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Heel Toe Drop: What It Is & How It Impacts Runners

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Heel To Drop, also known as heel drop, shoe drop, or toe drop, is the difference in height between the heel and forefoot. Measured in millimeters, this shoe sizing factor can have a major impact on a runner’s performance.

If you keep up on everything happening in the world of running, you have most likely heard the buzz about the heel-to-toe drop. Avid runners often have strong feelings about running gear. This is also true of shoes.

To help you make smart shoe choices for yourself, let’s dig into heel drop and shoes.

What Is Heel to Toe Drop?

Heel-to-toe drop, also called “drop,” is the between the heel and the forefoot of the shoe. Measured in millimeters, the drop can vary a great deal. It is worth mentioning that for a long time, drop and heel height was not a thing. 

The importance of drop was negligible until the boom of the minimalist running movement born in the early 2000s, specifically with Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run in 2009.

McDougall’s research and the book it spawned make a compelling argument for barefoot running and minimalist running shoes, and many of its readers suddenly began paying attention to heel drop when selecting their next pair of running shoes.

Now, runners can get shoes in a variety of drops. Before you just jump yourself into a new kind of shoes, you should learn about the different drops and the benefits of each. 

Does A Shoe Heel Drop Matter?

The heel drop of your shoes both matters, and it doesn’t. Confused? I bet.

The heel drop does matter because your feet will most likely want what they want. Like many of us find that certain brands of shoes work better for us, there are different drops that people’s bodies seem to prefer. 

That is not to say that you can’t work your way into a different pair of shoes. Most people can switch up the amount of drop they have in their running shoes.

However, you should know that zero drop shoes are not for everyone. 

How Does The Drop Affect Running?

A normal heel drop is roughly 10 mm and up. The lower the drop, the more your foot will be encouraged to a foot strike classified as a mid-foot strike. While no two running coaches and experts agree on shoe drop, there seems to be some consensus. 

Also, a lower shoe drop is known to put more impact on the Achilles tendon. This is something those transitioning into a zero drop shoe should be aware of.

CadenceImproved cadenceSlower cadence
Foot strikeMidfoot and forefoot strikeRearfoot strike more common
InjuryHelps with ITB, knee pain, gluteal overuse syndromeHelps with plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy, calf injuries
Body Greater stress on the foot, ankle, lower legGreater load on hips and knees
Running formForefoot strike pattern should be adoptedOverstriding forefoot strike might be prevented

What Is Considered a Low Drop Shoe?

First things first. The “lowest” drop is zero drop. This means that your heel and toes are level. A low drop shoe is anywhere from 1-4 mm

The idea behind a zero or low drop shoe is that your foot will move more naturally (barefoot running movement). This natural movement is believed to cause fewer running-related injuries.

Although the shoe manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money, and research on creating cushion and stability shoes that will keep your feet moving a certain way and give more arch support, proponents of the minimalist movement think this is a mistake.

What Is Considered a High Drop Shoe?

A higher drop shoe is anything over 8 mm. The most common drop height in a running shoe is 10 mm, so most runners wear a high drop shoe. A high heel-toe drop is considered best for runners who might have Achilles tendon issues and those with more of a heel strike. 

Don’t Confuse Stack Height with Heel Drop

One thing worth mentioning is that people sometimes confuse stack height with drop. The stack height is the amount of cushion under your foot. This means you can have a lot of cushion in the midsole and still have a zero drop shoe. If the cushion is the same exact height in the heel as it is by your toes, it is a zero drop shoe.

The Hoka One One is a fan favorite if you are looking for maximalist shoes with a high stack height. 

Are Low Drop Shoes Better?

As someone who does not do well in minimalist shoes, I would not say that low drop shoes are better. However, I also would not say that high drop shoes are better. In my running communities, I know runners who wear all different kinds of shoes. 

Those shoes vary in color, style, cushion, support, and, yes, drop. And guess what? Each one of them has some pretty strong beliefs on what they like and why. Could they wear another type of shoe? It is likely they could. Should they? I’m not convinced shoes are a one size works for all product.

If you are wondering what drop shoe is best for Plantar Fasciitis, wait no more. Most folks who struggle with that issue find zero drop shoes exacerbate their problem. The preferred drop for those who suffer from PF ideally want a 4 – 6 mm

Best Heel to Toe Drop for Walking

Just like with running shoes, I don’t believe there is a certain type of shoe best for avid walkers. If you ask 100 people what the best drop is for walking, you will get many different answers. 

Our runners reviewed the best walking shoes, and as you can see, there are many different styles and levels of drop. The Asics featured are a 10 mm drop, Oofos are a 6 mm drop, and Hokas are a 4 mm drop. 

Despite the significant difference in the drop, they are all highly ranked shoes.

Transitioning to a Lower Drop

If you are trying to get yourself into minimalist shoes or into shoes with a lower drop number, it is important to take a patient approach. It is unwise to just think you can jump right into a zero or low drop shoe. 

You should also start out with low mileage runs when you are wearing zero or lower drop shoes. Ideally, you would run just one mile or so as you get used to the new feel of the low drop shoes. 

As your body acclimates, you can start wearing the zero or low-drop running shoes for longer periods of time.

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