What is Heel To Toe Drop?

What is Heel to Toe Drop?

If you’re new to the world of running, you’re likely surprised by the different terminology. After all, it’s just running, right? Actually, a lot of things affect how you run, one being heel to toe drop. Keep reading to learn what this is and why it matters.

What is Heel to Toe Drop?

Heel to toe drop is the difference between the heel height and forefoot height of the running shoe. It’s also known as the offset or heel differential. This number is usually provided in millimeters. 


The heel to toe drop is often confused with the shoe’s stack height, which is the cushioning inside of the shoe, but these two exist independently of each other. However, they do correlate with each other. A lower heel to toe drop means a lower amount of cushioning, and the same goes for medium and higher offsets. 


Below is a diagram that will help you understand this correlation.

Stack Height vs Heel Drop Running Shoes

When you’re shopping for a new pair of running shoes, the heel to toe drop is something you may want to consider. It can make a difference in your comfort level and even affects your posture as you run


There are four different categories of heel to toe drop. These are zero drop, low drop, mid drop, and high drop, and each one has its own benefits when it comes to your run.


Generally, high drop shoes are better for ankle and calf support.  But, lower drop ones feel more natural as you move. When it comes to HTT, there is no right or wrong drop, but there are plenty of options to fit your needs.

The History of Heel to Toe Drop

Believe it or not, heel to toe drop was not always a factor when designing athletic shoes. About 50 years ago, all running shoes were close to flat or completely flat. This changed in the 1970s, though, as running became more mainstream. 


During this time, shoe companies developed athletic shoes that had cushioning. This was to make the runner more comfortable.


Heel to toe drop isn’t about comfort, though. It is said to  remove pressure from the calves and Achilles tendons too, howev 


Since then, the science behind heel to toe drop has continued to develop. 


Zero drop shoes and high drop shoes are new in the world of running. Both came out within the last decade. The fact that these are new means they are better, though. Each heal to toe drop has its own set of pros and cons when it comes to your running performance.

Does Heel to Toe Drop Affect Your Performance?

One common question when it comes to HTT is whether it even affects a runners’ performance. A 2016 study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine set out to answer this question. 


The study followed three groups of runners over a six month period. Each group had identical shoes, but each had either a 0mm drop, a 6mm drop, or a 10mm drop. After the study concluded, none of the different drops appeared to create a greater risk for injury than the others. 


The only increase in risk came from how active the participants were as runners. For instance, the study found that there was an increase in injury for occasional runners when it came to lower drop shoes. So that a perfect heel to toe drop, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.  


It’s still important to find the right heel to toe drop, but the right one for you depends on many factors.

Deciding on a Heel to Toe Drop

This is an important factor when choosing a good pair of shoes, but it’s not something new runners need to concentrate too on. 


Once you’re looking at a second pair of running shoes or you want to expand your collection, you can start considering this factor. When you are new to running, it’s good to go with a standard pair of shoes, which generally have a 10mm heel to toe drop. 


There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to picking a heel to toe drop that feels comfortable for you. It comes down to your preference, but there are a few factors you should consider so you can make an informed decision.


If you’re considering switching to a different drop, it may feel odd at first, especially if you’re switching to a low drop shoe or high drop shoe. Most running shoes come with a mid-drop, but depending on your foot strike and health condition, you might decide to go lower or higher. 


There are runners who are very passionate about zero or low drop shoes. They feel like the body can naturally run and doesn’t need the extra support. Others believe that high drop shoes are better on the body. The choice is yours, and it’s good to try out different drops to see what works best for you.


A strike describes the impact that occurs when your heel or forefoot hits the ground. This means that each step you take as a runner is a strike. There are two types of strikes: heel striking and forefoot striking. Both have to do with the heel to toe drop in running shoes. 


When the heel strikes, the heel absorbs significant force. This is due to the collision with the ground, which creates impact transient in the heel. This force is a large force that travels through the heel. Forefoot strikes are a collision between the forefoot and the ground. There is low impact transient when compared to heel striking. 


You may not realize it, but no two people have the same running foot strike. This can because of an individual’s way of running or it or because of health conditions like plantar fasciitis or overpronation. Whatever your foot strike, understanding it can help you decide on the right heel to toe drop in your next pair of running shoes.

