Updated: Jun 21
The average foot has an average amount of arch–the shock-absorbing midfoot structure that, for most of us, remains elevated above ground when standing still. The midfoot arch serves to help absorb, then release energy from the ground as we impact. It is supported by both active (muscles, tendons) and passive (ligamentous) structures.
On either extreme of the average are the flat, hypermobile, pes planus foot and the rigid, high-arched, pes cavus foot.
The flat-arched foot gets a lot of blame for the ills of foot pain, but among runners I see clinically, they represent less than 10% of the population. The low-arched midfoot can result from genetics–hypermobility (of the whole body in general, or specific to the foot)–or simply from inefficient stride mechanics that overstress the foot. Either way, both the active and passive structures are continually stressed by the ‘collapse’ (or relative flat-ness) of the flat arch.
Stability and motion-control shoes were developed for these runners, in order to protect the midfoot arch from continual collapse. While this strategy generally ignored the strength and biomechanical factors involved in the arch stress, they were–and are–effective in helping stabilize this structure. However, since the majority of runners do not have a significantly flat foot, the stability/motion-control models–featuring stiff, plastic ‘roll cages’ and heavy, bulky, dual-density midsole foam–are entirely too much shoe and are too stiff, heavy, and uncomfortable.
On the opposite end, the rigid, high-arched foot can also be genetic (or congenital, as some are developed in vitro, often unilaterally), but tends to result from similar gait inefficiencies–or simply stiffening from high-mileage days and weeks.
A stiff arch may seem preferential; however, a flexible arch is crucial for adequate shock absorption. But more importantly, the foot must be flexible enough for the ball of the foot and the big toe–collectively known as the ‘first ray’ to engage with the ground.
Biomechanists and movement specialists believe that a strong engagement of the first ray with the ground is critical in maximizing hip extension–that a strong push-off begins with the first ray. Given what we know about the importance of ‘hips and gluts’ in running performance and injury prevention, a stiff, rigid, high arch may be just as detrimental to successful running as a flat foot. After three decades of pronation-phobia, there are few shoes that actively promote first-ray engagement.
Research on shoe type and injury prevention is highly equivocal: indeed, given the variability of individual needs, personal comfort is the most important factor in shoe selection. So, if a runner has found a truly comfortable shoe, they may still benefit from more support or enhancement. What to do?
Look to the Laces
One of the most overlooked components of the shoe are the laces. While some trail-shoe companies have improved lace engineering to prevent knotting and unlacing, and increase comfort at the top of the foot, little thought has been put into how lacing can affect shoe performance. What most runners don’t realize is that the shoe laces can be a tool to enhance the shoe: to make it more stable, and to enhance how the foot and the hip function in the run stride.
PRONATION AND SUPINATION LACING TECHNIQUES
Specific lacing techniques can enhance stability and promote foot contact.
The Flat Arch
Most runners realize that a flat foot benefits from arch support: mid-foot support prevents overstretching of the plantar fascia, medial tendons, and decreases wasted motion and energy. The shoe-insert and custom-orthotic industry is based on this premise. However, if a runner wishes to avoid heavy, stiff, and uncomfortable inserts, there is another option.
The Stiff Arch
On the flip side, a stiff, high-arched foot frequently fails to adequately engage with the ground. First-ray engagement is crucial in leg extension, and ultimately push-off power generation. Runners with stiff arches tend to land only on the lateral foot, and this limits that push-off power: it’s like driving down the road with only the lateral aspect of your tires on the road: less power, less stability. Thus, techniques that actually decrease the arch and increase the medial foot contact will improve running economy.
The original creator of these techniques is unknown. Both techniques begin the same.
First, unlace the top hole of each side of the shoe. Then, make ‘rabbit ears’ on each side, looping the lace into the open hole on the same side:
Lace each string through the opposite hole:
This creates anchoring loops:
From here, the techniques diverge.
FINISHING THE ‘INSIDE-OUT’ TECHNIQUE FOR FLAT ARCHES
This set of instructions finishes the ‘Inside-Out’ Technique for flat arches.
After pulling each lace equally taught, pull the inner lace firmly across to the lateral part of the shoe:
Maintain tension in that lace, then tie as usual:
This creates a firm, supportive wall of support on the midfoot–frequently the very place that is most irritated with hypermobile overpronators!
FINISHING THE ‘OUTSIDE-IN’ TECHNIQUE FOR STIFF ARCHES
This set of instructions finishes the ‘Outside-In’ Technique for stiff arches.
Lace the shoe similar to above, except now take the outer lace and pull firmly across to the medial part of the shoe:
Maintain tension in that lace, then tie as usual:
This technique creates a outside-to-inside force that helps the stiff-arched foot create greater contact with the ground, avoiding excessive lateral foot striking, and–through consistent whole foot contact–improves hip extension and push-off power.
It’s that simple, but enormously successful in enhancing individualized stability and performance in an otherwise minimal, lightweight, comfortable performance shoe!
GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FOOT-SPECIFIC LACING TECHNIQUES
The following are general recommendations for the foot-specific lacing techniques:
‘Inside-Out’ Technique Foot type:
Flat, hypermobile arch Injury issues it benefits:
Plantar foot pain
Medial arch pain
Medial shin pain
Medial knee pain
‘Outside-In’ Technique Foot type:
Stiff, high, and/or rigid arch Injury issues it benefits:
Lateral foot pain
First toe pain and stiffness
Lateral shin/knee/thigh pain
Postereolateral hip pain, ‘weak glutes’
Make your favorite running shoe even better–and enhance your own biomechanics–by trying these techniques! If you have any questions or would like a specific assessment and recommendations contact us. Remember, prevention is the best strategy.