What Are Zero Drop Running Shoes? Importance and Benefits

Natalie Cecconi
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Evolution of Running Footwear

Running shoes have evolved a lot throughout the past few decades. In the beginning, they weren’t much different than regular shoes and were available only in a few sizes. As time progressed, shoe companies started to develop different running shoes with different levels of cushioning and support for different types of running and for different terrain types.

In the 90’s, the super lightweight and minimal running shoes started to show up in the market. They were a good idea, but they lacked adequate cushioning which resulted in injury and pain. Then the companies got it right by creating shoes that had less cushioning in the heel and more in the forefoot. The forefoot cushioning provides more stability without sacrificing performance.

The development of zero drop running shoes seems to have been the result of quite a few years of trial and error.

There are various theories as to how and who created the first zero drop running shoes.

Some believe it is a result of more conventional running shoes minus their heel elevation.

Some say it’s the result of foam filled shoes that didn’t have any difference in heel elevation and forefoot elevation.

And some believe it’s none of the above and someone just decided to reduce the heel elevation in the mid 90’s.

Into the Modern Era

In the midst of the Great Depression, the shoes of choice were comprised of sneakers with thick cork soles to help cushion every step. As the economy and the progression of mankind moved out of the doldrums of the 1930s, the silhouette of a running shoe changed to reflect that. Until 2012, running shoes had a heel that was dropped to provide some degree of pronation control-that is, a higher heel supported the body. In 2012, Adidas shocked the market with its zero drop shoe, the Adipure Trainer.

By eliminating the heel drop, Adidas created a running shoe that controlled pronation through other means, namely its construction and "dual-density" cushioning system.

While zero drop shoes may have posed a legitimate revolution, the minimalist movement was already well on its way to becoming the standard. This new breed of running shoe was focused on reducing weight and reducing impact on the ankle, foot and leg.

Since 2012, the world of running shoe technology has seen that blur the lines of zero drop and the minimalist movement. However, the minimalist movement has taken it to the next level. The trend of merging running and walking shoes is here to stay.

In embracing this philosophy, zero drop shoes are the same weight and cushioning of your average walking shoe. They are built for daily use, everyday exercising and protecting your feet the way your ancestors did: with natural movement and minimal interference.

What Is Zero-Drop in Running Shoes?

What is zero-drop in running shoes? The term zero-drop is used to refer to the consistent distance between the heel and the center of the forefoot from front to back.

Essentially, zero-drop shoes have a flat heel-to-toe slope across the entire shoe, from the heel to the forefoot.

Shoes with a heel-rise (or heel-drop) are generally thought of as low-quality shoes with little to no traction, poor performance, and poor support. These features all depend on the positioning of the heel inside the shoe.

Heels that are higher off the ground, like that of shoes with a 2 to 4mm heel-drop, provide increased stability to the ankle and the knee.

However, many people mistake this elevation for comfort. Truth is, having elevated heels forces the muscles of the calf, ankle, and foot to do more work, which is not efficient.

Conversely, a zero-drop shoe allows the feet to move naturally, forcing the calf to work less, which equals an efficient and pain-free ride.

Shoes with early-stage plantar-fasciitis or arch pain may benefit from a heel-rise, but as the pain subsides an inch, you can try out a zero-drop shoe.

Should you go straight for a zero-drop shoe?

What Are Regular Running Shoes?

How Do They Compare to Zero Drop?

One of the running-shoe industry’s biggest misconceptions is that neutral-cushioned shoes are always the best choice for runners.

While this might have been true back in the day when shoes were made of tough rubber, modern-day running shoes are made of soft and bouncy materials designed for protection and comfort.

If you were to look at the insoles of a pair of modern shoe, you would find it cushioned thickly to protect your feet from the hard ground. However, this does not mean that all insoles are identical in terms of effective cushioning.

An excessive amount of cushioning can cause added weight on your foot making it difficult to land correctly. Zero drop insoles, are geared towards preventing this.

Zero-Drop vs Regular Running Shoes

When you slip your feet into a pair of zero-drop shoes, the heel of the shoe drops away leaving an even platform from the bottom of the shoe up to the toe.

