Running Shoes: The Offset Debate

Running Shoes: The Offset Debate
Presented by Spartan Training®

Editor's Note: Brian Metzler has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes over the past 25 years. This is the fourth installment of Brian's recommendations on how to navigate the complexities of the running shoe market in these minimalist-maximalist-and-more times. Today Brian investigates offset. In previous installments he has written about fit, cushioning and support.

Part 4. Heel-Toe Offset

Shoes with a lower heel are another modern approach to running shoes spurred by the recent storm of change. For years, running shoes were built with a steep forward-leaning ramp angle, meaning the bottom of the heel your foot was significantly higher than the bottom of your forefoot. Typically, that offset—often called “heel-toe drop”—has been in the 10 to 12 mm range. But to better mimic a foot’s natural movements in the spatial environment of running, shoe makers developed models with much lower heel-toe offsets. Essentially, a lower heel-toe offset (and thus, a considerably less chunky heel component) will help reduce the need to overstride and run with a heavy heel-striking gait. While some shoe brands claim lower ramp angles can reduce injuries, that hasn’t really been proven or disproven. However, many people believe that a lower heel-toe offset—at least lower than the traditional 10 to 12 mm—can contribute to improved running form and reduce overstriding. You should definitely ask about the heel-toe offset of specific shoes while you’re at a running store or dig for the information online.

“You don’t have to go all the way down to zero, but running in shoes with a slightly lower ramp angle will help you keep your foot strikes closer to your body,” says Jay Dicharry, a Bend, Oregon, physical therapist, noted running form guru and author of Anatomy for Runners. “Ultimately, running in lighter shoes that have a lower heel will help you run with better mechanics.”

For example, Dicharry says, if you’ve been running in shoes with a 10 to 12 mm drop, consider gradually going down to the 4 to 8 mm range when you buy your next pair of shoes. Some runners will be able to eventually transition down to the 0 to 4 mm range, but doing so too quickly—in other words, buying shoes with a lower drop and running a lot of miles or fast workouts—can lead to soreness, strains, and injuries to your feet, calf muscles, and Achilles tendons.

Although many brands have offered a few shoes with very low ramp angles, the three most prominent brands to offer flat or near-level platforms are Newton, Altra, and Topo. Saucony, New Balance, On, and Hoka One One are among the brands with numerous models in the 4 to 8 mm range. Keep in mind that shoes with lower ramp angles don’t have to be minimalist shoes without much cushioning; shoes with lower ramp angles can have minimal or maximal amounts of cushioning or somewhere in between.

Check out Part 5 on Monday: Flexibility: Key to a Natural Running Shoe

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