How Important is “Heel to Toe Drop” in a Running Shoe?

The other day, someone asked me what “heel to toe drop” is and how important it is in a running shoe?

Like any advice I give with running shoes, if a shoe feels good and you are uninjured, it’s probably a good shoe for you. There is no perfect shoe for anyone.

The term “heel to toe drop” is relatively new and became more popular after the book Born to Run and the creation of zero drop shoes like the brand Altra.

How Important is "Heel to Toe Drop" in a Running Shoe?

What is Heel to Toe Drop?

Just like determining your shoe size, the heel-to-toe drop is another factor to consider in running shoes. It can take time and patience to figure what kind of HTT drop is best for you.

The heel-to-toe drop is the difference between how high a shoe is in the heel and the forefoot. If you look at most running shoes, you’ll notice the heel has more cushion and is higher than the front.  The higher the drop, the bigger the difference in the heel to the forefoot. Think of a ladies stiletto that will have a “high” heel-to-toe drop where a ladies flat will usually have zero.

The heel-to-toe drop is also known as “offset” or the “drop” of a shoe.

What does Heel to Toe Drop Exist?

When running shoes were created many moons ago, almost all running shoes were flat with little to no cushion or heel-to-toe drop. This is a big factor of why people said: “running was bad for your knees.” You were basically running on little to no cushion! During the first running boom in the 1970s, brands began adding more cushion to their shoes, specifically the heel. Putting this extra cushion in the heel of running shoes reduced the stress on the calf muscles.

Many running shoe brands settled on a drop of 10-12 millimeters. This meant there was anywhere between 10-12 millimeters of extra cushion in the heel of the running shoe.

Then in the early 2000s, the book Born to Run came out, and the minimalist trend began. Runners and brands called for “more natural” running shoes. This meant that many running shoes had the same amount of cushion in the heel and the forefoot. People believed these flatter and more natural shoes would make them less injury-prone because they didn’t have a shoe controlling their foot movement. Sadly, that’s not the case. No shoe will prevent injuries.

In 2021, most shoes average between 8-10 millimeters of drop, but it is easy to find shoes with 0, 4, 6, or even higher like 12 or 13.

Does Heel to Toe Drop Matter?

Of course! Like getting the right size, getting the right drop for you is essential. The key is for you.

When you should generally look for in a higher heel to toe drop:

Shoes with a higher heel-to-toe drop are easier on the lower leg like the foot, ankle, and especially the Achilles and the calf. They direct the load of running into the knees and hips.

Higher drops are usually better for those who:

  • Have consistently tight calves or tight Achilles
  • Known to heel strike

When you should generally look for a lower heel to toe drop:

Shoes with a lower heel-to-toe drop are known to direct the load of running away from the knees and hips, but that force is generally directed into the lower legs.

Lower drops are usually better for those who:

  • Have knee or hip issues
  • Known to midfoot or forefoot strike

This is not a one size fits all solution, though. It will take trial and error to find what works best for you.

How can you transition to a lower heel-to-toe drop?

First, ask yourself, why?

If you are running healthy with no pain, there is no reason. Just because you don’t run in a lower heel-to-toe drop doesn’t make you a bad runner. People get too caught up in that sort of thing. If you find yourself having knee and hip pain often and have gone through several options, it could be a sign you need a different shoe. Get fitted at your local running store. I’ve written a dozen times about this, including Why you Need to Be Fitted for Running Shoes.

Yes, that’s advice for most running shoe things because reading a blog post isn’t going to give you personalized advice.

Next, take it slow.

Don’t go from 12 millimeters to 0. You’ll go from healthy to injured. Go down each model. Even numbers do most running shoes, so instead of 12, then go to 10, then the next shoe model, 8, then 6. then 4, then 2 or 0. Stop where you feel healthy. If you feel great at 8, there is no reason to go 6, 4, or 0. The only goal here is for you to feel good. This entire process could take a year, yes a year! But it’s going to prevent a lot of injuries.

Heel to Toe Drop is complex, and there is no one size fits all solution. There really isn’t a one-size solution for any running situation. As always, it’s best to find what works for you.

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Questions for you:

What heel-to-toe drop do you run?

What is your favorite running shoe?