Zero Drop Shoes
Zero drop is a term that plays into the idea that our feet are best in their natural state. They are at times referred minimalist shoes, which is a play on the idea that there is minimal interference with the natural foot. “Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices”. – https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-015-0094-5
Most of the shoes that we wear from childhood are designed with a little lift. This is to say that the heel and toes are not at the same level at any given time. The heel tends to be slightly elevated. Over time this inevitably alters the way that we stand. Imagine a child’s first pair of shoes. They ask of the child something that isn’t natural to that child. However, due to the fact that we are conditioned to wear these shoes and walk this way, it is all we know.
Zero drop shoes return us to our natural condition, without that subtle ‘heel lift’ that most shoes come with. The natural way that is best suited for great posture, as it facilitates a natural foot strike. It is worth saying that this is not a new phenomenon that has just come onto the market. Barefoot shoes have been around for decades now. Like other new ideas and products, the market is slowly turning in that direction. It hasn’t been the swift wind of change that inventors and manufacturers in the space had hoped for.
Various studies have been carried out to measure the effects of using zero drop shoes, along side the effects of using maximal shoes, which are the opposite of what zero drop shoes are. In the article below, they used what they termed “natural” sole shoes, which isn’t exact true. These have some elevation. Granted, it is minimal elevation, but elevation nonetheless.
The question then becomes, by padding our feet against impact that they may already be evolved to take, are we altering the impact points? Do our feet now come into contact with the ground at an angle that they are not naturally evolved to? The stark contrast to this is the maximal variation of shoes that have also come with the claim of improving posture and alleviating lower back pain, and leg pain. The Hoka One One is at the forefront of the maximal shoes, that are highly cushioned. Their mechanism, and method are based on the reduction of foot impact. There is less emphasis on natural foot strike.
Based on the premise that our bodies have constantly evolved to survive extinction, we are anatomically geared to evade danger. This is to say that we should be able to run. Statistically, over 75% of all athletes experience some form of injury due to their running. Such a phenomenon would easily be explained in impact sports such as rugby, American football and so on. You may not be evolved to take impact from foreign bodies, but surely you are geared to take impact from the ground. If that is the case, then injuries must somehow be linked to how we are impacting the ground, not that we are impacting the ground.
The greatest shift in that last century when it comes to running has been the shoes that we wear when we run. It is reasonable to expect that there is undoubtedly a link between that and the injuries that runners encounter. To evaluate the truth in this, we have gone on to do a review of the literature that is available on this subject. The research has been done by various parties. So, all we have to do is curate the data and come to a conclusion.
The evolution of running has been on the pattern that runners commonly use mid/front foot. There are no schools of thought that would deny how much faster this has made runners over the last two/three decades. Usain Bolt would be a beacon of this. One could also argue that this may perhaps be a contributing factor to runners’ injury. Our consideration is mainly on walkers, those of us who do not compete in athletics. One of the key features of modern running shoes has been more and more in the direction of shaving off unnecessary material and foot padding.
This study focuses on heel strikers; runners that strike the ground with their heels as they run.
It found that the impact peak and loading rate were greater in the maximal shoe compared with the traditional neutral shoe. This finding would be in favour of minimal shoes, such as the zero drop shoes. It is worth noting that recreational runners are not famed for impeccable technique. That being said, these are the sort of people whom we ought to be looking at if this study is to have any bearing on most people.
Benefits of Zero drop shoes
- Natural foot strike, which is evolution-backed.
- No unnecessary changes to your posture to accommodate shoes.
- It improves your posture.
- Less likelihood of lower back pain, if started early.
- Reduced undue pressure on lower limbs.
- Some research indicates longer standing
- It strengthens the foot
- Increased sensory input increases stability
- Optimised lower leg stiffness, reducing proneness to injury.
Perhaps the greatest advocacy for the minimalist shoes comes from evidence the research that is linked to above. This research looks at the effect of bare foot running. The runners are categorised into those who have been running for a while and those who are new to running.
Key results that were derived showed that:
- Those that didn’t have injuries or some sort of pain before starting didn’t get one as a result of barefoot running.
- Those that had injuries and pain largely indicated recovery that was attributed to the switch to barefoot running.
What Makes a good shoe?
Let’s Consider Foot Anatomy
80% of people will have some sort of issue with their feet. Most of these problems are a result of or are exacebated by the shoes you wear. The video below will talk you through the anatomy of your feet, and how these are affected by movement as well as the shoes that you wear. You will note that when your foot is not laid flat on the ground by some sort of elevation, there is increased pressure on the phalanges and metartasal bones. This is one of the reasons raised in support of minimalist shoes. Increased pressure on any one part of the foot over a prolonged period will lead to inflammation.
The natural human response to inflammation is a subconscious compensation. This is why you see yourself or others put less pressure on an aching leg or arm, and use the other one to compensate. For the most part, this is done without any thought. Consider how you would likely drop an expensive artefact if it was hot. The fight or flight instinct kicks in and we respond without conscious thought. Had you weighed the option, you may have decided that the heat was worth enduring for the potential loss that you would incur by dropping this artefact.
NerdFitness defines this as follows:
- No heel lift of any kind.
- A wide toe box that allows your foot to spread as it lands on the ground with each step.
- A pliable bottom that allows your toes to bend to a full ninety degrees of flexion as you step.
- Something to attach it to your ankle area.
This is a criteria that zero drop shoes meet to the tee! The essential element in all of this is that shoes should not be a replacement, but an aid to your feet. The same way you shirt wouldn’t replace your skin as a barrier, but aids it. The same way suncream will be applied onto the skin to play its part without altering the skin. Shoes are a necessity! The world is filled with elements and objects that our feet are not naturally equipped to strike against. Part of evolution is the development of tools and methods that help us along the way. This is what minimalist shoes achieve.
What about Zero drop shoes with cushioning?
There is no evidence to conclusively rule out the role of cushioning. In our natural state, without conditioning of environment or injury, we still need some things to act as barrier to potential harm. If cushions provide this barrier, they are necessary. This is not to say that we all need them or don’t need them. Cushions will come in various forms and shapes. Consulting a podiatrist to see what you are best suited to.
Adapting or changing to minimal footwear
Abrupt changes to minimal footwear are usually associated with injury. Your foot has been trained to position itself in a certain way for a long time. Changing that should be done progressively. An immediate change is asking too much of yourself. You ought to remember that this is not a change that is limited to the foot. This change affect your legs, your lower back and every part of your body that is associated with foot movement.
Most people forget that moving to minimal shoes also means that you are suddenly treading on harder surfaces. The padding cushions in your shoes are no longer there to soften this. Your feet need time to improve their tolerance of the ground surface.
A gradual change allows all of these body parts and bones to adapt. A good way to do it would be to start with doing a day or two every week, then switching to half a week on zero drop shoes. Once you are comfortable with this, making a complete transition will be easier.