What Are Zero Drop Running Shoes? Altra & Zero Drop Origin/Definitions/Tips

Altra Zero DropTM: Origin, Useful Definitions & Tips


Useful Definitions

Zero Drop

Heel and forefoot are the same distance from the ground. This promotes a more impact-efficient form of running on the balls of the foot.

Foot Shaped Toe Box

Unlike traditional running shoes, a FootShapeTM Toe Box is wider, more rounded shape allowing for the toes to relax and spread out naturally.


Gender Specific

Altra do not just take a ‘unisex’ shoe and change the colour to pink or purple for women. Women’s feet are anatomically different to mens, and as such Altra design them independently. Variations include everything from a narrower heel to a different level of cushioning.


  1. “Zero Drop means there’s no cushioning (and comfort).”

Every pair of Altra running shoes is fully cushioned with incredibly high-tech materials. Some are more cushioned than others (see no. 2).


  1. “I can just throw on any pair of Altra Zero Drop shoes in lieu of my traditional shoes.”

It is strongly recommended that you transition slowly to Zero Drop running if you are new to Altra. Your body and form needs to adjust—something that shouldn’t be rushed. Everyone is different but this process could take a few weeks or more.


  1. “These are too loose.”

If you’re new to Altra running shoes the FootShape Toe Box will feel very spacious. Your feet will get used to spreading out.


Altra’s Zero DropTM construction has a fantastic grass roots story. It begins in a family running store brim full of running experience over everything from mountains to marathons (including a world best marathon time at age 12) where folks from far and wide would flock for good advice. These people were struggling with recurring pains, nagging knees and the classic shin splints and it seemed a pattern was emerging. Everyone was running in shoes that followed a design pretty much unchanged in decades—a chunky, high and heavy heel accompanied at the front by a narrow, pointy toe box.

The out-of-date design that had happily claimed to ‘reduce injury’ was in fact the cause. Scientific studies instead suggested a lower impact and more efficient running form would help avoid injury, so Golden Harper (incredible name) set out to do something about it.

It is no surprise that lobbying for the industry to make changes to their designs fell on deaf ears, so Harper quickly realised he would have to experiment himself with a resource that was certainly readily available at the store – the running shoes in question! Legend has it that initial experiments were carried out with a toaster oven, to help melt off the excess outsole material in the high, heavy heels. An ‘aesthetically-iffy’ process indeed, but when customers tested the end product (a shoe that no longer dropped from heel to the forefoot) these ailments, on the whole, started to subside. 

Fast forward to today and Altra Zero Drop running shoes are a top seller at NorthernRunner.com as an increasing amount of people start to realise the benefits. A pair of Altra shoes will encourage you to improve your form and like any process of change will take a little bit of getting used to. Start slow, wear them indoors, take them for a quick spin and build up to your longer runs.


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