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Altra Zero the Latest Arrival

Altra Zero Drop Running ShoesIn the last few years we've seen an increasing focus on running with good technique and the use of minimalist shoes, or even running barefoot.  So with the birth of minimalist shoes - we've had one corner cry that they're the panacea to all running injuries, whilst others encountered a whole host of new injuries.  So in steps Altra ZeroDrop - with not just a new range of shoes lacking elevated heels, but also a belief that good running technique has to be coupled with product that offers a little more.

Altra offers a fairly small range of running shoes compared to the bigger companies, yet their approach is straightforward. All their shoes are zero drop, that is the heel and forefoot height are the same distance from the ground. They offer road and trail shoes, utilising a sticky outsole compound across the range, so even their road shoes can be used on dry trails or for fitness. 

"Now here's the thing, despite being Zero Drop, their product is easily defined.  High cushioning, mid-cushioning or low cushioning for their racing shoes.  I think we all get that."

So this all sounds very good, but what about us runners. Should we still be having the argument that we should be abandoning our super-dooper hi-tech cushioned shoes with big heels? For many the answer is a definite yes, for others it may be a step too far, yet for the most part lies somewhere in-between. There is now plenty of evidence to support this thinking.

Recent science and medical research has made some interesting findings. The first is that leading faster paced runners are not exclusively forefoot strikers. Some do land on their heels first. Other research has shown that as long distance runners tire they will land with a much flatter foot so avoiding initial ground contact with their forefoot.

My conclusion therefore is that we still have a need for some degree of cushioning, especially on harder surfaces. "No surprise there then", I hear many shout.

Yet, how much cushioning? Another set of research has demonstrated that too much cushion increases the shock travelling through the lower limb as the leg drops into it and locks out in order to stabalise, as opposed to absorbing that impact. Not good. Likewise, too little cushioning and the body does not receive enough help to absorb the shock, quickly reaching a point of fatigue so more shock travels up the leg. Strangely enough there is a mid point in all of this that works very well.

There is plenty of research around that supports the fact that 12mm-drop shoes are in many cases causing the runner to over-stride which in turn creates more shock and poor running technique. For some, 12mm will work just fine. 8mm drop in our humble opinion at Accelerate is generally better, though not for everyone.

Now here's the interesting one. Another set of research shows that if you run and land on your heels, then the increase in damage to the inner-working of your knees is far greater than when landing on your forefoot, but a forefoot striker is more prone to a greater risk of ankle damage.  You just can't win, can you!  

This is what we are finding, while working with the health and medical guys in our attached Performance Centre and Clinic, seeing plenty of runners every working day.  Yes, in most cases a lower heel in a shoe is better, but what is most important is the contact position of the foot under the body regardless of the point of impact.  Heel, mid to forefoot or even flatter - These are more an indicator of good form, a reduced risk of injury and that you are working well with a shoe.  Now of course we have an increased choice with the arrival of Altra Zero Drop, happily filling a void in that middle ground and offering a very serious workable compromise for many. It kinda makes sense.

We think Zero Drop footwear has a place, especially with cushioning. It will aid those looking to work on their technique, perhaps as a once-a-week shoe. For others it will be their everyday 'go to' shoe and they will have no more running related injuries than anyone else. The product looks well made, offers levels of good quality one piece EVA cushioning and a roomy toe box to allow the foot to do...well, it's foot thing. Yes, it is something that will require time and reasonable, improving form at the very least and therefore some adaptation.  But, other than that, why not. Could be an option worth exploring and a worthwhile addition to your 'Toolbox of Running Shoes'.

Note:: Altra ZeroDrop running shoes begin to arrive at the Accelerate store in November 2013. As a two year old brand, Altra are the 7th biggest selling specialist brand in the United States. Now that speaks volumes... 

Article written by Stu Hale, one of the Shoe and Running Technique Specialists at the Accelerate Store and Performance Centre. You can follow Stu on Twitter @RunStu

Tuesday 5th of November 2013

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