When reviewing cross-training shoes, a shoe’s heel-to-toe drop is something that I often reference. This performance characteristic can be a fairly big deal for some lifters and athletes, so I wanted to build an article to discuss what heel-to-toe drop is and why it matters in cross-training shoes.
If you already know your preferred heel-to-toe drop for cross-training shoes, then that’s awesome. Hopefully, this article will help you further understand why you like the drop you do.
Conversely, if you’ve never understood what heel-to-toe drop is, or how to find what will work best for you, then I’m happy you stumbled on this article. I’m going to apply my coaching eye and knowledge to help build a framework for assessing heel-to-toe drops that work for you — and not against you.
- What is a heel-to-toe drop?
- Heel-to-toe drop categories
- Why heel-to-toe drop matters in cross-training shoes
- How I look at heel-to-toe drop in cross-training shoes
- Finding your ideal heel-to-toe drop
Check out my cross-training shoes heel-to-toe explainer video below to get a better idea of this topic. As always, make sure you also check out my cross-training shoe calculator if you’re not sure what models suit your needs best!
What Is Heel-To-Toe Drop?
Heel-to-toe drop, also known as offset, is a term used to describe the variance of height between a shoe’s heel and forefoot. Generally, these measurements are taken around the base of the heel and the middle portion of the forefoot.
Heel-to-toe drop can tell us how much heel elevation you can expect in your pair of shoes, and in this context, your cross-training shoes. Knowing your cross-training shoe’s heel-to-toe drop can be beneficial for performance purposes.
Heel-to-Toe Drop Categories
There are four main categories for identifying various heel-to-toe drops in shoes. In my video example above, I highlight five models that all have different heel-to-toe drops, and more specifically, heel-to-toe drops you’ll generally see in cross-training shoes.
The four categories of heel-to-toe drop include:
- Zero Drop: 0mm
- Low Drop: 1-4mm
- Mid Drop: 5-8mm
- High Drop: 9+mm
With cross-training shoes, you’ll never really see a heel-to-toe drop over 9+mm as this would not be the best for supporting the training styles you perform in this style of shoe.
Note, I know Converse are not cross-training shoes, but I wanted to highlight them as they have zero heel-to-drop.
Why Heel-to-Toe Drop Matters In Cross-Training Shoes
Generally, you’ll see lower heel-to-toe drops used in cross-training shoes, and this is why most popular cross-training shoes feature a 2-6mm heel-to-toe drop.
Why is this though?
The more you elevate the heel, the more forward knee translation you’ll have. Essentially, as you raise the heel, the knee will naturally be a bit more forward compared to if you were standing barefoot which would be a zero drop.
This is important to understand when we consider the intent behind cross-training shoes. Cross-training shoes are designed to support a variety of activities like lifting, HIIT training, agility workouts, plyometrics, shorter runs, etc.
If we elevate the heel to a high degree in a cross-training shoe, then we will alter mechanics slightly for some movements, but also, we’ll usually see higher heel-to-toe drop shoes offer less stability which is counterproductive from a loading standpoint.
For this reason, it’s important to understand what type of heel-to-toe drop works for your style of training, and also, what you prefer based on how you train.
How I Look At Heel-to-Toe Drop In Cross-Training Shoes
When we traditionally look at a heel-to-toe drop it’s with running shoes. Heel-to-toe drop in running shoes can alter a runner’s cadence, foot strike, and stress displacement.
In cross-training shoes, I think it’s far more productive to take a different perspective when looking at heel-to-toe drops, as this style of shoe has a completely different use and intent — which I mentioned above. The three aspects I consider when assessing heel-to-toe drops include:
- Movement Specificity
By shifting your attention to these three characteristics, you can make more educated buying decisions based on how you like to train.
Stability in cross-training shoes is huge as most use this style of shoe for lifting purposes. When considering heel-to-toe drops, generally, we’ll see lower heel-to-toe drops in cross-training shoes offer more stability.
With a lower heel-to-toe drop in a cross-training shoe, we’ll usually see less midsole material that separates the foot from the ground, AKA the stack height will be less in this specific shoe. This is not always the case and there are always exceptions, but this approach stands true for most models.
If you’re someone on the market for a stable trainer, then you’ll likely want to look for a model with a 6mm heel-to-toe drop or less.
Another big performance characteristic of cross-training shoes is their ability to be highly versatile. Heel-to-toe can feed into this characteristic and for someone who wants versatility for things like CrossFit, then they’ll usually want to look for a heel-to-toe drop that sits around 2-8mm.
A slightly higher heel-to-toe drop will often come along with more responsiveness which can also be huge for the versatility-focused athlete and lifter.
Another more niche aspect to consider when looking at heel-to-toe drops in cross-training shoes is movement specificity. A good example here would be a lifter who wants to buy a pair of cross-training shoes for barbell training, and more specifically the barbell deadlift.
In this scenario, we’d want to find a pair of cross-training shoes with a low heel-to-toe drop (0-4mm), as elevating the heel will add more range of motion to the deadlift, but also, shift hip mechanics slightly.
For recreational lifters, this isn’t really a concern, but for the lifter that is serious and wants to focus on specific lifts, then it can beneficial considering the movements you’re going to be training that you plan to use the shoes with most.
Finding Your Ideal Heel-to-Toe Drop
There’s no perfect heel-to-toe drop. The best way to find your ideal heel-to-toe drop is to simply try out different models and see what works best for your needs.
Most recreational lifters and athletes will benefit from using cross-training shoes that have a 2-6mm heel-to-toe drop.
By considering how you train, and how you prefer to move, and by factoring in the stability, versatility, and movement specificity you want for your cross-training shoes, you can find the perfect pair for your needs.