The Beginners Guide To Zero-Drop Running Shoes

Looking for advice on how to choose the best zero-drop running shoes?

Then you have come to the right place.

Zero-drop running shoes have grown in popularity over the past few years.  In fact, a number of experts and runners claim that zero-drop shoes are the ONLY footwear for runners.

Their argument?

Zero-drop shoes, in theory, allow the feet to function naturally, which might be conducive to better running performance.

But is there any science backing this up? Or it’s just anecdotal evidence?

Here’s the truth.

Running in zero-drop footwear has a lot to offer, but you need to know why you’re doing it and what to expect.

In this article, I’ll explain what zero-drop footwear means and figure out if it’s right for you. More specifically, I’ll explaining the following:

  • What are Zero-Drop Running Shoes
  • The meaning of zero-drop
  • How do zero-drop shoes compared to other types of footwear
  • The pros and cons of zero-drop shoes
  • How to choose the best pair
  • How to transition into zero-drop running shoes
  • And so much more

What is Zero Drop Running Shoes?

A drop in footwear refers to the difference in thickness of the sole under the toes compared to under the heel. In other words, it’s the height difference between the heel and toes of a shoe.

Therefore, the term “zero-drop” technically means no drop from heel to toe.

Let me explain more.

Drop-zero shoes are minimal footwear with little to no cushioning, leaving your feet lying entirely flat on the shoe’s surface.

Technically, zero-drop shoes feature toes and heels of the same distance off the ground, which keeps the ball and heel of your foot at the same level. This, in turn, puts the feet in the exact position as if you were walking around bare feet.

This, in theory, may allow the shoe to better mimic how the foot would naturally move and function if barefoot.

Most casual and running shoes have some degree of drop. The typical shoe may have a drop of roughly 6 and 12 millimeters. Thanks to this difference, the heel is elevated by the amount of drop indicated.

What’s more?

Zero drop footwear provides plenty of space for your toes to spread out, is flexible enough to allow your feet to move naturally, and is flat for good alignment.

Measuring The Drop

The main thing measured in a heel-to-drop is the difference between the heel and forefoot height in a shoe.

For example, if your running shoes have 12 mm of material under the toes and 18 mm under the heel, then the difference between the two is 6 mm, and that’s the heel-to-drop.

But when it comes to zero-drop shoes, as the name implies, the forefoot and the heel are in a level position, emulating the natural barefoot position on level surfaces.

Zero-Drop VS. Minimalist shoes

Are zero-drop shoes the same as minimalist shoes? That’s a good question.

Although it’s a common myth, zero-drop and minimalist shoes aren’t synonymous.

For starters, zero-drop shoes have 0mm of drop, meaning no heel elevation. In most cases, a minimalist shoe drop may typically range between 0-6mm but can be as high as 8mm.

What’s more?

Minimalist footwear is also designed with limited cushioning and arch support, whereas zero-drop shoes, by standard, have minimal to no cushioning.

It’s one of those typical “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square” scenarios. In other words, although zero-drop shoes belong to the minimalist shoe category, not all minimalist shoes are technically zero drops.

How To Zero Drop Shoes Are Different From Regular Running Shoes

Compared to standard road running shoes, zero-drop footwear has drastic differences in structure, weight, and overall design.

While standard running shoes with heel and arch support are designed to keep the heel and ball of the foot at different levels, zero-drop footwear tries to simulate the natural barefoot position, in which the arch, heel, and ball of the foot are all at the same height.

What’s more?

Zero drop footwear is also more flexible than standard shoes because they imitate the foot’s natural movement when barefoot; however, standard shoes are stiffer.

Shoe weight is another differentiating factor. Zero-drop shoes are lighter since they’re made from less material and don’t require extra cushioning.

Standard running shoes can be heavier thanks to the wide midsole, cushioning, and materials.

I can go on and on, but it’s not rocket science. One look, and you can easily differentiate between the classic standard shoe and a zero-drop shoe.

The Benefits Of Zero-Drop Running Shoes

The primary benefit of running in zero-drop shoes is keeping your foot in a natural position. This, in theory, encourages less reliance on the shoe and more reliance on the muscles of the feet and legs.

In other words, your body will depend less on footwear to perform movement functions. This may help enhance body posture, stride, and performance.

In short, according to zero-drop running shoe enthusiasts, some of the main benefits include:

  • More reliance on muscles instead of footwear
  • Improved alignment and posture
  • Improved mobility
  • The improved natural function of the foot
  • Build strength in the foot and leg muscles
  • Reduce injury risk

The Downsides of Zero-Drop 

Just like anything else, zero-drop running shoes aren’t without downsides.

For starters, zero-drop shoes can put a lot of pressure on the calf muscles. That’s why if you rush into these shoes, the extra load can take a toll on your calf muscle and tendons.

Secondly, be careful if you hit the trails often. Since zero-drop shoes have a thin sole, you’ll be more prone to hurting the bottom of your feet and coming down with bunions and/or calluses.

Have a history of Achilles pain? Shoes with a higher drop help. You’ll also need more arch support if you’ve flat feet. There’s a reason podiatrists advise against going barefoot all day long on hard surfaces. This may force the arch to collapse, causing all sorts of issues.

Don’t get me wrong. Zero-drop is running shoes aren’t inherently bad for your feet, but if you have a history of foot pain or have a less fat pad in your feet, barefoot shoes can increase pain.

In conclusion, I won’t recommend zero-drop shoes if you have:

  • A history of ankle sprains/pain
  • A history of Achilles tendonitis
  • A history of plantar fasciitis
  • Bunions

Transitioning into Zero-Drop Running Shoes

Zero-drop is running shoes aren’t for everyone. The shoes are designed for runners who have been around the running block for a while and know what they’re doing.

So if that doesn’t describe you, I’d recommend a pair of shoes that provide more cushioning and structural support.

Next, once you decide to dip your toes in barefoot running, make sure to ease into the transition so your body can gradually adjust to the new style.

Switching from a standard shoe to a zero-drop shoe is a big change, and it will put extra pressure on your muscles, especially your calves. Try to rush this process, and zero-drop shoes will cause more harm than good, and you don’t want that. Right?

How long the transition will take depends on the person. Each runner has its own running style and physiology.

Here are a few tips to help you make a smooth and pain-free transition:

  • Use your new shoes during a short, easy run once a week at the start.
  • Jump back and forth between your new shoes and old shoes every other day
  • Wear your new shoes for several days in a row; slowing down as needed
  • Consider using your new shoes for your warm-up miles during a tempo run, then change into the shoes you’re used to.
  • Gradually add in more days with your zero-drop shoes
  • Work your new shoes slowly until you really feel comfortable running in them.

Pay attention to Your Body

Expect some degree of calf soreness and lower leg pain when you go right to zero-drop footwear, especially if you’ve been using supportive, heavy shoes for a long time. Your muscles will need to adapt, and this doesn’t happen overnight.

Your ankle, feet, and calves are likely to feel sore during the early weeks of the transition from your old shoes.

In most cases, it can take up to four to six weeks to make a full transition. So be patient. It’s not something that happens overnight.

Remember that you can also wear zero-drop shoes during any activity, from running to cross-training to buying groceries and walking the dog.

Once you’re ready to make the switch, I’d suggest that you start out with a pair of shoes that feature a 2 to 4mm drop before moving into standard zero-drop shoes. Give your feet time to adjust.

Conclusion

There you have it

If zero-drop running shoes have picked your interest, then today’s post should get you started on the right foot. The rest is just details.

Thank you for dropping by.

Keep running strong.

David.