Heels-2005

Drop the 1/2 Inch High Heels

If you are a runner reading this, there is a good chance that your run today involved ½ inch high heels. Now I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t wear heels when I run!!” Unfortunately, you most likely do. The majority of the running shoe industry designs their shoes to be a half inch higher in the heel than in the forefoot. This measurement is often called the drop or the heel-toe offset of a shoe.

Low Heel Drop Shoe.

Low Heel Drop Shoe.

High Heel Drop Shoe.

High Heel Drop Shoe.

This begs the questions, why would running shoe manufacturers ever do such a thing? The most common reason is attributed to legendary Nike founder and Oregon coach, Bill Bowerman. The original thought behind the design is that runners need to lengthen their stride if they want to go faster (true, but the length needs to come out behind the body). Bowerman assumed the best way to do this would be by increasing the cushioning in the heel so runners could extend out farther with their leading leg. However, he was unaware of the high impact forces and impact transients that are associated with heel striking as well as several other downfalls of the design. There are little, to no benefits of running in a half-inch, high heeled shoe.

So what dangers does being in a half-inch high heel pose?

1. It puts the body in an unnatural posture with increased pressure on the lower back, shoulders, and ball of foot as pictured below.

posture

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 8.00.47 PM

2. It encourages a heel striking gait, which puts extra stress on the joints, soft tissues, back, and neck.

The yellow lines help to show how a 1/2 inch high heeled shoe can "catch" as the runner's leg comes through the stride. The level red line shows what the shoe would look like if the midsole was removed and the shoe was level. The runner would have more time to bring the leg closer to the body and bend the knee to run more efficiently and help absorb impact.

The yellow lines help to show how a 1/2 inch high heeled shoe can “catch” as the runner’s leg comes through the stride. The level red line shows what the shoe would look like if the midsole was removed and the shoe was level. The runner would have more time to bring the leg closer to the body and to bend the knee to run more efficiently and help absorb impact.

3. Shortened calf muscles and achilles tendon, robbing the body of natural spring. 

Calf muscles and achilles tendon atrophy and become shorter if subjected to high heeled shoes on a regular basis.

Calf muscles and achilles tendon atrophy and become shorter if subjected to high heeled shoes on a regular basis.

Major offenders of the half-inch high heel are:

  • Brooks Traditional Shoes
  • All Asics Trainers with the exception of 2 shoes
  • Most all Nike Traditional Shoes
  • New Balance Traditional Shoes
  • Mizuno Traditional Shoes

Brands that feature only level platform shoes (at most 8mm offset):

  • Newton Running
  • Saucony
  • Altra
  • Pearl Izumi
  • HOKA One One
  • Merrell
  • INOV-8
  • Skechers
  • Vibram Five Fingers
  • Vivobarefoot

Some of the major offenders have recently come out with lines featuring level shoes:

  • Mizuno Evo Series
  • New Balance Minimus Series
  • Nike Free Series
  • Brooks Pure Series

So next time you go in to pick up a new pair of running shoes, make sure to ask the store employee to try on some level platform shoes to at least give it a try. Don’t be afraid of brands you may not have heard of or seen in the major magazines, many times these are the best manufacturers who focus more on principles as opposed to the bottom line profits and market share.

I know I only alluded to the heel-striking debate in this post, but will be sure to tackle it in the upcoming posts. Get ready!

Always in Stride,

Jack

Sources

http://www.podiatrytoday.com/blogged/do-running-shoes-still-need-heels

http://www.runblogger.com/2010/06/heel-toe-drop-or-offset-what-does-it.html

7 replies
  1. Nate Smith
    Nate Smith says:

    Good info, but I have a question. If I land on the front of my foot when running, what difference does it really make as to what shoe I’m using? I can understand the heel/toe drop being a concern if I land on my heel. Anyway, thought I’d throw that at you. I love Brooks’ Pure series! Great lightweight shoe, and fairly inexpensive compared to some others. The Pure Connect is my fave so far.

    Reply
    • Jack McPheron
      Jack McPheron says:

      Hey Nate, great to hear from you! The heel is still going to make a big difference for several reasons. 1. It still is going to cause your calf and achilles to shorten, therefore robbing you of more spring. 2. It still is going to put pressure on your lower back and on the ball of your foot as being elevated by a 1/2 inch under the heel is unnatural and changes your posture. 3. If you are putting yourself in a 1/2 inch high heel it can cause/encourage that heel strike to come back. 4. There is no benefit to running into a half inch high heel.

      Reply
      • Nate Smith
        Nate Smith says:

        Thanks for the clarification on that! Yeah, I’m probably going to stick to the flatter-footed shoes from here on out. They fit so much better on my feet, and they don’t look ridiculously big for being 14′s. :)

        Reply
  2. tabethawells
    tabethawells says:

    Great, informative post. I’m currently transitioning from Nike Structures to Newton Lady Isaacs – hoping it’ll put the kibosh on the injuries that keep plaguing me (achilles tendinitis, Plantar Faciitis, tight calves, I’m such a stereotype!)

    Reply

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