Is Zero Drop Good For Running?

When it comes to running with less impact and better form, zero drop running shoes are significantly better than conventional running shoes with a thick cushioned heel. This is because a flatter sole helps you engage your forefoot strike more effectively, and the evidence is overwhelming in support of this.

Is Zero Drop Good For Running?


A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology 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. Here’s what the study found:

  • Heel strike runners who adopted a non-heel strike landing in thick heeled cushioned running shoes had greater metatarsal, heel and shin peak acceleration than the runners in a flatter running shoe.
  • The researchers speculated that the runners in thick heeled running shoes attempted to land on away from their heel, but struggled too much in adopting a consistent non-heel strike due to the thick under-heel cushioning.

The full meaning of these results is that too much cushioning under your heel is a clear mechanical interference that continuously undermines your ability to uphold a safer, more functional forefoot strike.

Is Zero Drop Good For Running?
The flatter your running shoes, the less you run with lopsided and mechanical imbalances because you are better at connecting properly on your forefoot.

Furthermore, the runners who wore zero drop running shoes were asked to choose whatever foot strike landing they preferred (note: the runners 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 thick-heeled running shoe group.

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.

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

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.

All in all, the researchers concluded that a flatter running shoe aids in better heel-strike prevention which reduced shock magnitude under the heel during running.

The researchers also added that their data is consistent with other work which found that when runners ran barefoot or in the zero drop running shoes, heel pressure dramatically decreased, therefore the real potential to run with good form is in your ground feel.

The Take Home Message

It’s more immediately apparent that in order to engage proper running form, running in minimalist shoes or running barefoot must be practiced. In fact, from the start, you should be walking barefoot as much as you can because strengthening the feet requires the extra sensory input in order to switch on the nerves in the foot responsible for stimulating more muscle tone.  Read more here about all the performance and health benefits of zero drop running shoes over traditional running shoes. 

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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

"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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