Is heel toe drop the latest craze in running?
In the mid 2000’s, we went though the barefoot or ‘minimalist’ running craze. This fad was encouraging people to run on their forefoot more. This was thanks mainly to the book ‘Born to Run’.
Promising less injuries while running only if we connected back to nature and ran barefoot like we were born too. Barefoot running shoes filled the racks of shoe stores and the marketing hype began selling shoes all over the world!
The main barefoot shoe, Vibram five fingers went to court of the false advertisement of less injuries!! Have a read about that here.
Go into those same shoe stores now and you would find less ‘barefoot’ or minimalist shoes on the wall. We are constantly marketed too as consumers with the latest fad diet or super food and shoes are no different!
Over the last few years the new buzz word for runners is the ‘heel toe drop’ or ‘offset’. This is still gently encouraging us again into a more minimalist shoe.
There is even one company that only offer’s zero drop shoes!
So before we jump ship and buy a zero or low drop shoe, let’s have a look at:
– What is it a heel toe drop?
– Where did the heel toe drop come from?
– What is the effect of a heel toe drop on your running?
– What does it all mean?
Heel / Toe Drop – What is it?
The heel toe drop is the difference between the height of the material under your heel and the height of material under the toe of your shoe. This is usually measured in millimeters.
So for an example a heel height of 20 mm and and a forefoot height of 14 mm would have a heel toe drop of 6 mm.
A higher drop would suit a heel striker compared to a lower drop would suit a mid-foot to forefoot runner.
Heel Toe Drop – Where did it come from?
During the running boom of the 70’s when companies were making shoe’s more comfortable there was a larger heel toe drop for extra cushion.
Through the 80’s and 90’s the shoe companies had more stuff to fit under the heel of their shoe like air and gel pockets. Throughout this time the generally accepted average was between 10 mm – 14 mm.
Running Effects of a Heel Toe drop
As runners we all want an easy way to get fast, with less injuries and make running easier!! However as a runner and a podiatrist I know that I can’t rely on what has been said on a Facebook forum.
Let’s look at three research articles what the research says in regards to our heel toe drop!
Bio-Mechanical changes after 500km
One study looked into the differences of bio-mechanical change in three groups. These groups were wearing shoes with either a 10 mm, 6 mm or a 0 mm drop in standard cushioned shoes.
These runners had foot, ankle and knee joint measurements taken as baseline and were then tested again after 500 km in their shoes.
The only statistically significant difference measured in these runners was the knee abduction moment, (abduction is where the knee is taken away from the body) at mid-stance.
So this study is telling us that most of the bio-mechanical changes after 500 km are not statistically significant enough to alter your running bio-mechanically.
Running changes with different shoes
Another study looking at people who were used to running in conservative or traditional cushioned shoes with a 12 mm heel toe drop.
It then researched to see if their running mechanics changed over the course of wearing another 4 pairs of shoes. These shoes slowly descended in heel toe drop grading down, than running barefoot.
These participants all ran on the treadmill for this study.
This study looked at stride rate, ground time, vertical oscillation and the only statistically significant difference was when running barefoot, not in shoes of varied heel toe drop!
Heel Toe Drop and Injuries
Let’s have a look at another study that has a look at the influence of this heel toe drop on injuries.
This study was completed with three groups of runners varying between a 10 mm, 6 mm and a 0 mm drop shoe. The research looked at these runners activity over a 6 month period and the injuries they had.
After the statistics were compared between groups of runners with their shoes there was no difference in injury rates. However, interestingly when the data was sorted to their running history it give us some good leads.
As a result, it was found that occasional runners got injured less in low drop shoes and experienced runners were injured more in lower drop shoes.
What does it all mean?
So does having a lower drop in a minimalist shoe mean that we are going to have less injuries and potentially run faster?
Well, according to the research we know that it won’t change much bio-mechanically at all. Importantly the last research we looked at told us that experienced runners had a potential to get injured more in lower drop minimalist shoes.
What the research hasn’t told us is what did the experienced runners usually wear on their feet while running? Was it a more traditional drop of around 8mm – 10mm, or was it a low heel toe drop shoe?
With the evidence that we can see there isn’t much difference between a traditional heel toe drop shoe and a minimalist shoe.
Therefore, the take home message here from the last study on injury rates is, what is normal for our body when we run? Have we been running in a more conservative shoe for most of our running life, if so tread with caution!
Like anything new with running, it should be done gradually and letting your body adapt. The 10% rule when returning to running is to let our body gradually adapt to running load again.
This principal should be applied to different running shoes with different features. Remember above all else, listen to your body if it is trying to tell you something!
- Vibram Agrees to Settle Class Action Lawsuit. (2019). Retrieved from //www.runnersworld.com/news/a20783252/vibram-settles-class-action-lawsuit/
- Malisoux, L., Gette, P., Chambon, N., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2017). Adaptation of running pattern to the drop of standard cushioned shoes: A randomised controlled trial with a 6-month follow-up. Journal Of Science And Medicine In Sport, 20(8), 734-739. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.01.238
- Moody, D., Hunter, I., Ridge, S., & Myrer, J. (2018). Comparison of Varying Heel to Toe Differences and Cushion to Barefoot Running in Novice Minimalist Runners. International Journal Of Exercise Science, 11(1), 13-19. Retrieved from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5955330/
- Malisoux, L., Chambon, N., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2016). Influence of the Heel-to-Toe Drop of Standard Cushioned Running Shoes on Injury Risk in Leisure-Time Runners. The American Journal Of Sports Medicine, 44(11), 2933-2940. doi: 10.1177/0363546516654690
- Runner’s World. (2019). The 10-Percent Rule. [online] Available at: //www.runnersworld.com/training/a20781512/the-10-percent-rule/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2019].