If this is the first time you’ve heard the term “heel drop,” you need to know that it is not the same as “foot drop.” Heel drop is not a foot ailment. It is about shoe construction and describes where the heel of a shoe sits in relation to the toes.
Right now, heel drop is a hot topic for runners.
The Minimalist Movement
At some point near the turn of this century, runners began giving their shoes the side eye and posing questions. For example:
- Does strong arch support actually weaken the foot?
- Should a shoe aid in the foot striking the ground at the heel or midfoot?
- Are strong stabilizers really necessary for everyone?
The questions eventually produced a consensus that running shoes had become overbuilt over the years, to the point that they were no longer functional for certain foot types.
The pendulum at first swung toward a strong preference for running “naturally,” which usually meant as close to barefoot as possible, but manufacturers are now exploring a middle ground between traditional, “maximal” shoes and the barely-there.
While there are no official standards, shoes labeled “minimalist” generally have less structure, padding, weight and/or elevation than their traditional counterparts. You can see the changes in lines such as Minimus from New Balance and Kinvara by Saucony.
Changing relative elevation (relevation?) is what heel drop is all about.
Heel Drop and Zero Drop
Most shoes will raise your heel higher than your toes – often twice as high. A traditional running shoe might have a heel-to-toe drop of 12 mm.
In contrast, one of the newer shoes with a dropped heel will typically have a drop of 5 mm or maybe a little less.
“Zero drop,” as you might have already guessed, simply describes a shoe where the toes and heel of your foot sit at the same height from the ground.
A zero-drop shoe might also be minimalist in some or all of the other ways we described earlier, though not necessarily.
Should I Drop My Heels?
Whether you shop for a zero-drop or other heel-dropped shoe depends on certain parameters. This is particularly true for running shoes, where buying the right shoe can lower your risk for injury.
Some factors to consider are:
- Foot strike characteristics
- Previous history of injury
- The surface you run on (grass vs. asphalt, for example)
MedicineNet.com has plenty of detailed advice for choosing the right running shoe for you.
While the jury is still out on the overall benefits of running minimally vs. traditionally, experts agree that a sudden, drastic change of shoe can land you on the injured list. Muscles, ligaments and so on – your entire musculoskeletal infrastructure – is adapted to the type of shoe you’re wearing now. If you do decide to change, do it very cautiously and gradually.
FootSmart.com: Healthy running 101.
FootSmart Blog: My minimal shoe experience.