Should I Run in a Zero Drop Shoe? Part I


Should I Run in a Zero Drop Shoe?

It seems every few years there is a big marketing push in the running shoe world for something. Ten years ago, it was minimalist footwear and how running with less of a shoe was better for you. As that phase of the running world has slowly faded, we saw the polar opposite approach with maximalist footwear. Big cushioned soles designed to “lessen impact” and give you more support. Around that same time, we started to hear more about a shoe’s drop, the difference between the height of the front and back of the shoe, and how running in a shoe with a little more level of platform might be better for a runner. We are going to delve into my decision making process for when to change someone’s drop height. 

While footwear is important when discussing either staying healthy or recovering from an injury, it is much farther down on my list than making smart training decisions, allowing adequate recovery, participating in a quality strength program and making sure life, in general, is going well for someone. With that being said, we need to understand what changes when we put someone in a higher drop or lower drop shoe. 

An important consideration.

Running in a shoe with less drop does not make you a better runner. It does not make you faster, or less prone to injury or a better person. It just shifts the loads around that your body is having to deal with. I have had A LOT of patients over the last few years that switched to zero drop shoes in search of an injury fix or performance improvement that developed stress fractures in their feet or pain in their arch, achilles or calf. Less drop does not mean better. It just means different.

Runner’s experiencing small aches and pains might benefit from tweaking their footwear to load that area a little differently. However, simply changing a runner’s footwear is not a magic pill to solve all your injuries. Shoe prescription is important, but if you are constantly running yourself into the ground with mileage and workouts, are not sleeping and eating enough, and you are stressed our from your job, your shoes are not the problem.


Runners Dealing with Pain

In general, placing someone in a lower drop shoe is going to place more demand on the ankle and foot. If someone is dealing with a bout of achilles pain, getting them in a higher drop shoe might help us get them back running pain-free more quickly. The exact opposite is true for a higher drop shoe which tends to place more demand on the knee. Running in a shoe with a little less drop might put us in a better position to get this person back up to 100%.

Unfortunately, runners can often live in the world of extremes. If someone has knee pain, shifting them from a 12mm drop to a 6mm drop shoe might be helpful. It does not mean you have to go all the way to a 0mm drop shoe. There are tons of brands and models that offer many different experiences.

This video highlights how simply changing someone’s footwear can change how they move. By simply changing a runner’s footwear, we will often see a change in mechanics. Also, I know that we have changed more than the drop height in this video. Besides the drop height, the stiffness of the last, cushioning and weight of the shoe is also different.

When we have runner’s change footwear, we need to be smart about bringing that shoe into their running rotation. What happens if you run in spikes or racing shoes after some time away from them? Your achilles and feet are sore. They are not used to dealing with running in that fashion. The last thing we want is to take someone with knee pain and tick off their foot. We have to be smart with how much we have them run in the new environment.


Shoe Drop and Healthy Runners

Running injuries tend to happen when we change things. Whether we are changing a runner’s mechanics, footwear, or training plan we must keep that in the back of our mind. A lot of runners get hurt, but some never run into injury troubles. If a runner is healthy, and reaching their goals, we need to be very calculated with changing any variables of their training.

Variability is an important element of a good training plan. A lot of runner’s spend a lot of time at the same pace, on the same route, and in the same shoes. Running at different paces, over different terrain, and in different footwear environments allows us to stress the body in different ways. Hopefully, this helps us stay a little healthier.

If I have a runner that comes in running in only one shoe, getting them to run in a rotation with slightly different drop heights and overall shoe structure can be beneficial. This is not to say you need to run in sandals one day and work boots the next, but having a rotation of the Brooks Levitate (8mm drop), Saucony Kinvara (4mm drop) and Hoka Clifton (5mm drop) offers them small variations of drop, with different amounts of cushioning, and allows the runner to manage different types of forces across their training week.

Shoe drop is an important consideration for both healthy runners and runners coming back from injury. I’ll expand more on specific assessments we should be using when deciding on drop height in my next blog post! Thanks for reading!

Part I: Should I Change My Shoe Drop Height

Part II: Ankle Mobility and Exercise Prescription

Nathan Carlson