ASK THE SHOE GEEK: What’s an Offset?

Q: I’ve heard the term “offset” and “zero drop” from time to time. What do they mean and why should I care?

A: Remember the minimalist movement? When people were going 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.


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 and that is the offset.

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*Stack heights are measured internally in the shoe, not on the exterior*

The Topo Fli-Lyte 2, offering a 3mm offset

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 some companies like Topo and Saucony (among others) decided that they wanted to meet us halfway, offering offsets of 3-4mm. Altra offers a 0mm offset (called Zero-Drop) in shoes with plenty of cushioning – taking the barefoot out of barefoot shoes. Saucony has lowered the offset in most of their 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?

The Altra Escalante, offering a zero-drop midsole

Glad you asked! By lowering the offset in your shoes, you’re training your lower body differently. Think about it – if you have a thicker heel in your shoe, you’re more likely to land on your heel. If you have a thinner heel in your shoe, you’re more likely to land closer to the midfoot or forefoot, which is 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.

RELATED CONTENT: [Brand Spotlight: Altra] [Shoe Review: Topo Magnifly] [Healthy Running Tips: 3 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Achilles Tendon]