Best Minimalist & Low Heel-Drop Running Shoes 2023

Expert Advice on Running Shoes
Best Minimalist & Low Heel-Drop Running Shoes 2023

What is minimalist running?

Minimalist Running, or Natural Running – as advocated by running form analysts such as Chi Running Instructors – lessens our dependency on highly cushioned, supportive running shoes. For a runner to achieve their best results they need to run efficiently. Building good running form technique is essential for this. Minimal and low heel-drop running shoes encourage this progression, and  feel lighter and more flexible than their normal road-running counterparts.

Minimalist Running Shoes vs Traditional

All Minimal Running shoes have a lower heel drop than conventional running shoes, which are typically around 12mm higher than the forefoot. In minimal running shoes the offset is between zero and 6mm, to discourage heavy landing at the heel and to move you towards a more mid-foot or forefoot strike.

Our range of options cover Zero Drop fully cushioned models to lighter and firmer low heel-drop running shoes, so you can choose the model that will offer the right level of protection for your running style.

Cushioned Road Running  /  Low-Profile  /  Trail Running

Best Minimal & Low Heel-Drop

Cushioned Road Running Shoes

Men's Saucony Kinvara 14

Men's Altra Torin 6

Women's Saucony Kinvara 14

Women's On Cloudflow

Best Minimal & Low Heel-Drop

Low-Profile Running Shoes

Men's Altra Escalante 3

Women's Altra Escalante 3

Best Minimal & Low Heel-Drop

Trail Running Shoes

Men's Saucony Peregrine 13

Men's Altra Lone Peak 7

Men's Hoka Zinal
£140.00 £95.00

Women's Saucony Peregrine 13

Women's Scarpa Spin Infinity
£135.00 £85.00

Women's Hoka Zinal
£140.00 £95.00

How do I choose the right Minimalist shoe for me?

There are several things to consider before you start to run in minimalist running trainers, such as: do you land on your heels, do you over-pronate, and just how minimal do you want to go? It's really a good idea to visit your local specialist running store, try on a variety of shoes, discuss your needs and get advice from qualified staff.

A key consideration is how firm and low profile. Running shoes used to be uniformly 12mm higher at the heel than the toes. Now brands tend to vary their heel drops; lighter models will often fall between 7mm and 10mm. A running shoe is classed as minimal if the heel drop falls lower than 8mm and usually sits closer to 4mm.

There are many low heel drop running shoes that have standard road running shoe levels of cushioning. They will feel a bit lighter, may not be as durable, but otherwise similar to your standard shoes. The Hoka range, Brooks Pure shoes and Saucony Kinvara fall into this category, none with more than 4mm offset. Transitioning to these requires a little time to get used to the lower heel drop and can put a strain on calf muscles initially. However, transitioning tends to happen fairly quickly. Some of these shoes also provide modest guidance and support for over-pronation.

Next you have the Altra range – all zero drop – with firmer cushioned midsoles. Being zero drop they will take you longer to transition to. The firmer cushioning works well; you have to land more midfoot due to the zero drop, so a firmer cushioning system makes you more aware of how you’re moving and more likely to run lighter on your feet. This is where a session with a Chi running coach can really help to advance your technique and smooth the process.

Alternatively you’ve got the On Cloud with 4mm offset and modest cushioning. These are also popular with running-form coaches. Again, they will require a significant time for transitioning.

What if my feet over-pronate?

If you've had natural or video gait analysis from a specialist running store and been advised that you over-pronate, then you need to be aware that the transition is going to take longer and require a mixture of patience and listening to your body.

It is possible for most people to get used to running in lower profile shoes, but if your feet rotate inwards over the arch when you run, look to the more supportive models: Pure Cadence, New Balance Vongo, Hoka Arahi. Alternatively, the Vibram FiveFingers allow your feet to move completely naturally and as there’s no cushioned midsole, only a thin layer of rubber, there’s less over-pronation as there's nothing for the feet to collapse into.

If you work on core muscle strengthening, especially glutes, as part of your transitioning process, usually your rate of over-pronation will lessen. With the really minimal shoes, over time the muscles and tendons in your feet will strengthen, and as the calves strengthen they will work harder to support you.

Will my running style change if I use Minimalist running shoes?

How much your running style will change depends on how you're already landing and moving through your stride. These shoes are less built up at the heel so if you land heavily at the heel you'll find yourself knocking into a midfoot stance very suddenly, which will jar. The solution is to lessen the heavy heel impact and train yourself to land more towards the midfoot/forefoot. If you're already a forefoot runner then you're a step ahead of the game.

Do I need a training programme to transition into Minimal running shoes?

If you try to continue your training as usual with a new minimal running shoe, the chances are things won’t go well. The lower the heel drop / the more minimal in cushioning, the more time you’ll need for your body to readjust.

How do I know if Barefoot / Minimalist running is it right for me?

Firstly everyone's different, what works for your mate won't necessarily work for you. Virtually everyone can benefit from using Barefoot / Minimalist shoes for walking, even if running proves too much of a challenge – feet will strengthen and become more flexible and that'll have a good effect on posture. How far you can take your minimalist running – that's something that you'll discover along the way. It largely depends on how minimal you go – most will be able to run long distances in the more cushioned models.

There's no right or wrong about traditional road running shoes versus Minimalist running shoes. If you like the idea of trying something different then give it a go, it can be fun and liven up your training. 

Last word

Stretch, stretch and stretch again. Transitioning to Minimalist running shoes will test your calves, feet and Achilles. Make sure you prevent doing yourself damage by stretching.

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