What is shoe drop?

There are more shoe companies now than ever. It also seems like there is new terminology in the running world every year. This can cause confusion, which is not a good thing when you’re trying to find the best shoe for you.

One term you may hear is heel-to-toe drop, referencing the distance between your heel and the ground vs your toes and the ground. Generally, most running companies put a 4-12 mm drop in their shoes… meaning that your heel is 4-12 mm higher than the ball of your foot.

However, in the past few years there has been more of an emphasis on minimalist running and having shoes with a lower drop to help prevent various injuries. What follows is information on the benefits of shoes varying in drop height.

Zero drop shoes keep your heel and toe level to encourage natural biomechanics. This means in a zero drop shoe, your foot will react more similarly to how it would react if you were to run barefoot. One easy way to feel the difference is to do 20 regular running strides on grass, first with your shoes on and then barefoot. You may notice with shoes on that strides are longer and there is more movement from heel to toe during the foot’s contact with the ground.

Extra cushioning under the heel allows us to put more force onto the ground during our heel strike.  Excessive heel striking can lead to knee injuries. At the same time, it is important to be conscious of where your feet strike during your runs, no matter whether you are running for five minutes or five hours. If you have foot problems, such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, using a shoe with a higher heel drop can help alleviate some of the pain.

The road to true recovery from these injuries combines resting, strengthening, stretching and support.

If you are in a shoe with a higher drop height and intending to move into a more neutral shoe, it’s important to allow your body time to transition into this style of shoe. You will be stretching the muscles and tendons in your lower legs and feet; rushing into a new shoe can lead to risk of injury. It is recommended to first do small runs in the new shoes and build up to the level of running you had with the old shoes.

The big discussion regarding heel drop is this: Whether one particular style of shoe (neutral, moderate, aggressive) has any correlation with injury rate in runners. Studies suggest injury rate does not increase significantly in any one style of shoe. One thing that is important to remember is that all these shoes provide a great platform to protect your foot from the trail, but do not always provide the proper support for your foot.

Finding the right insole to put in your shoe will be the best way to alleviate the pain while you’re wearing the shoe. Giving your feet the opportunity to stretch out at the end of the day is important too.  So don’t forget to take off your shoes and kick back at the end of a day.

If you are interested in strengthening your foot, try picking up marbles with your toes or do some toe flexing with a resistance band.