Arch Supports for Training

How to choose the correct arch supports

By Tom Clarke

Arch support is an important feature that your boots should provide and if they don’t then it is necessary to purchase an insole that fits your foot properly and that supports the four arches of your foot.

When the insole is in place, preferably with the removal of the boot’s original insole, it should not alter the placement of your foot in the boot and should allow ample toe room. If the insole is much thicker than the original insole, it can often push the foot up in the boot and cause the achilles tendon to rub against the boot. If the insole is much thicker in the front, then you must have a boot with a high toe box or else your toes will crowd and be damaged.

First it is important to understand the arches of the foot and how proper arch support or lack there of can impact your training. There are three arches medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal,and the tranverse, but some say there there are four and include the metatarsal. All of the arches work in unison with each other.

  • The medial longitudinal arch is located in the most forward section of the arch towards the inside of the foot.
  • The lateral longitudinal arch is located on the outside of the foot from the ball of the foot to the heel. Its purpose is to limit the movement of your arch with a minimal height in movement.
  • The transverse arch is located at the back part of your arch just in front of the heel with the plantar fascia going from the arch towards the toes.
  • The metatarsal arch is in the front of the foot and it is formed by the bones in the ball of the foot.

The goal is to have the arch completely supported in the metatarsal (front), medial (inside), lateral (outside) and transverse arch (back).

Start by identifying what type of natural (none load bearing) arch you have: High, Medium or Low. A simple test we would do is the ‘wet test’. Take a paper grocery bag and get your bare foot wet by stepping in water then step onto the bag with both feet. Step off and look at the residual water remaining on the bag.

If there is no sign of the lateral or outside area of the foot and there is an impression of the fore foot and heel only then you have a very high arch.

If you see the outside of the foot in the impression, but there is a rather large dry area where your medial arch lies then you most likely have a medium arch.

If the majority of the footprint is wet with a very small or absent area of dry in the medial arch area then you have a very low arch.

The height of the arch will help you determine the height of arch support that is needed. Remember, this test just tells you the height of your arch when it is static but it does not tell you what happens to your foot when it is in motion and if you have a neutral gait or if you are an overpronator or underpronator (supinator).

Pronation is the biometrical shock motion of the ankle, foot and lower leg. It’s how your feet flex inward during the natural motion of the leg. There are many factors that contribute to your gait that decide if you are an overpronator or an underpronator. Overpronation is when your ankle push inwards and your arch stretches flat. This can lead to extreme strain on the tissues of the foot, ankle, knee and lower back effecting your entire skeletal alignment in a negative way. A common injury of overpronators is plantar fasciitis and proper arch support could be preventative.

If you are an overpronator it is important that you have good medial support on the inside of the shoe and the arch to prevent the foot from rolling in and allowing the ankle to collapse inward during the motion cycle. Overpronators will often wear the inside of the soles of their shoes. Underpronators will wear the outside of their soles.

It is a common misconception that a person with a flat foot or low arch is an underpronator. It is possible for high arched individuals to have a neutral, overpronated or an underpronated gait.

Orthotics are expensive and should be taken into consideration if needed. There are many over the counter arch supports that you can try out ranging from $25.00 USD and up. Keep in mind that not everyone’s arch is the same. Not all arch supports are one size fits all, most commonly told to you in a shoe store.

The ideal insole would be full length that would replace the stock insole that comes in varying degrees of arch height as well as support and in thickness so that it would not crowd your feet in low profile boots. It must fit and support your arch so that your training can be supported for longer durations. Look for a deep heel cup to help disperse weight with support all the way forward to the transverse arch.

Birkenstock blue footbeds offer great support for those with medium arches. You can slide them into your shoes, but they are only 3/4 so you would have to slide them on top of the stock insoles. This could potentially change your foot placement in the boot and cause foot alignment issues if the original stock insole supplies an arch. These blue footbeds support all four arches and they are composed of cork and resin with a nice deep heel cup to disperse weight in the heel area. They are slightly raised in the metatarsal arch area, which I find prevents my foot from slipping in the shoe and helps disperse weight off the ball of my foot. I have not come across a full length version yet by Birkenstock that supplies the same support system. An option for those that are Birkenstock fans is to purchase a flat cushioned non-slip liner for the boot then place the blue footbed on top.

Another great option are Superfeet®. They are more affordable than prescription orthotics and they are full length so they could replace the stock insoles. They also come in different arch heights and in varying degrees of support. Some individuals don’t like where the medial arch support lies on their foot. It supports the medial front side of the calcaneus and some complain of too much pressure in that one area. What many are doing is buying one size larger than what they require and cutting the size down so that the support lies more forward in the medial arch. It depends on your preference and shape of foot.