This characteristic of zero-drop shoes puts your body in a more ideal position for exercise, allowing you to enjoy all the health benefits of a natural stride without any added strain or injuries.

But just like the right pair of shoes for walking is different than those for running, there are also specific considerations for finding the right zero-drop running shoes for plantar fasciitis and other common running injuries and conditions.

Why Should Heel-to-Toe Drop Matter?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, it is hard to miss the surge in popularity of running and barefoot running. For many decades running was believed to be only for people who had an athletic body and gave no chance to people with a not-so-fit body. With the boom of barefoot runners and the research that came with, running became a lot more accessible to people of all fitness levels and ages.

With that popularity surge also came a decrease in the popularity of heel-to-toe running shoes. This led shoe manufacturers to shift to a model of heavy cushioning. This, in turn, led to a significant increase in injuries. In today’s market, running-related injuries are more prevalent than ever. Over 30% of runners become injured every year.

That is why the presence of zero-drop running shoes is greatly appreciated. And to know what zero-drop shoes are all about, let`s have a look at the heel-to-toe drop.

Heel-to-toe drop is the difference in height from the heel of your foot to the exact middle of the forefoot. It is called a drop because it is measured in millimeters (mm).

Gives a Natural Feel

Zero Drop shoes are designed to give more comfort as well as a better feel when standing and running. The zero drop shoes fit perfectly with the human gait which keeps your back in the natural position.

With the natural standing and the zero drop technology, these shoes are the best option when it comes to preventing running injuries or any muscle pains that may occur due to bad walking positions.

Your toes are an important part of the balance system and in zero drop, the ball-and-socket joint is free to move naturally. The way the toes are used in zero drop shoes is also the most natural way you will move in running shoes

Because of this you will be able to better sense the surface you are running on. It makes it easier to handle the uneven surfaces because you are more aware of them.

Zero drop running shoes are definitely more comfortable than traditional running shoes. The discomfort which you sometimes feel after running is not there. You can feel it yourself if you use a zero drop shoe and a regular running shoe.

Another great thing that comes with zero drop shoes is the enhancement of energy. Contrary to the popular belief that zero drop shoes will make your feet hurt during the run, the truth is that zero drop shoes improve your energy by making your transition in the flow.

The way the shoes are designed make them lighter and flatter which is why they are suitable for endurance, racing, trail, and mountain running.

Reduces the Risk of Injury

If you are a runner, investing in a pair of zero drop running shoes will not only help you run better, but also prevent injuries and ensure that you keep running for years to come.

So what’s a zero drop running shoe?

In general, running shoe midsoles have a drop between 8 to 23 mm, with the higher numbers meaning more heel lift. Traditional running shoes lower the midsole of the shoe in the rear to accommodate for the Achilles tendon.

This is referred to as a heel-toe drop.

Zero drop shoes maintain a similar midfoot structure as that of a cross-country racing flat, which is around zero mm. This is because underpronation is the actual culprit for most running injuries.

Overpronation is marked by an inward roll of the ankle that reduces the amount of stress put on the Achilles tendon. So a zero drop shoe aims to reduce the pressure under the heel.

Spreads the Movement Around

When your foot strikes the ground during running, it strikes at an angle that is designed for the heel to touch the ground first … and then roll forward to push off. That rolling forward motion is the key to propulsion.

If your heel simply dug into the ground, it would be almost impossible to propel yourself forward. So we have an arch on the bottom of our feet. This arch springs back as we roll forward. It’s almost like a lever that is connected to our ankle. The lever is sprung by the arch and as it comes back to the original position, it propels our ankle forward.

Our feet don’t always strike the ground at a perfectly flat angle. This is where zero drop shoes come into play.

While the heel will always be higher than the toe, zero drop shoes offer a more even distribution of surface area with a lower platform. Some shoes don’t even have a heel. These are known as zero drop athletic shoes.

What this means is that the platform surface will be lower around the entire heel. This reduces the overall impact on the heel. This way, the foot is able to roll forward on a more even surface, not just the heel.

Lighter Footwear

Zero drop running shoes are lightweight, usually much lighter than the average running shoe. It’s easy to feel like you’re walking or running barefoot when wearing zero drop shoes. This is because these lightweight shoes have little to no heel lift. The knee and foot is in a natural position and this results in the muscles and tendons being more comfortable during the run. Less strain on the joints also allows you to run for longer.

