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pros and cons of zero-drop running shoes

Minimalist and zero-drop shoes are currently appearing in all sorts of guises from every-day trainers, work-appropriate shoes, sandals, and zero-drop running shoes.

But although minimalist footwear may be fashionable, it is essential to understand what is meant by zero-drop shoes and, especially if you are considering zero-drop running shoes, what the pros and cons are.

Additionally, with hundreds of different options available, once you have decided to purchase a pair of zero-drop running shoes it can be difficult to make the final decision of what make and style to purchase. An option that may help is checking out one of the running shoe review specialists such as shoehero.com.

Apart from being a fashion statement, we need to understand the various stages of development of running shoes and what sparked the current interest in zero-drop running shoes.

But first, let’s consider…

What are zero-drop running shoes?

It is important to understand that although virtually all minimalist shoes are zero-drop, not all zero-drop running shoes are minimalist shoes.

Zero-drop shoes simply means that heels and toes are the same distance off the ground. Literally, there is no drop from the heel to the toe.

Zero-drop running shoes can be minimalist, but many versions do still have good cushioning.

A short history of running shoes

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors did not wear shoes. All running was barefoot running, and running was just part of everyday lives.

But as running became a competitive sport, shoes were developed to protect the runner’s feet. For many years, these running shoes were just thin layers of leather until the 1800s when rubber-soled shoes were developed.

As manufacturers began to realise different styles of running shoes not only protected the feet but also could impact performance, shoemakers started to introduce a range of features for comfort and support. One of these features introduced additional cushioning under the heel, thus raising the heal so the runner leans forwards very slightly. It was felt the extra cushioning would help the leg absorb shock and the adjusted postured would improve performance.

By the beginning of this century, virtually every running shoe had a heel lifted by half an inch or more. But a change was already in sight…

The gradual move to zero-drop running shoes was triggered by the huge numbers of barefoot marathon runners across the world. Barefoot running became the norm for many after Abebe Bikila won the Rome Olympic Marathon in 1960 completely barefoot.

Many shoe companies decided they wanted to develop running shoes that mimicked bare-foot running, but nonetheless provided protection for the runner.

Since for thousands of years, man has run barefoot and the assumption, therefore, is that this is the natural way to run, the development seemed to make sense and zero-drop running shoes gradually entered the mainstream.

However, that supposed logic does have a flaw.

In some countries, notably Africa and Latin America (Abebe was Ethiopian), running barefoot is still the norm. Our bodies were designed to run barefoot, and the human foot and lower leg were designed to absorb the shock of landing and turn that impetus into energy to move us forward.

But as for hundreds of years we have been wearing cushioned and heeled shoes for running, our feet and legs have lost some of the natural strength they may otherwise have had.

Nonetheless, there are benefits to running in zero-drop shoes and the transition to doing so may be worth considering.

The benefits of zero-drop running shoes

As already mentioned, zero-drop running shoes are designed to be more akin to the natural running movements of our ancestors. The flat design means that every part of your foot gets to land firmly on the ground, spreading the initial shock before transferring it to the calf muscles and knees. This also lets your feet move more freely as compared with heeled running shoes and allows a good range of motion through the ankle joint which allows a fluid and efficient stride pattern.

Proponents of zero-drop running shoes believe they reduce potential pain in the waist and lower back and remove strain from the knee area and spread it around the calf muscles.

The risks of zero-drop running shoes

Most podiatrists are not fans of zero-drop running shoes. These same specialists caution people not to walk around their houses barefoot as, they say, walking with little to no support on hard surfaces allows the foot to collapse and possibly lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the foot but to the rest of the body.

Similarly, podiatrists believe zero-drop running shoes don’t provide sufficient arch support which can result in plantar fasciitis, bunions, tendinitis, stress fractures, calf pain, and shin splints.

Although some research seems to indicate this is the case, it would appear the problems are generally due to runners already having poor foot structures such as flat feet which substantially increases the risk of problems.

Gradual transitioning to zero-drop running shoes

Even the biggest proponents of this type of shoe maintain that transitioning to zero drop shoes must be done gradually over a period of months or even years to avoid undue strain on muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

The best option is to gradually reduce the height of the heel. Purchase a new pair before you need to and alternate runs between the two pairs.

Importantly, if you have been wearing minimalist shoes for everyday wear, don’t think this is part of the transitioning process. Clearly, running is a very different process to walking!

If you are totally new to running, check out our Beginners Guide to Running.

So why not check out what styles are available and start planning your transition to zero-drop running shoes?


image credits:

Track photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Children running photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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