Why Heel To Toe Drop Matters To Runners

No matter what type of running you do, whether you are training for an ultramarathon or are working your way through your first Couch to 5K program, having the right shoes is important. Like the foundation of a house, your shoes are the base on which your body movement occurs. The first few things to think about when choosing a pair of shoes is the type of running you plan to do. For example, will you be mostly running roads or trails? You should also know what type of gait you have so you can have the proper structure for your shoes. Do you need more or less cushioning or what is heel to toe drop?

What Is a Heel to Toe Drop?

When you research running shoes, you will see the term differential. Measured in millimeters the drop is the difference between the height of a shoe in the heel and in the forefoot. Known as Heel to Toe Drop (HTT), this differential is important to understand in order to put your feet in the best, most comfortable position as you prepare to train.

running shoe anatomy
thewirecutter.com

HTT is not the same as stack height. Note that the stack height is simply the distance between your foot and the ground while wearing the shoe. To understand HTT let’s look at an example. A shoe with 20 mm of material under the forefoot and 26 mm under the heel has a 6 mm heel to toe drop.

On the other hand shoes with a low drop have either an equal or relatively equal amount of material under the foot in the toe and heel.

Does a Shoe Heel to Toe Drop Matter?

It truly does. The type of drop your body prefers often can help some individuals prevent running-related injuries. For people prone to certain particular injuries, a local running store employee who is knowledgeable about shoes will likely recommend a particular drop in order to keep them less likely to get sidelined.

Surprisingly, for a long time “drop” didn’t exist. Fifty years ago the shoes people ran in were flat and had very little stack height. However, just like everything in the world, the world of running shoes evolved. Now shoes are made in a multitude of different types of support, stack and drop.

Quite honestly, the running shoe business boomed to be sure there was literally a shoe for every foot.

What is a Good Heel to Toe Drop?

That depends on how you run. Many runners will ask what the best heel to toe drop is. That answer is not a one size fits all response.

understanding heel to toe drop
rei.com

The most traditional running shoe has a drop of about 10mm. With a good amount of cushion in the heel, this type of shoe promotes a heel strike when running.

Let’s explore the different measures of HTT drop and when experts advise they be worn.

Zero Drop Shoes: In a zero drop shoe, your forefoot and heel are leveled. Many people refer to these as barefoot shoes and they represent the very premise of the minimalist movement in running. These types of shoes created quite a hype after the book Born to Run was published, highlighting the running tribe members who travel miles and miles on foot with very little covering their feet.

4 – 6 MM: These shoes have a very small drop differential and are considered a minimalist shoe. Shoes with this drop will be very lightweight and will encourage your feet to strike either on the mid or forefoot. They also have very little arch support which some people find problematic. Of course, proponents of the minimalist movement would argue that once you train your feet to run in them, you will love them.

7 – 10 MM: Considered the average in HTT drop, This describes your typical running shoe. Neither minimalist nor very cushioned, these shoes are actually fairly typical. Most running shoes created fall somewhere within this range.

11 + MM: Any shoe with a drop higher than 10 is a fairly firm and motion-controlled shoe. These are your stability shoes.

Drop and Foot Strike

The lower the drop of the shoe the higher the likelihood that you will strike in the fore or mid-foot. Conversely, shoes with a high HTT drop tend to reflect a heel strike.

According to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, the HTT drop can and will impact you’re running. Key points in the research study “Systematic Review of the Role of Footwear Constrictions in Running Biomechanics” had three key findings, one related to plantar fasciitis.

What is plantar fasciitis? Only one of the most devastating, running-related foot injuries. One of the most common causes of heel pain, plantar fasciitis is when there is inflammation in the tendon that runs under your foot. The plantar fascia is the tendon that connects your heel bone to your toes.

Is Zero Drop Good for Plantar Fasciitis?

Proponents of the minimalist movement would argue that transitioning to a minimalist shoe or to barefoot running will fix any problem a runner can have. Even a physician writing for Podiatry Today states that when he stopped trying to push runners into stability shoes and started advocating for minimalist shoes, his patients started to see fewer injuries (including plantar fasciitis).

zero drop shoes
rei.com

Other physicians and those who study biomechanics (such as the research study referenced above) say that a softer, more cushioned midsole will help alleviate the pain and discomfort of plantar fasciitis.

Transition Carefully

If you plan to try to get into minimalist shoes, it is very important that you do not jump right in. Moving from a high heel to toe drop to a low (or zero) drop shoe needs to happen gradually.  This is not something you can rush into if you want to stay running and healthy!

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