What Is Heel and Toe Sag and Does It Matter to Runners?

We’ve written before about why people shouldn’t overvalue their running shoes . At the same time, knowing your body and finding the right shoes can make the difference between lacing up for a run and staying at home.

Of all the touted features that make a sneaker purchase overwhelming, the heel to toe drop is a pretty useful metric. It may not increase or decrease your mileage, but understanding the term can help you find the most comfortable ride for your walks and runs. Here’s what you need to know about finding the right heel-to-toe drop for you.

What is a heel-toe?

Heel-to-toe drop (sometimes shortened to just “drop”) quantifies the difference between the amount of cushioning under the heels and the amount of cushioning under the toes. It is best to visualize this as the size of a heel on a shoe. A high heel drop means a steeper slope and more heel cushioning. So barefoot runners will preach the power of zero drop from heel to toe as that will essentially be your bare foot.

Here are some specific examples of heel-to-toe jumps from Running Warehouse ; these stats can also be found on most other sneaker resources:

  • A high heel-toe drop (greater than 7mm) is best for runners who land on the heel first , have Achilles tendon problems, or often wear shoes with raised heels.
  • A small heel to toe drop (0 to 6mm) is best for runners who land on their midfoot or forefoot .

If it’s not listed, you can calculate your heel to toe drop yourself by looking at the stack height numbers in the shoe description and subtracting the forefoot number from the heel number.

Does falling from heel to toe matter?

Neither a high nor a low heel will make one shoe “better” than another. If any runner tries to tell you that one jumping style has revolutionary benefits, be skeptical.

When Drop Matters: If you change shoes, you’ll probably notice a difference if you go from high to low drop from heel to toe (or vice versa). Going to a lower fall especially can lead to soreness in the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. This can cause discomfort, so it’s helpful to keep this number in mind as you gradually transition from one shoe model to another.

In the end, personal preference takes precedence over specific numbers of heel-to-toe drops. Understanding the heel-to-toe drop can help experienced runners who like to adjust to landings, but for most of us, our old advice still applies: don’t overdo it .


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