Getting the right and appropriate footwear makes a big difference in a runner’s performance. However, finding the right running shoes amid all the options can be overwhelming. For so many years, we’ve settled with the traditional running shoes made with thick cushions and lots of heel padding to protect our feet from getting injured. In the last decade, however, the need for these features, and the science behind them, has been challenged. Whether you believe this new viewpoint, or see it as just another running fad, one thing is certain. Shoe styles have evolved over time, and among the big new hits are the zero-drop shoes. But what are they, and what are their benefits?
What Are Zero Drop Shoes and How Do They Work?
Before we go ahead and discuss zero drop shoes further, it is essential that you understand what a shoe drop is.
A shoe drop is the height difference from your heel to your forefoot. It ranges from a “drop” of zero up to 12 millimeters or so in traditional running shoes, and even up to an astounding gap in high heels such as stilettos.
Now, the term “zero drop” was originally coined by the manufacturers of Altra Shoes. It means to describe footwear with little to no heel lift from the heel to the forefoot. Basically, the heel is at the same level as the ball of the foot – just as your foot would be when you’re standing on a level surface in bare feet.
The general idea of how zero drop shoes work is that it positions your forefoot and your heel flat to the ground, feeling almost as if you’re not wearing shoes.
Benefits of Zero-Drop Shoes
Zero-drop shoes are becoming more popular. Why is that? Well, companies such as Altra say zero-drop shoes help correct body posture and running stride. This should affect a runner’s performance positively, whether you are a casual or serious runner.
Here are some of their other benefits:
- Natural Feel
Zero-drop shoes will give you the feel of natural running. This means that your feet move more as they would if you were running barefoot. Your foot is a natural shock absorber, and movement such as toe splay and landing on your midfoot or forefoot are part of a natural stride. These are made easier by zero-drop shoes.
- Less Risk of Injury
Zero-drop shoes do not encourage heel striking (contacting the ground heavily with your heel), which often plays a major factor in knee injuries. It also does not push you into a forward-leaning position, which some say wreaks havoc on your posture.
Zero-drop shoes also remove the strain from your knee area and spread it around your calf muscles, resulting in reduced risk of injury.
Zero-drop shoes are usually minimalist in design, meaning less material and lighter overall weight. That helps maintain your running speed and increases your endurance, giving you an advantage in competitive running where you need to run faster and last long distances.
- Increased Speed and Better Stability
Zero-drop shoes place your feet at a more natural position, giving you better stability and in theory allowing you to achieve faster speed.
Tips for a Smooth Transition to Zero-Drop Shoes
Transitioning from conventional running shoes to zero-drop shoes is not a walk on the park. They need getting used to, especially if you’ve been running with a substantial heel-to-toe height for as long as you can remember. It is only wise to accept the fact that you will need enough time to adjust. Here are some tips to get a smooth transition:
Before buying a pair
- Spend time each day barefoot before purchasing a pair of zero-drop shoes. This will help build up the muscles you haven’t used in months or years, and it will jumpstart the strengthening of the tendons and ligaments that will support your whole body while running.
- Consider relevant factors. These include your weight, body composition, past injury patterns, level of fitness, and running goals. Experts recommend that it is best to take your time to transition, as you could wind up with strained Achilles tendons, sore calf muscles, or aching feet, to name a few injuries.
- Shop footwear on a Wednesday. According to Shopittome.com, an online retail tracker, this is when shoppers get to save up to 40% on shoes.
- Buy your pair in the evening or late afternoon. This is among the good-to-know fitting tips when it comes to purchasing footwear. This is the time of the day when your feet are most likely to be their largest, probably because you’ve been on them all day.
After buying a pair
- Rotate use with your previous shoes for the first week and start them on short, easy exercises. This will allow your muscles and tendons the needed time to adapt back to their natural state.
- Reduce mileage or intensity if you experience excessive soreness or any discomfort. Again, this will give your body the necessary time to adapt.
- Work on your form. Fine-tune your running technique either by taking lessons or watching world-class runners.
- Strengthen your feet. Ease into your new running techniques with exercises such as standing on one foot, pulling a towel in with your toes, and running barefoot to achieve strong and dynamic feet.
Always remember that switching footwear will affect your performance, so make sure to transition to using zero-drop shoes slowly.
Using zero-drop shoes for running, also known as barefoot-style running, may require short or ample time to adjust, depending on how long traditional running shoes have been a part of your life. After all, adjusting does not come easy for most of us. However, it is also best to keep in mind that zero-drop shoes were designed for a purpose, and not just for the sake of a new running fad.
Zero-drop shoes were created to help keep our feet in their natural state as much as possible while running. And for this reason, they come with some health and performance benefits. They provide comfort, ensuring that you get the stability and efficiency you need to be on top of your game.
Just always remember to do the transition gradually and consider the factors mentioned above, and you’ll be reaping the benefits of zero-drop shoes in no time!