Transitioning to Zero Drop Shoes

What does zero drop mean in footwear?


If you’re looking for a new pair of trail-running shoes, you may have come across the terms zero drop footwear or zero rise running shoes. Many running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of 10–12 mm. However, everyday shoes can be greater than this. This means your foot is always at a slight downward angle. Zero-drop footwear is designed to position the heel and forefoot at the same height above the ground. As a result, zero drop shoes imitate how your feet lie naturally when barefoot.


Why would I buy a zero drop shoe?

People often ask whether zero drop shoes are better for running. A zero-drop shoe encourages a low-impact landing during walking and running, by encouraging your foot to land more on the midfoot and less on the heel. This may make your running gait more natural, strengthen your feet and improve your posture. It may also help with certain types of foot and leg injuries.

Zero-drop footwear isn’t for everyone though, especially if you have an underlying condition. If you strike your heel heavily when running or have overly tight calves, a zero-drop shoe may not work well for you. We’d recommend spending some time training to prepare yourself for the transition.

If you are unsure whether a zero-drop shoe is the right style for you, it’s recommended that you talk to a podiatrist or other medical professional before making any decisions.



What can I do to transition to a zero drop shoe?

Your legs and feet will need to adapt to wearing a zero-drop shoe. Many people notice soreness in their calf muscles, Achilles and feet at first. This is because your legs are used to wearing shoes with a large heel-to-toe drop. Running in zero-drop footwear activates your lower legs differently and changes how your feet hit the ground. Your muscles and tendons need to adapt to this change, so you can expect some discomfort until you adjust to this new way of moving.

Getting used to a pair of zero-drop shoes can take several weeks. Give yourself time to adapt to your new footwear and strengthen your legs and feet. Don’t tackle any long-distance runs immediately, or you’re likely to feel some soreness. The transition may be challenging, but take your time to help your legs make the change.



How do I run with zero drop shoes?


Follow the steps below to help you get used to your zero drop shoes:


  1. Start by wearing your new shoes around the house.
  2. After a few days, take them outside for longer walks, working your way up to around an hour.
  3. When your new footwear starts to feel comfortable, head out on some short runs.
  4. Gradually build up your running distance over the course of a few weeks, before you hit the trail for your longer runs.

Make sure that you do plenty of calf stretches and foot exercises both before and after your runs to warm up and stretch out the muscles that you may not be used to working. It can also be a good idea to switch back to your old shoes after every few outings to give your muscles a break. And if you’re feeling really sore, don’t risk an injury - simply decrease your distance or intensity for a while until you start to get used to it. 



How quickly can you adapt to zero-drop footwear?

Transitioning to zero-drop takes most people a month. It may take longer if you choose zero-drop shoes with minimal cushioning. It’s worth noting that people with pre-existing leg or foot conditions will need some additional time to adapt, so make sure that you consult a medical professional for guidance.


You might find the change easier if you start with some zero-drop hiking or everyday shoes, and then progress to running shoes. If you race, consider transitioning during the off-season so you don’t jeopardise your training regime. Once you start running in your zero-drop footwear, you may also find your posture and running technique need adjusting. Practice landing on your midfoot, straightening your back and improving your arm movements. 


For more information about running in zero-drop shoes, visit Altra’s Run Better page, or visit your local Paddy Pallin store and chat to your friendly local team of experts.


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