ZERO DROP VS ZERO CUSHIONING – WHAT’S GOING ON?
There is a LOT of choice and a LOT of confusing and sometimes even conflicting terminology out there when it comes to footwear. Even if you’re searching for‘barefoot’ or minimalist shoes – sometimes the literature is anything but minimalist!
So here’s a handy run-down to help you navigate your way towards barefoot moving…
ZERO DROP – means there is 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. This is the idea. A barefoot shoe is constructed to be as little shoe as possible, offering only a 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 move barefoot is to remove all the padding between your feet and the world, including cushioning.
There are also combinations of the above, including zero drop but cushioned shoes. But while there has been some evidence of traditional (padded, heeled) running shoes may make runners more prone to injury, there is no conclusive evidence 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’.
Barefoot gait is about 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!
So if you really want to move to an optimal barefoot movement experience, it’s not just about what you put on your feet. Barefoot is a whole process, and often a very slow one! If you’re fit, healthy and active and think this might be for you, here’s a few points before you get started!
- Start slowly! Begin by just taking your shoes off and spending more time barefoot. Just being able to wiggle your toes and feel the earth beneath your feet is a great way to start reconnecting to your body and the natural world. It might even hurt your feet a little. This is because feet that have spent most of their time encased in thin, narrow, rigid shoes haven’t been given the space to grow strong, wide and flexible. Your feet are packed with muscles and tendons that simply haven’t been used enough. Walking barefoot, as well as in minimalist or barefoot style shoes, gives your feet the perfect opportunity to start building up those tiny muscles, while the soles of your feet start reacting to all the awesome sensory input the ground is now providing.
Speak to a pro. It might be a big investment, but you only get one body! Find a barefoot trainer near you and invest in a session to assess your transition.
- Do some Toe-ga and deep squatting! Our feet didn’t evolve to be wrapped up in tight, narrow, rigid shoes – and our bodies certainly weren’t designed to sit in chairs all day! So get off the chair and get your toes and feet moving and flexing, as well as working on holding that deep squat – a key indicator for overall fitness, health and injury prevention.
Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
(And welcome to the Barefoot Tribe)