There is also a positive impact on foot strike. Since there is less heel lift, you’re more likely to strike your forefoot rather than your heel with every step. This is a positive as a recent study for USA Track and Field demonstrated that landing on the forefoot significantly reduces the impact on the knee.

Better Stability and Makes You Go Zoom

So how do zero drop shoes benefit you?

First of all, zero-drop shoes have a lower center of gravity. By having a more stable stance you allow your body to move more efficiently, increasing comfort and performance. It will also take a lot of pressure off your knees and hips.

If you have ever experienced low back pain, then you know how uncomfortable it can be.

Zero-drop shoes provide better posture which leads to less fatigue and pain.

Low drop shoes force you to land directly on the heel which is unnatural, unadaptive and basically inefficient. What they are trying to achieve is a midsole that provides underfoot cushioning and absorbs shock while the rest of the shoe provides structural support.

Now, the tradeoff is that these shoes tend to be stiffer. You may feel them under your feet.

This may not be a dealbreaker if you need stability, but if you don’t need the stiffness and only want the underfoot cushioning, then zero drop would be your optimal choice.

Running shoes began to rise in popularity after the 50s even though the track spikes worn by Jesse Owens and many other Olympians predated it.

What is interesting is that these shoes were widely shunned by the medical community for their bad posture. So there you have it.

Transitioning to Zero Drop Running Shoes

Zero drop is a term used to describe the height of the heel in a running shoe compared to the height of the toe. Zero drop shoes have been around for decades but they have become more popular in recent years.

Zero drop shoes are usually characterized by a 2 mm difference between the heel and toe heights. Some manufacturers don’t advertise a zero drop height but may designate a negative drop instead. Negative drop shoes typically have a higher heel that is lower in height than the toe.

This is in direct contrast to conventional running shoes, which have a higher toe and lower heel. Conventional running shoes have a heel-toe drop of 10 to 15 mm.

Even though the drop or lack thereof doesn't seem like much, it can have a huge impact on your running form. It leads to your feet landing underneath your center of gravity so that you land more on your heels. This causes you to have improper posture when running and increases your risk of injury.

It is difficult to make the transition to running in zero drop shoes if you have been wearing conventional running shoes for a long time. There is a lot of research showing the potential for inflammation, pain, and injuries if zero drop shoes are used incorrectly.

Easing Into It

One of the first shoes in the category, the Juno 1, arrived to glowing reviews from runners and publications like Outside Magazine. A running shoe that helped a lot of runners run fast and pain free.

Fast forward to today and many of the major brands have brought out into the running shoe market their own models.

Market research shows that although runners have known for years that neutral shoes help their overall gait and experience – they will continue to spend their hard-earned dollars on shoes that are designed for pronation control.

Pronation control shoes have been a mainstay in running shoe design for decades, however, a major concern is the lack of proper foot biomechanics testing to support the shoe design.

Question: WHY should you wait for zero drop shoes?

ANSWER: Zero Drop shoes are excellent choice for new runners and for those who just want to switch to a much better model of shoes.

You should wait for a couple of reasons:

Running form is usually better than in regular running shoes. You will be landing on your midsole and then being able to propel yourself forward.

The shoes are more flexible and they will adapt better to your running style, support the natural movement of your foot and they will be overall more healthy for your body.

A much better integration of the midsole to the upper that provides more support and absorbs more shock.

Conclusion

If you are a runner, you need to have ankle support for running. However, not all you need is to have ankle support.

If you have previously suffered from ankle injuries, you need a shoe with extra cushion and support that can help heal the injured ankle.

That is where zero drop running shoes come into play. These shoes are the new alternative to mid-sole shoes. Due to increasing demand and rising popularity these shoes are getting more and more attention from health professionals and running experts.

It is important that you run with the right shoe.

Your feet are vital for becoming an efficient runner and are the most important part of the is your body.

A muscular body, super strong lungs or an excellent cardiovascular system are not going to be of much use without the right shoes.

The right shoe will help you in eliminating the risk of injuries and enhancing your performance.