“Zero drop” does not equal “minimalist” let alone “barefoot” shoes

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running Shoes | Posted on 18-03-2011

Let the buzz-words begin!

As shoe companies look to establish themselves in the minimalist market (because estimates predict that barefoot running shoes will be a $500 million business this year), the language that they use to establish their minimalist credentials starts to standardize. If they don’t use similar language to describe their new products, you won’t:

a) Know that their shoe is minimalist

b) Have a way to compare their barefoot running shoe to another

So what’s the big buzz-word of the day?

Zero Drop (sometimes “zero differential”)

What “zero drop” refers to is the difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot.

In essence, shoe companies are admitting that putting you in a high heel running shoe is unnatural, but having your foot flat is natural.

Sounds good so far, yes?

In fact, it is… until you start looking at the shoes themselves.

The first thing you’ll notice is that many of these “barefoot” style shoes still have a HUGE amount of padding between your foot and the ground.

Take a look at the Newton shoe, for example. Not only does it have a bunch of padding, but it has a high-tech trampoline under the ball of your foot. With all this padding and all this technology, Newton refers to themselves as a “natural movement” product. I’ve been on a barefoot running panel with Newton and heard them say of their $150-200 shoes, “they’re the closest thing you can get to barefoot.” I then hold up the 4mm thick flexible rubber sole we use for Invisible Shoes and say, “Oh? Really?”

Ditto with the new Inov-8 and many other “minimalist” shoes. In fact that shoe, zero drop and all, has another feature that amazed me: between the ball of the foot and the back of the heel is a hard plastic plate that makes 2/3 of the shoe totally inflexible.

Yes, they’re lightweight, and have zero drop… but it’s not “barefoot” and it’s only arguably minimalist.

Another thing to look at it “toe spring”. If you put a shoe on the ground, the amount that the toe rises from the ground is the toe spring.

Look at your foot on the ground? Are your toes floating in the air? Of course not. So what’s with the toe spring on these minimalist shoes?

First, it’s one way to create zero drop. Instead of having a high heel, just raise the toes until they’re at the same height as the heel. Voila! Zero drop!

Toe spring also can cause you to roll onto the ball of your foot or onto your toes in an unnatural way. Suffice it to say, toe spring is not natural, let alone minimalist.

(Actually there’s one instance where toe spring is natural: if it holds the sole to your foot when your toes are dorsiflexed, but doesn’t actually provide support when they hit the ground.)

I was interviewed for a recent issue of Footwear Insight magazine and, when asked about all the minimalist products, I responded, “Everyone’s starting to use the same language to describe products that don’t actually deliver what that language promises. My concern is that people will get what they think is a minimalist or natural product, actually get something that’s far-from-minimalist and eons-from-natural, have a bad experience, and be turned off of the whole idea before they get the chance to try the real deal.”

I hope this helps you become un-fool-able and immune to hype from everyone who’s trying to get their dog in this fight. Just because it’s “zero drop”  doesn’t mean it’s a barefoot shoe, or even a minimalist shoe.