You’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about ‘minimalist’ or ‘zero-drop’ shoes, popularized by Christopher McDougal’s book Born to Run. If you’re interested in dipping your toes in the barefoot pond but don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place. 

Aficionados of the zero-drop movement swear by the stripped down shoe, singing its praises for increased efficiency, better posture and alignment, and fewer injuries.

Let’s break down what zero-drop means exactly and figure out if it's right for you

What are Zero-Drop Shoes?

The term zero-drop refers to the angle between the heel and the toe of a shoe. Though we don’t necessarily notice, most shoes do have some drop to them, meaning the heel is raised higher than the toe.

High heels are an extreme example of shoes that are not zero-drop. 

Zero-drop shoes position the feet in their natural state, mimicking the same motion the foot makes when walking around barefoot.

Barefoot running has certainly gained in popularity, and for those who prefer not to amble around without shoes, zero-drop shoes offer that same movement, while also providing protection.

Are Zero-Drop the Same as Minimalist Shoes?

Minimalist shoes may range between 0-6mm of drop typically, but can go as high as 8mm. Traditional footwear has a drop of 10mm or higher, for example, so most standard shoes are not minimalist.

Zero-drop shoes, on the other hand, require 0mm of drop, meaning zero heel elevation. In conclusion, zero-drop shoes fall under the minimalist shoe category, but not all minimalist shoes are necessarily zero-drop.

Minimalist shoes also have limited arch support and cushioning. Zero-drop shoes typically have minimal to no cushioning.

How do Zero-Drop Shoes Differ from Regular Running Shoes?

Compared to “regular” running shoes, zero-drop shoes certainly have some notable differences in the design, weight, and structure. 

  • The heel drop in traditional shoes ranges from 8-14 mm
  • Zero-drop or minimalist shoes are more flexible, allowing the foot to connect with the ground 
  • Typical running shoes are heavier and can slow you down
  • The toe box in zero-drop shoes is nice and wide, to accommodate the true shape of your foot, whereas regular running shoes are tapered at the tip and can cause problems like bunions.

Benefits of Zero-Drop Shoes

The main benefit of wearing zero-drop shoes is that they keep the foot in a natural position. The idea is that by maintaining this neutral position, the body becomes less dependent on the shoes to perform movement functions and instead relies on the foot, as intended.

Enthusiasts of zero-drop shoes believe that the raised heel in traditional shoes is the reason behind many common running injuries, since the elevated heel places the body in an unnatural posture.

However, zero-drop shoes aren’t only for the chronically injured, they can benefit runners who simply want to move more naturally.

Some benefits of zero-drop shoes include:

  • Improved posture and alignment
  • More reliance on muscles rather than shoes
  • Foot returns to natural function
  • Improve mobility
  • Builds strength in ankles, foot, and leg muscles
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Can reduce or eliminate pain in common areas, like the back, knees, hips, plantar fasciitis, and more

Zero-Drop Shoes Might Be Right For You If…

You have poor posture

If you find that you generally walk slumped in a way that might resemble a caveman (no offense), zero-drop shoes may benefit you. Because of the way zero-drop shoes place your heel, it aligns your spine, helping you walk like, you know, less of a caveman.

You suffer from frequent injuries

Unless you need an excuse to get out of the potato sack race at a family reunion, it’s realistic to assume that you try to avoid injury. Zero-drop shoes affect the way you step, and in those that lack cushioning, it changes the way your heel strikes the ground, which in turn helps to reduce knee injuries. 

You like to feel the ground

This one might be less of a no-brainer, but if you’re going to be out in nature running, hiking, or just exploring in general, you might want to be able to actually feel nature. Some Lems lovers have found that it helps to motivate them through their adventure. Who knew?

Transitioning to Zero-Drop Shoes

If we’ve piqued your interest in trying zero-drop shoes, we recommend easing into the transition in order to allow the body and your feet to adjust to the new style. 

Transitioning to zero-drop is fairly simple, but like anything, it’s important that it’s done correctly. If not done correctly, transitioning to zero-drop can cause more harm than good when it comes to the health of your foot.

Here are a few helpful tips for a successful transition to zero-drop shoes:

  • Wear your new shoes for short periods of time to start
  • Switch between your new shoes and old shoes every other day
  • Gradually wear your new shoes several days in a row, taking breaks as needed
  • If you plan to wear them running, use them for warm ups to start
  • Start with one to two mile runs in the beginning

Your calves, feet and ankles will likely feel sore when you first start to transition from your old shoes. That’s totally normal! It can take an average of four to six weeks to make a full switch. 

Zero-drop shoes can be worn for any activity, from running to cross fit to walking the dog and casual outings. 

If you’re ready to begin the transition, we recommend starting with a shoe like the Mesa or Trailhead, that feature a 4mm drop, before moving into a zero-drop shoe like the Chukka, Primal 2, Boulder Boot, Mariner or Nine2Five.  

Additional Articles

History of Shoes

As time has evolved, so of course has shoe design. Initially, athletic shoes became common, driven by comfort and performance. However, as shoes became fashionable, they became more impractical, driven by look over comfort.

Let’s take a deeper look into the history of footwear and understand how the design of today’s shoes has created a host of foot problems, including bunionshammer toes, and more.

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