There is a LOT of choice and a LOT of confusing and sometimes conflicting information out there when it comes to footwear – that’s if you can even wrap your head around the basic terminology! Even when you’re searching for ‘barefoot’ or minimalist shoes – often the literature is anything but minimalist!
So we’ve put together a handy run-down to help you navigate your way towards informed barefoot movement…
ZERO DROP – means there’s no difference in height between the forefront of a shoe and the heel. Just like your actual feet, incidentally. However, it’s become a useful term for marketing shoes because most shoes – even sports shoes – are heeled. A traditional running shoe can have anywhere between an 8-14mm ‘drop’ between the heel and the toe. What’s called a ‘low profile shoe’ usually have anywhere between a 4-7mm drop. It’s useful to check, therefore, if you’re interested in a true ‘barefoot’ shoe that the drop is actually ZERO – just like your feet when you’re standing barefoot on the ground.
ZERO CUSHIONING – cushioning refers to the padding underneath the foot. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘stack height’ of the shoe, as in, how high off the ground your feet are due to padding. A truly ‘barefoot’ shoe will have no cushioning. The idea is that a barefoot shoe is constructed to be as little shoe as possible, offering only the absolute minimum necessary level of protection against weather and terrain, allowing your feet all the sensory feedback possible from the ground beneath you. Minimalist shoes sometimes refers to shoes that have a minimal amount of cushioning, others have none at all – so look out! To truly move barefoot is to remove all the padding between your feet and the world, cushioning included.
OK, But What’s The Difference? The most obvious distinction between Zero Drop and Zero Cushioned shoes is just that – cushioning! Even though both kinds of shoe are made – ideally – to replicate the natural functioning of the foot as closely as possible, Zero Drop shoes can still come with a little cushioning, while Zero Cushioning by definition means you’re ditching it entirely! So while there’s an overlap in ethos, functionally, Zero Cushioning is as close to truly barefoot as it’s possible to get without ditching shoes altogether – although truly Zero Drop shoes are similarly designed to get your feet as close to the ground as possible!
Zero Drop Or Zero Cushioning – How Does It Impact My Running?
Traditional running shoes (padded, with elevated heels) basically put your foot in an unnatural position. Both of the kinds of shoes we’re looking at here put your foot on a more ‘level’ footing with the ground, so with proper care and attention, the impact they’ll have on your running is to make it far more natural and in tune with the ground. While there has been some evidence that more traditional running shoes may make runners more prone to injury, there is no conclusive evidence as to whether this is down to the cushioning, or the heel-to-toe drop. As important as shoes are, clearly, how each individual runs is at least as important. The damaging ‘heel-strike’ style of running which traditional running shoes permits is clearly not great on the body, but running with barefoot shoes doesn’t always mean running with an optimum barefoot ‘style’.
To truly take advantage of a Zero Drop or Zero Cushioning shoe, and run with that optimum barefoot ‘style’, you’ll need to develop a good barefoot gait by running more efficiently and effectively.
landing on the mid-to-forefront under the hips taking shorter, slightly faster steps ankles, knees and hips nicely tucked under each other so all your joints are working together. trying to run like kids at the beach – full of joy!
Now that you know what’s what, and if you’re eager (of course you are!) to dive into the unique barefoot experience, it’s important to think about which kind of shoe between these two is best for what level you’re at, in terms of barefoot experience and overall foot health. While it may be tempting to dive headfirst into the uncut barefoot experience you get with Zero Cushioned shoes – which means absolutely no padding between you and your feet, remember! – it’s probably best for you and your feet if you start slowly, and gradually introduce barefoot into your life by building up your feet one barefoot experience at a time. If your feet aren’t so accustomed to the unique challenges (and rewards!) of barefoot, Zero Drop shoes with a bit of cushioning could be the key for you to make the transition without a shock – you only get one body after all! Even with all this information at your disposal, it wouldn’t hurt to speak to a pro! Find a barefoot trainer near you and invest in a session to assess your transition, and now that you know your drops from your cushions, you’ll be able to get the most out of whatever they recommend!
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