The effect of shoe drop on running pattern

I previously had a go at the issue of what is an ideal drop¹ for a running shoe and started with the conclusion:

Straight to it: based on my understanding of the current knowledge, the evidence and discarding all the logical fallacies, I can find no evidence and no rationale for any blanket recommendations for any ideal drop in a running shoe. Yet, everywhere you go there are some pretty strongly held opinions with lots of the typical rhetoric and propaganda as to what it should be. Given the strength of those opinions I was surprised to find how little evidence backs it up.

Of course the fan boys did not like that conclusion, even though I never actually concluded that one drop was better than another! One even went as far as arguing using the ‘natural’ logical fallacy that we should be using the natural logical fallacy to conclude that 0 drop was better! (if that actually makes any sense to you!). When I wrote the previous post I did comment on the lack of evidence, which is an incy wincy bit embarrassing as there was some evidence that I missed. This study just turned up in my alerts – it was from August 2013 (not sure why it turned up so late!).

The study from Nicolas Chambon and colleagues from the Aix-Marseille Université looked at 12 runners running in barefoot and running shoes with 0, 4 and 8mm drops (4 different conditions) on a treadmill while measuring kinetic and kinematic data. The only data on this study is the extended abstract, so a more full publication would be needed to check some of the details to properly judge the study; however nothing jumps out at me as being an issue from the information provided in the abstract.

What did they find:
Here is the table of their results:

  • the barefoot condition was different in most of the parameters measured from the shoe conditions
  • there were very few differences in the parameters measured between the 0, 4 and 8mm drop conditions
  • interestingly, the impact peak when barefoot was highest!

What can we conclude from this? The authors conclusion was:

This study suggests that if a fore-foot strike pattern is not clearly adopted, runners cannot benefit from the potential advantages of barefoot or minimalist running shoe concerning reduction of impact magnitude.

The only rider that I would put on that conclusion is that we are assuming that the impact transient is something that we should be concerned with. As I keep saying, the evidence that it is a problem is hardly compelling.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and the evidence tells me that there is not a lot of difference in running pattern when running in 0, 4 or 8mm drop shoes, let alone being able to conclude that one is better than another.

1. Drop is the different between the height of the forefoot and height of the rearfoot in the shoe.

Chambon, N., Delattre, N., Berton, E., Gueguen, N., & Rao, G. (2013). The effect of shoe drop on running pattern Footwear Science, 5 (sup1) DOI: 10.1080/19424280.2013.799585

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4 Responses to The effect of shoe drop on running pattern

  1. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM May 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    Clearly this study shows that asthe heel height differential (HHD) of a shoe (otherwise known as “drop”) is increased, the gait kinematics are changed and the loading rate changes. The real question, as you alluded to, Craig, is having a higher loading rate always a bad thing? I still don’t think we know the answer to that one yet. Higher loading rates may also help strengthen tissues faster. I believe this question still needs more research to be answered with more certainty.

    What this study does show is that barefoot running does not necessarily decrease either the impact transient or loading rate vs running in shoes. Hopefully this will help further help silence the barefoot running zealots who have been claiming otherwise for the past five years.

    From my thirty years of clinical practice, there seems to be a large range of variation of preferred running shoe HHD in the runners I know and treat. Some runners prefer shoes with low HHD and other runners prefer shoes with a high HHD. Other runners do better mixing the HHDs of their various training shoes which, to me, makes the most biomechanical sense for higher mileage runners.

    With lower HHD running shoes, there is decreased shoe mass, but I also see more tendency for forefoot pain, metatarsal stress fractures, Achilles tendinitis and peroneal tendinitis. With higher HHD running shoes, there is increased shoe mass and I see more tendency toward knee injuries.

    I believe that all runners need to do some experimentation with running shoes to find out what works best for them. In addition, the intelligent sports clinician needs to understand the biomechanical effects of running in shoes of different HHDs to give their patients the best advice in running shoes.

    Hopefully, further research will help further illuminate the biomechanics of running in shoes of different HHDs.

    Kevin A. Kirby, DPM

  2. Trevor Prior June 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    I have to agree with you both on this one – we have become increasingly aware of the unique individual variations which make a one size fits all unrealistic.

    Over the last 25 years of evaluating the effect of control / orthoses on inshoe plantar pressure / force, the single biggest factor that alters function is consistently the heel height and this is individual specific.

    Out of interest, I wonder if the higher peak impact is due to the shoe alone (i.e. the barefoot had less cushioning)? I also note that they had relatively low numbers so there should be some caution there.

    Another balanced view, well don Craig.

    Trevor Prior
    Consultant Podiatric Surgeon

  3. Carl May 4, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    Finally a considered approach! One thing I think people are missing hugely is that we don’t only run on treadmills. A long time ago I bought some Saucony Kinvara 3, because they were on sale, felt comfortable and looked nice. Before then I had only used ‘standard’ 10-12mm drop running trainers (of various brands). I found when doing short, fast runs that my Kinvara were great. So much so that I have just bought some Kinvara6 now I have returned to road running (4mm drop), and some Brooks PureConnect (5mm drop). These feel very comfortable on the road, but after an undulating marathon in my Brooks my lower limbs are mighty sore. This is because I am transitioning back from running in boots, fell and trail trainers, which have very different designs (My inov8 ultra trail for example have a 8mm drop).

    Now I normally run my longer runs on trails, and so in the inov8s. I think this point is worth considering (I cannot remember where the papers are, but…) there is evidence out there that in longer runs, as run efficiency decreases and form goes, then the minimal shoes become more prone to causing injuries due to increased heel striking (ie in the last 10 miles compared to the first 10). As such I am going to continue to use my Kinvara up to approx half marathon distance, but looking for some more road trainers that will have similar characteristics but with slightly more cushion and drop (6-8mm?) whilst I gradually work my distance in 4mm drop shoes up to what I can comfortably run in a more standard show, if this makes sense.

    In short:
    – terrain type alters the angle at the ankle and the load on the lower limb.
    – distance alters running efficiency (due to fatigue) and may require a different drop for longer runs to accommodate for this.
    – swapping from one to another should be done gradually, in my experience, and longer runs reserved for the tried and trusted drop shoe until one is able to run that distance in the new shoe.
    – It’s strange that people are very certain that angle in the coronal plane is dependent upon the lower limb anatomy (neutral, support etc) but fanatical about having a fixed angle in the sagittal plane (0mm, 4mm, 8mm etc).
    – Correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot seem to see any minimal shoes offering support, they all seem to be neutral? So chances are if you need arch support, these will hurt, whether you would be more efficient with lower drop or not?

    I await the first negative drop running shoes to “fully engage the lower limb muscles and promote plyometric running”….

    Biophysics PhD Student

    • Craig Payne May 4, 2016 at 9:43 am #

      “I await the first negative drop running shoes to “fully engage the lower limb muscles and promote plyometric running”….”

      Been there done that. Those who have been around long enough will remember all the hype surrounding the ‘Earth Shoe’ from the 70’s with its negative heel.

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