Anyone who has been to one of our stores is probably familiar with the term heel pitch. A shoe’s heel pitch is the difference in cushion stack height between the heel and the forefoot in the shoes. For example, if the cushioning is 30mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot, the heel pitch of that shoe would be 10mm. Running shoes come in a variety of heel pitches, usually ranging from 0mm to about 12mm.
So which heel pitch is right for you? There’s a variety of factors that could play into your decision.
Typically, runners who heel strike tend to feel more natural in shoes with a higher heel pitch. This is because when a runner is landing on their heel, it helps to have extra support in that area of the shoe so the foot has to do less work to get to the toe off phase. Commonly, stability shoes like the New Balance 860 and the Brooks Adrenaline, and motion control shoes such as the Brooks Beast and Ariel, will have a higher heel pitch and neutral shoes will have a lower heel pitch. However, this is not always the case. There are plenty of neutral shoes with higher heel pitches, like the Brooks Ghost and the New balance 880, and stability shoes with lower heel pitches as well, such as the Gaviota and Arahi by Hoka.
Some runners who heel strike and would like to change their gait to become more a mid foot striker, will switch to a pair of shoes with a lower heel pitch. This may help, but should be done gradually. There is definitely an injury risk when drastically changing heel pitch too much, too soon. It may be something that takes a few pairs of shoes and is done over time, gradually lowering the heel pitch with each new pair of shoes. Runners with achilles tendon issues or plantar fasciitis should stick with higher heel pitches, at least until the issues are resolved and the foot is at full strength. This will give the injured part of the foot more cushion and support.
Runners who have a midfoot or forefoot strike tend to feel more natural running in a lower heel pitch. For these runners, their heel really isn’t making much contact with the ground during their gait cycle, so building that part of the shoe up with cushion and support isn’t going to feel as smooth. Most of the lighter weight shoes tend to have lower heel pitches. This can be a plus for speed and performance shoes, like the Saucony Endorphin and the Hoka Mach, although there are some supportive shoes with lower heel pitches as well.
Just because a shoe looks bulky doesn’t always mean it has a higher heel pitch. There are a lot of high stack height cushioned shoes with lower heel pitches. The Bondi by Hoka and the Torin Plush by Altra are great examples of this. These shoes tend to be favorites for higher mileage and more efficient runners.
As you can see, there’s a variety of factors to consider when selecting the stack height of your running shoes. The best thing to do is to see which feels best for you while considering your running needs, and most importantly, getting advice and properly fit by an expert at your local running store.
About the author: A.J. is the Store Manager at AppRunCo – Altoona. He lives in Altoona and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years.