What’s an Offset?

Q: I’ve heard the terms “offset” or “zero drop” in running shoes. What do these terms mean and why should I care?

A: Remember the minimalist movement? When people were running barefoot? While that has kind of petered out over the last few years, there was a huge positive takeaway in running shoe technology – the lowering of offsets.

Key Terms

STACK HEIGHT

The amount of material that sits between your foot and the ground when wearing a particular pair of shoes (measured in millimeters)

OFFSET

The difference (in millimeters) between your heel and the ground and your forefoot and the ground. Take forefoot stack height and subtract it from heel stack height to find the offset. This can also be known as heel-toe drop.

A little history. Before the minimalist movement, most running shoes gave you an offset of around 12mm. With the introduction of “barefoot” shoes, you generally had the choice of 12mm or 0mm – a dramatic difference.

But now a lot companies like Topo, Saucony, New Balance, and HOKA decided that they wanted to meet the foot halfway, offering offsets of 3-4mm. Altra bases all their shoe models on having a 0mm offset (formally called ZeroDrop™, now called Balanced Cushioning™) in shoes with plenty of cushioning – taking the barefoot out of barefoot shoes. Saucony has lowered the offset in most of their everyday training shoes to 8mm, and many other brands have offerings with offsets between 4mm and 8mm.

Okay – thanks for the history lesson. But how does this affect me as a runner?

Glad you asked! By lowering the offset in your shoes, you’re training your lower body differently. Colby Gould from Altra explains: “By evenly balancing the weight of the shoes between the heel and forefoot, the shoes have less influence over your natural pattern of movement, allowing your body to settle into its own unique gait.”

Think about it – if you have a thicker heel in your shoe, you’re more likely to land on your heel. A balanced midsole allows you to land closer to the midfoot or forefoot, which can be more bio-mechanically efficient. You’re lighter on your feet and distributing impact forces more efficiently. All good things!

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a pair of Topos or Altras today. It’s just food for thought. Mixing a zero-drop or low-offset shoe into your weekly running routine can have benefits. You’re working your Achilles and calf muscles differently, and teaching your body to run more efficiently. We’ve also found lower offset or zero drop shoes to be great options for gym workouts or classes like Orangetheory or Barry’s Bootcamp.

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