The Beginners Guide To Zero
Looking for advice on how to choose the best zero-drop running shoes?
Then you have come to the right place.
Zero-drop running shoes have grown in popularity over the past few years. In fact, a number of experts and runners claim that zero-drop shoes are the ONLY footwear for runners.
Zero-drop shoes, in theory, allow the feet to function naturally, which might be conducive to better running performance.
But is there any science backing this up? Or its just anecdotal evidence?
Heres the truth.
Running in zero-drop footwear has a lot to offer, but you need to know why youre doing it and what to expect.
In this article, Ill explain what zero-drop footwear means and figure out if its right for you. More specifically, Ill explaining the following:
- What are Zero-Drop Running Shoes
- The meaning of zero-drop
- How do zero-drop shoes compared to other types of footwear
- The pros and cons of zero-drop shoes
- How to choose the best pair
- How to transition into zero-drop running shoes
- And so much more
Evolution Of Running Footwear
Running, as a sport, has remained the same in principle through the ages. Its the technology of the gear that changes. Some of these changes come with better material and design, and some follow current beliefs or fads.
If you go back far enough, all running was barefoot running. The human leg and foot are made for long-distance running, and running is a part of human history. Jump forward a few tens of thousands of years, and running was done competitively. Shoes were developed to protect runners feet, even if they were simple designs made of thin layers of leather. Running shoes stayed more or less like this until the introduction of vulcanized rubber in the 1800s.
This particular development saw the release of rubber-soled shoes. They started off as being ungainly and uncomfortable, but also started shoes down the path toward better traction and cushioning. With those soles and goals, shoe makers started seeing that shoe design itself could impact performance. It wasnt simply a matter of protecting the foot.
A Little Background On The Human Foot
Consider the fact that human beings and the human foot were designed to run from the moment we could stand upright. That was one of our main benefits for us to survive.
We had the ability to run, endure many of our prey was faster over shorter distances than us. We had the ability to sweat to maintain endurance, and we could run long distances.
Consider this about the foot. It has 26 bones in it, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons and ligaments, which provide all this support, and for 1000s of years, we didnt wear anything on our feet.
So we were, by definition, minimalists, so you can well understand why so many people are so keen to return to that because that is our ancestry of utilising these mechanical miracles called feet, which have the dexterity and sensitivity of nearly the same as our hands. And we dont box our hands in we use them!
However, many people want to be minimalist because it is historically the way we began.
The reality is that most of us have grown up throughout our life, having our feet encased in less than a minimalist shoe . Weve tended to wear shoes that are very supportive and do not let our feet work hardly at all.
So its essential that if you are considering going over to a zero drop shoe or minimalist shoes, to understand that there is some time needed for transition.
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How Trail Runners Can Benefit From Zero Drop Vs Minimalist Shoes
Here I look at whats behind the growing popularity of zero-drop and minimalist footwear as well as the benefits for trail runners.
Zero-drop and minimalist shoes became all the rage a decade ago when the best selling book Born to Run sparked a revolution in barefoot running. Inspired by the romantic idea of Mexican tribesmen running thousands of miles barefoot and fueled by nothing but corn beer, many runners binned their old shoes and started running in footwear that look like flip flops. The idea behind flatter, thinner shoes was that they would invite a forefoot or midfoot strike, which barefoot proponents claimed was more efficient than a heel strike and was less likely to cause repetitive stress injuries. 10 years on the hype has simmered down, and there are now several studies with which to fact check the claims made years ago. Armed with an internet connection and a desire to know the truth, this blogger did just that went through some of the most recent research in search of answers.
Disclosure: I am a zero-drop runner and have been for several years. My own experience has been one of success, but, not wanting to rely on anecdotal evidence, Ive done my best to consolidate the findings of several reputable studies and present these as objectively and accurately as possible. However, I have also relied on my own observations as well as those of other runners.
The Different Categories Of Heel Drop
Heel drop can be classified into 4 categories:
- Zero drop commonly advertised as natural running or barefoot running and is popularized like Altra and Vibram
- Low drop Common for trail running shoes
- High drop The most common drop range of most running shoes
For the sake of this discussion, lets classify 0-6mm into low drop shoes and anything more than that into high drop running shoes.
Lets discuss the pros and cons of the two categories.
Low Drop Shoes
Low drop shoes decrease the load in the hips and knees and transfer them to the foot making them a better option for athletes recovering from hip and knee injuries.