Health and Injuries

Running isn’t known to be the gentlest sport. This is especially true if you have prior injuries or health conditions that affect your mobility. Arthritis is a good example of a condition that requires special consideration when finding the right heel drop. Previous injuries to ligaments, like an ACL tear, can also call for a higher HTT in running shoes.

Running Terrain

If you plan on running on rugged mountain trails, you will likely need a different shoe than if you are running on paved sidewalks. Whatever terrain you’re on, your body will adapt to. That’s why it’s recommended for runners to use a lower heel drop on natural trails because the terrain is always changing.


Distance is another factor to take into consideration. The impact your take on may change depending on how far you’ve already traveled. That’s because your foot strike can actually change as your body becomes more fatigued. This is even more true if you plan on running uphill or long distances on rough terrain.

Heel Drop and how it effects Foot Stri

Zero Drop or Neutral Drop

Known as minimalist running shoes, a zero drop shoe is a running shoe that has no height difference between the heel and the forefront. The popularity of zero drop running shoes started about a decade ago. Research from Harvard and books like Born to Run suggested running in a zero drop shoe resembled a bare foot for running. 

These shoes don’t have any real cushioning beneath the heel or forefront, and only a thin layer of material between your foot and the ground. The first zero drop shoe came out by Altra Shoes. Since then, several shoemakers jumped on the bandwagon. The buzz has died down, but these are still popular among runners who like rugged terrain.

Low Drop

Low drop running shoes are between 1 and 4 mm. They are also minimalist shoes, too, since they also work to resemble a natural stride. This heel to toe drop offers a little more support to the heel and forefoot. That’s why these shoes are another good option for anyone who wants to do trail running.

These are a good option for runners who want to try in zero drop but aren’t quite ready to take the leap. Low drop is also a good option for competitive runners.  RRCA and USATFcertified running coach Sean Coster agrees in a recent interview. Coster says, “The farther the heel is from the ground, the more acceleration forces you’re going to have when that heel hits.”

Mid Drop

Mid drop shoes between 5 and 8 mm still fall into the minimalist running shoe category. That’s because, like low drop shoes, these make it easier for a runner to maintain a natural stride and ankle movement. The only difference is that they absorb a little more impact than low drop shoes. 

This kind of heel to toe drop is still pretty low compared to standard running shoes. These have a good amount of support underneath the heel and a fair amount under the forefoot. Mid drop shoes would be a good starting point if you want to search since they offer a medium amount of support while not taking too much away from your natural foot movement.

High Drop

Heel to toe drop of 9mm or more are high drop shoes or maximalist running shoes. This heel to toe drop can correct problems that can occur in a person’s stride. An example of this would be an overpronator or someone who’s foot rolls inward as they walk. Someone with a problem such as this is more prone to ankle sprains, heel spurs, or Achilles tendinitis.

High drop running shoes are also good for runners who are heel strikers, as they create that type of strike. They even work great for runners with tight calves and Achilles tendinitis. If you don’t have any specific reason to wear high drop shoes, they can actually put a strain on your hips and knees.


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Things to Consider for Heel to Toe Drop

Outside of knowing the difference between the drops and how they can affect you, there are some other things you should consider. For one, the level of cushioning in your shoe doesn’t always depend on the HTT. There are some shoes available that actually have a great deal of cushioning on a low heel to toe drop. 

It’s also important to remember that feet are complex biomechanical systems. There are 52 bones, 66 muscles, and 200 muscles, tendons, and ligaments within the foot. So when you’re shopping for shoes, you have to take reviews with a grain of salt. What may be perfect for another runner may not be the best option for your feet.

That said, low drop shoes are good for achieving a mid-strike or forefoot strike. That’s because they create a more natural movement in the foot. Still, that doesn’t mean everyone should go out and buy a pair. Actually, it’s better to slowly convert to a low drop shoe since it could cause discomfort for a few months.

If you really want to know where to start, you can get a gait analysis. This is a test that pinpoints any biomechanical abnormalities that might affect how you run or walk. Many running shoe stores actually offer this for free. A gait analysis can help you get the right shoe and help you create a course of action to correct any misalignments.

Choosing the Right Heel to Toe Drop Got Easier

As you can see, the kind of drop you get in your running shoe depends on several factors, and sometimes it just comes down to personal preference. 

Now that you understand what heel to toe drop is and how it affects your run, you can make an informed decision when it comes to your next pair of running shoes.

Picture of Canaan Valley Running Company

Canaan Valley Running Company

This article was written by the editorial staff of the Canaan Valley Running Company.