Zero drop or bust. When it comes to the best shoes in general and for runners specifically, there’s an ongoing debate. Some people argue that the latest models, say more traditional running shoes with maximum padding on the heel, are the only safe running shoe.

Yet there’s a growing number of people who swear by zero drop shoes as the best option for any type of activity. They argue that zero drop shoes allow your feet to function naturally, which is actually much better for your physical alignment, hence your running form.

And supposedly, wearing this type of footwear can actually help fix not just your feet, but pain coming from the legs and back as well. If that were true, wouldn’t zero drop shoes be worth considering?

Keep reading to discover the truth about what we like to call ‘functional footwear’ (always zero drop), and find out if they are right for you.

What Does Zero Drop Mean?

Most shoes, both casual and running shoes alike, contain some degree of drop. Drop is the angle of the shoe between the heel and the toe. With majority of shoes, the heel is always raised higher than the toe.

This creates a stance that is very unnatural. It tilts the pelvis, curving the lower back and shortens the calf muscles. How often, when walking around barefoot, do you walk with an elevated heel?

Any type of heel shifts your center of gravity towards the ball of the foot. Needless to say this creates added pressure on that part.

Illustration shows benefits of zero drop shoes vs. heeled shoes

A zero drop shoe, on the other hand, is a shoe that is flat, meaning the heel and the toe are at the same level. It’s the same when you are standing on the ground with bare feet.

Thus, when walking or running in zero drop shoes, you are doing so in the most natural state possible, aside from being barefoot.

Are Barefoot Shoes the Same as Zero Drop?

Zero drop shoes, barefoot shoes: Are they the same thing? Yes and no.

Barefoot shoes are those that closely mimic the feeling of being barefoot. For many people Vibram Fivefingers, the shoes that look like gloves for your feet, come to mind.

There are multiple factors that constitute barefoot shoes. One of the key factors is that barefoot shoes are always zero-drop.

Yet, that’s not the only thing that makes a shoe a barefoot shoe.

They also have a wide toe box (or separate toes in case of Fivefingers). Wide toe boxes allow your toes to spread out naturally. Thus, they are actually shaped like a real foot, as opposed to regular shoes that tend to be very narrow, which is unnatural.

Barefoot shoes also contain a thin sole, allowing the shoe to be very flexible. When you walk or run, the shoe bends just like your foot would if it were barefoot.

This allows your feet to maneuver naturally, strengthening intrinsic muscles. The thin sole also allows your feet to feel the terrain; cracks, sticks, rocks, and everything in between. Your feet are protected by the shoe, but they still maintain a connection to the ground as it stimulates your feet.

What About Minimalist Shoes?

Minimalist shoes are another different category of footwear compared to barefoot, or zero drop shoes. Most minimalist shoes contain a drop between 0 and 8mm. Even with a few millimeters heel to toe drop shoes aren’t zero drop.

That means the heel can be up to 8mm higher than the toe. This is still better than your average shoe, which usually has a minimum drop of 10mm. Brands like Inov8 and New Balance Minimus offer low heel drop but their models may still have considerable toe-spring.

To be considered a barefoot, or zero drop shoe, there has to be a 0mm drop, which is the only natural positioning for healthy feet.

A little more cushioning does make minimalist shoes better suitable for transitioning toward barefoot style shoes. Especially if you have shoe-shaped feet.

The Problem With Traditional Running Shoes

Spending your life in traditional shoes, with an elevated heel, a stiff, inflexible sole, and a narrow toe box can cause a host of problems.

For one, the use of an elevated heel can wreak havoc on your posture and your alignment. Because it’s an unnatural stance, it can cause pain all the way up through your legs, hips and into your lower back.

The extra cushioning in the heel can also ruin your running form. Running shoes with padded heels encourage you to land on the heels, meaning that you are over-striding with each step you take.

The stiffness of the sole doesn’t allow your feet to flex. As a result, muscles are not engaged and your feet, ankles, and legs actually weaken over time, making you more prone to injury.

On top of it all the narrow toe box, which usually tapers at the end, pushes your toes together. This increases your chances of blisters and painful bunions.

Benefits of Zero Drop Shoes

If you’re a runner in frequent pain, it’s time to consider zero drop shoes. It doesn’t necessarily mean minimal cushioning.

When your foot is in its natural state, with both feet ‘flat’ on the ground, your body can be properly aligned, reducing your risk of injury.

Also, a wide toe-box will allow your foot to move, bend, and work the way that it’s supposed to. Having no arch support means your shoes won’t interfere with the natural running form and spring-like mechanism of the arch.

If you’re a barefoot runner with pain coming from the ball of the foot, you should definitely consider some extra cushioning. Most important aspect is a stable base with enough room for the toes to move.

Zero drop functional running shoes
NimbleToes Addict. Zero drop for traditional runners.

All in all this will increase foot flexibility and strength. When you run, you’ll become more dependent on your feet rather than on the shoe.

Both natural runners and barefoot runners experience less injury and less chronic pain than those who run in traditional shoes. That’s right, you can actually wear shoes that heal rather than shoes that hurt.

Transitioning to Barefoot Running Shoes

Interested in trying barefoot shoes for yourself? With so many potential benefits, your only regret will be not trying them sooner.

Here’s what to consider when trying barefoot shoes the first time.

Transition Slowly

It can be tempting to ditch your old shoes immediately and jump into barefoot shoes full time. This works for some people, but most people report that taking it slow is the best approach.

Start by wearing your new zero drop shoes a little bit each day. Then you can alternate between normal shoes and zero drop shoes every other day.

Once you feel comfortable doing this, start wearing your new shoes for multiple days in a row. Your feet are likely weaker than you realize from wearing traditional shoes.

Another factor to take in account is that your calves and hip flexors have probably shortened due to prolonged time of sitting.

Remember, regaining lost foot function is key.

Spend More Time Barefoot

Of course, nothing can benefit you more than setting your feet free.

Spend as much time barefoot as you can. Don’t wear shoes or flip-flops around the house. Walk around the yard or even the neighborhood barefoot.

Use Tools like Toe Spreaders

Those who have spent decades in narrow shoes likely have a hammertoe, bunions, or plantar fasciitis. With the use of tools such as toe spreaders, you can slowly and steadily stretch your toes, joints, ligaments, and muscles to help realign your feet. This can reduce foot pain and restore normal function.

Choosing the Right Zero Drop Shoes

When it comes down to it, you can’t hate zero drop shoes until you try them. Depending on the current state of your feet try minimal or a bit more cushioning.

We guarantee that once you give them a try for yourself, you’ll never look back.

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