This is backed by a 2019 study where a team of researchers collected full-body kinematics and ground reaction force data from a group of participants who ran 4m/s in 3 different conditions and found a decrease maximum knee moment in a 4mm drop shoe compared to those running with a higher drop.
Low drop running shoes are common for trail runners as well. In a 2020 study in France, researchers have found an increase in downhill performance for athletes using a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. According to the researchers, this is due to the modification of foot strike pattern from heel strike to forefoot striking during downhill trail running which contributed to the overall performance of the athletes.
High Drop Shoes
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Potentially The Solution To All Your Problems
Gabrielle Kassel is a sex and wellness journalist who writes at the intersection of queerness, sexual health, and pleasure. Her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well & Good, Health, SELF, Women’s Health, Greatist, Bustle, and more. In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, or recording episodes of her podcast Bad In Bed: The Queer Sex Podcast.
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“Zero Drop” may sound like a lame carnival ride, weight maintenance program, East Village bar, or Korean pop band. But they’re actually a kind of shoe. And people are into them.
Turns out, it’s for good reason according to trainers and even podiatrists, wearing zero drop shoes is something we should all be doing. Here, everything you need to know.
Zero Drop Shoes Minimalist Shoes
It’s a common misconception, but “zero-drop shoes” and “minimalist shoes” actually aren’t synonymous. It’s a classic one of those “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square” situations: All minimalist shoes are zero-drop, but not all zero-drop shoes are minimalist shoes.
Let me explain: In addition to having a zero-drop heel, minimalist shoes also have reduced cushioning and reduced arch support. That’s not always the case with zero-drop shoes. Some zero-drop shoes are still relatively cushioned.
Brian Beckstead, co-founder of the Altra Running brand explains: “When Altra coined the term ‘zero drop’ it was never about minimalism, it was about getting your foot into natural and stable positions,” he says. “A lot of minimalist companies started using the term ‘zero drop’ for their shoes because they do have no heel dropbut just because a shoe is zero-drop doesn’t mean it’s minimalist. Altra’s, for instance, are cushion-y.”
If you decide to invest in a pair of zero-drop shoes, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want zero-drop shoes or zero-drop minimalist shoes. Got it?
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Zero Drop Shoes Lead To Injuries
For the past decade, the hottest trend in the running community is the zero-drop shoe. Basically, its any shoe where the heel and the ball of the foot are the same height just like there is no drop when you are barefoot. On the contrary, traditional running shoes feature a heel that is slightly elevated therefore, the foot is tilted.
The fad started in 2009 when Born to Run hit bookstore shelves. It caused a cascade of events including shoe manufactures developing zero drop and minimalist shoes to keep up with competition and demand, runners changing their form to a natural running style, researchers investigating injuries and ground reaction force on humans running with various shoes, and most importantly, runners experiencing injuries in different areas.
How To Zero Drop Shoes Are Different From Regular Running Shoes
Compared to standard road running shoes, zero-drop footwear has drastic differences in structure, weight, and overall design.
While standard running shoes with heel and arch support are designed to keep the heel and ball of the foot at different levels, zero-drop footwear tries to simulate the natural barefoot position, in which the arch, heel, and ball of the foot are all at the same height.
Zero drop footwear is also more flexible than standard shoes because they imitate the foots natural movement when barefoot however, standard shoes are stiffer.
Shoe weight is another differentiating factor. Zero-drop shoes are lighter since theyre made from less material and dont require extra cushioning.
Standard running shoes can be heavier thanks to the wide midsole, cushioning, and materials.
I can go on and on, but its not rocket science. One look, and you can easily differentiate between the classic standard shoe and a zero-drop shoe.
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Is A Midfoot Strike Really Better Than A Heel Strike
The original idea behind flatter, thinner shoes was that they would encourage a forefoot or midfoot strike, which barefoot proponents claimed was more efficient than a heel strike and was less likely to cause repetitive stress injuries. Unfortunately for the early barefoot advocates, forefoot striking quickly proved to be impractical for distance running, and research into the mechanics of a midfoot vs heel strike hasnt proven one to be more efficient than the other.
However, there is evidence to support the idea that heel strikers are more likely to suffer from injury. That is not to say that heels-striking is necessarily bad just that heel strikers are more likely to land with the kind of excessive force that can lead to injury. If a runner has a habit of aggressive heel hiking, she can soften her footstrike by simply shortening her stride. In most cases this is enough to avoid injury. If shortening her stride doesnt prevent a recurring injury, she should at least consider swapping to a midfoot strike. Unlike shortening your stride, changing your foot strike is not an overnight fix. Most runners who make the swap do so while transitioning from conventional shoes to zero-drops a process that typically takes at least 3 months.
