Why Low Heel Running Shoes are Better

My favorite running shoes are ones that are completely flat. This helps me land on my forefoot and avoid heel strike. It doesn’t make sense for a running shoe to have a thick, cushioned heel, since we’re supposed to land on our forefoot first, not heel, remember?

Here is why low heel running shoes are better…

Low Heel Running Shoes

Why Low Heel Running Shoes are Better

Flat running shoes, or zero drop running shoes affords a runner more control over their foot strike. A study by Giandolini et al., (2013) compared the effects of flat and thick heeled running shoes with foot strike-retraining on overall impact and associated pain and/or injury onset in heel strike runners.

  • Heel strike runners who adopted a midfoot strike in a thick heeled running shoe had greater metatarsal, heel and tibia peak acceleration than runners in a flatter running shoe.

The researchers speculated that the runners in thick heeled footwear tried to land on their midfoot, but never naturally adopted a consistent midfoot strike due to the thick under-heel cushioning, suggesting that foot strike-retraining is useless unless the runner wears a zero-drop running shoe.

Why Low Heel Running Shoes are Better
Low heel drop running shoes are best for avoiding heel strike when running.

The runners who wore a flat shoe were asked to choose whatever foot strike they preferred (i.e. they had no foot strike-retraining). The researchers found that these runners had less overall impact intensity at the heel and less shock wave propagation speed compared to the ‘midfoot strikers’ in a thick heeled running shoe.

The minimalist shoe in the study was the Salomon Sense S-Lab (shown below right) which is a light, flexible shoe with a midsole that provides sufficient protection for running on rough terrain.

 

Why Low Heel Running Shoes are Better
The S-Lab (right), used in the study, is still lower in heel height than the traditional running shoe (left). A lower heel helps you control for a better non-heel strike landing.

Although, the shoe does have some heel height, the S-Lab’s are an intermediate model between the Vibram FiveFingers and the standard running shoe, according to the researchers.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that a flatter running shoe aids in a flatter foot strike landing during running, which in turn reduces shock magnitude under the heel.

The researchers also noted that their data is consistent with other work which have found that when runners run barefoot, or in the Vibram’s, heel pressure decreases and forefoot pressure increases, suggesting that barefoot runners opt for a more comfortable foot strike, landing away from the heel.

The Take Home Message

This is evidence that the body has natural duties in moderating impact during running by avoiding initial heel contact.

And lastly, the data from the study also concludes that despite running with a non-heel strike landing, if the traditional running shoe is worn, a runner will be least likely to run with less force and with the correct foot strike, a forefoot strike.

Click here to see what a proper forefoot strike should look like.


 

More From Run Forefoot:

Why Heel Striking Hurts

What is Proprioception and Why We Need it To Run Properly

Where to Buy Low Heel Running Shoes

Best Energy Tablets for Endurance Runners

How to Reduce Over-Pronation


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References:

Giandolini et al. Impact reduction through long-term intervention in recreational runners: midfoot strike pattern versus a low drop/low heel height footwear. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2013, 11.

Squadrone R, Gallozzi C (2009) Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod conditions in experienced barefoot runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 49(1):6–13.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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