how to innovate. While this latest iteration of the Strata hangs onto its traditional medial post for support, it completely overhauls the Strata 3’s midsole for a smoother ride. Two layers of foam—a stiff, EVA-based QuickFoam wrapped in PU for durability, and a lighter, softer QuikSpring+—provide the Strata 4 with a nice mix of springiness and support. The upper has also been redesigned to feel wider and more forgiving, solving complaints that the previous model was too narrow. Heavier testers in particular appreciated the durability of the shoe. “I am a bigger runner with a strong heel strike,” said one tester. “I’ve had some trainers that are completely shot from fray in the lateral heel after 150 miles, but these still look and feel fantastic.”

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