What Is Drop In Running Shoes
3 min read
The drop of a shoe is the difference in height between the heel and forefoot. The greater the drop, the steeper the angle between your heel and forefoot.
For example, when barefoot, the heel and forefoot touch the ground at the same level: drop is 0. At the other end of the scale, when wearing high heels, the drop is much greater.
Drop is something that has been at the center of attention for many years because the wrong choice – or in other words, a choice that is not adapted to your natural stride – can increase your risk of injury. A drop that is not suited to your natural stride will force you to adopt a different stride, and suddenly and abnormally increase the stresses on your muscles and tendons. In the beginning this might cause unusual aches and pains that could develop into tendonitis or periostitis injury.
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Which Heel Drop Do I Need
Heel drop is something that usually worries advanced runners. If youre only at the beginning of your running adventure, this is not something to obsess about.
The go-to heel drop is considered to be 10mm. Theres no science to back this, its just the most common heel drop when it comes to standard running shoes. Its a good starting point and if you want to take this road, take into account one factor only: your health condition, injury-wise.
This is simply because different heel drops affect different body parts and, if you have any injuries, youll want uninjured regions to absorb the impact. The lower drop will load your ankles and Achilles more, the higher drop will load your knees and hips more.
When buying a new shoe and deciding on a heel to toe drop, these are the things to pay attention to:
How Do Zero Drop Shoes Differ From Regular Running Shoes
Okay, so weve already talked about this to some degree, but lets look at some other important details to help you better understand how zero drop shoes stand out from the rest.
Aside from the lack of any heel-to-toe drop , zero drop shoes are also more flexible than other options.
This is another big difference youll have to get used to if you decide to switch to this footwear. Because theres less material propping up your heel, these shoes also allow for a lot more movement. You might be surprised how much flexion the sole of your foot has when you try running without a large cushion between your feet and the ground.
That lack of material is also why zero drop shoes dont weigh as much, but Ill elaborate on that in the next section.
Finally, conventional shoes actually have a more minimalist design when it comes to their toe boxes the part of the shoe where your toes go.
Thats because the larger toe boxes on zero drop shoes work to give your toes the space they need to function naturally. By tapering this area, conventional shoes force your toes into a tight space. Among other things, this unnatural positioning can cause bunions
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Are There Additional Benefits To Minimalist Shoes
The average zero-drop improves stability, balance and control by offering a wider toe box and allowing you to use your whole foot when engaging the ground. Minimalist shoes take this a step further by improving stability and allowing for more accurate proprioception that awareness of how you are in contact with the ground. With less cushioning in the midsole, minimalist shoes give you more feedback with which to finetune your connection to the trail. By allowing you to make these minor adjustments to your gait and step on the fly, minimalist shoes give you even better balance, traction, and control.
Even better stability
There are actually two advantages to a lower stack height. Even if a skinny midsole didnt allow for better groundfeel, it would still make a shoe more inherently stable. The physics is simple. Taller objects like conventional shoes with a significant stack height are less stable, while shorter but similar objects like minimalist shoes are more stable. If youve ever owned a pair of platform shoes, you know exactly what Im talking about. I prefer to run technical trails in shoes that have less stack height precisely because they make me feel so much more surefooted. The downside to such a design is that there is less to protect you from sharp rocks and other pointy objects underfoot.
Better Stability And Makes You Go Zoom
Proponents of zero-drop running shoes say that they allow your feet a more natural position, and this natural stance gives you better stability. In terms of performance, this means you can run faster than in traditional running shoes.
The natural feel of zero-drop shoes may encourage your body to adapt better, which may help performance. Again, this is open to debate. Some runners strongly prefer the zero-drop feel. These shoes are hugely popular in trail and ultra-running. They are substantially less common in road running. Give them a try to see if they are your cup of tea.
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Finding Your Level Of Support
Once you’ve decided what kind of ride youd like to experience from your shoes, depending on your biomechanics, you can find a level of support in your shoes to bolster your gait. There are three categories of running shoe support: neutral, stability and motion control .
- They can work for mild pronators but are best for neutral runners or people who supinate .
- They typically do not have motion control features such as medial posts that reinforce the arch side of each midsole.