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Best running shoes for heel strikers


This article has been updated with current models for May 2020. We’ve replaced the Asics Cumulus 21, Brooks Glycerin 17, New Balance 1080V9, Reebok Forever Energy, and the Nike Pegasus 36 with their updated versions. The adidas UltraBoost 20, Asics GlideRide, and the Nike React Infinity Run are new additions. The adidas Solar Drive, Solar Glide, and the Nike Epic React 2 have been removed.

Wait. Do we really need a guide to tell us which shoes work for rearfoot landing runners? Doesn’t that include most shoes?

If only things were that black and white. It takes a lot more than just a cushioned heel for a running shoe to be rearfoot-friendly.

There are overlooked aspects such as the heel-to-toe offset, the level of heel support, and a midsole design that promotes better landings. And how exactly do these factors help? Here’s a quick primer on what you need to look for.

A high heel-to-toe drop

The ‘drop’ of a shoe is the difference between the front and rear midsole thickness. Based on our experience, a gradient between 8 mm and 10 mm works better for heel strikers. And why is that?

A higher offset means that the rear is substantially thicker than the front. Not only do you get a higher level of cushioning upon impact, but the thicker back also promotes rearfoot landings. The opposite is also true, and that is why midfoot/forefoot strikers prefer running shoes with a lower offset.

A supportive rearfoot

It isn’t just about the cushioning. If the rearfoot is the first point of contact during the gait cycle, it needs to be supportive. The midsole should have a fairly neutral behavior with zero or minimal bias. In other words, one side of the midsole shouldn’t be softer than the other.

To that end, the entire heel shouldn’t be overly soft. This is the reason why this guide leaves out models like the Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit or Next %. While those are excellent running shoes, the heel isn’t stable enough for rearfoot landing.

A beveled heel edge

A heel with an angled curve (also called heel spring) allows the foot to land gradually instead of ‘edge striking’ abruptly. It also helps if the outsole crash pad is segmented or split from the main outsole by a groove. Such crash pads flex on landing for smoother transitions.

Not all shoes on this guide feature an articulated landing zone but we’ve tried our best to find ones that do.

Also, this list only covers neutral daily trainers. By that definition, running shoes from the stability category are excluded.

We haven’t mentioned low-profile trainers for tempo runs either. If you’re interested, we recommend the excellent adidas adizero Boston 8 or the Reebok Floatride Run Fast.

1) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22

If you were in the market to buy a pair of Asics Cumulus, should you get the 21 at a bargain or the brand-new Cumulus 22? If you’re not on a budget, may we suggest the 22?

The new Cumulus is an improvement over the old. The cushioning feels more sorted, thanks to the redesigned midsole and reformulated Flytefoam. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the rearfoot-biased cushioning of the Cumulus.

With a heel stack of 23 mm, most of the foam, Gel, and what not is loaded in the back. Contrast this with the mere 13 mm forefoot thickness. The transitions are smooth, and the 10 mm drop ensures that heel strikers get most of the Flytefoam goodness.

Other design features like a grooved heel crash pad and curved heel edge assist rearfoot landings.

2) Asics Glide Ride

We had a lot of fun while reviewing the Asics Glideride, and we hope that’s also true for everyone else.

This Asics shoe’s unique geometry spices up the ride character. A Nylon plate is embedded inside the midsole that leads – or rolls – the foot quickly towards toe-off. And that is the fun part; the gait process doesn’t feel like much work.

In the rear, the dual-density midsole does a darned good job of absorbing footstrikes. The heel delivers a brief sensation of cushioned softness before the foot transitions to the firmer part of the plated midsole.

3) adidas UltraBoost 20

Really? Do we need to explain why the adidas Ultraboost 20 is suitable for people who land rearfoot? One look at the midsole should give you the answer.

The full-length Boost midsole tapers from thick to slim, thus packing most of the springy cushioning under the heel. The midsole is wide and ridged as well, so soft landings need not come at the cost of stability.

The UltraBoost also has a generous heel bevel for smooth landings and transitions.

4) Brooks Glycerin 18

If overly soft rearfoot-friendly trainers aren’t your thing, then the Brooks Glycerin 18 should be an object of interest.

Ignore the adjective-laden marketing claims and blog posts. The Brooks DNA Loft foam isn’t ‘super-soft’ or ‘pillow-like’.

At best, the midsole has a medium-soft ride with plenty of rearfoot and forefoot stability. It is still a very comfortable daily trainer, so don’t let all this talk of firmness scare you away.

The Glycerin’s midsole has always featured a rounded heel for easy landings, and the 18 continues the tradition. The curved heel bevel and split crash pad work together to create an optimal heel landing experience.

Also see: The Brooks Ghost 12, Adrenaline GTS 20.

5) Mizuno Wave Rider 23

The Japanese brand hasn’t altered the ‘Wave’ plate configuration of the Rider 23, so heel strikers will experience the signature (and familiar) Mizuno ride quality. The large TPE plate makes the landings stable as well as snappy.

Though the landings feel slightly ‘harder’ when compared to shoes like the Glycerin, the decoupled crash pad and the rest of the notched outsole manage the transition well.

6) Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2

Unlike the cushy UltraBoost or the 1080, the Reebok Floatride Energy 2 doesn’t have a lot of rearfoot softness.

Instead, the ride experience is an exercise in moderation. The cushioning is neither too soft nor too firm, and yet there’s plenty of impact protection no matter where you land or how long the distance.

Making that happen is a dense expanded Polyurethane foam that Reebok calls Floatride. Don’t let the seemingly low-profile midsole put you off; the dense quality of the midsole is perfectly capable of hard heel landings. As a bonus, there’s plenty of stability too.

Also, the Forever Floatride is a very durable shoe. When you consider the shoe’s $100 retail price, that’s a lot of miles for your money.

Also see: The Reebok Harmony Road 3.5

7) Saucony Ride ISO 2

Everything on the Saucony Ride ISO 2 is about balance. The 8 mm offset is the perfect middle-ground for heel strikers, and that’s made better by the firm and supportive EVA midsole. The latter’s single-density set-up makes the ride quality connected while delivering enough cushioning for most runs.

The outer and inner outsole is split by a wide groove to allow easier transitions from the rearfoot towards the front.

8) Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37

For 2020, the Pegasus has been reworked from the ground up. And guess what – the headlining act is the rearfoot design.

For the first time in the Pegasus’s recent history, the heel doesn’t have an Air bag. Replacing the springy unit of compressed air is a React foam core.

So what happens now? Does the Pegasus turn soft and mushy in the rear?

Not exactly.

The rear midsole is supported by the concave sidewall design. This makes the heel less soft than it appears, and that’s a positive from a ride perspective.

Heel-striking runners get the cushioning they need but without the sink-in softness. The Pegasus remains a comfortable daily trainer; it’s just a different shoe than the one it replaces.

Also see: The Nike Pegasus Turbo V2

9) Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit

View the React Infinity Run as an alternative to the Epic React. An alternative that has a lot more cushioning in the rear; the kind that makes long-distance runs at slow speeds a pleasure.

The wide midsole also adds cushioning volume in the back.

Just one thing – this shoe excels at straight-line running at easy speeds. However, its performance on uneven surfaces or tracks leaves much to be desired. The Infinity has simply too much midsole for anything other than road running. Our full review covers this behavior in detail.

10) New Balance 1080V10

Foam, foam everywhere. That’s a good description of the 1080V10.

The 1080 happens to be a great pick for heel strikers if long-distance comfort is a criterion. The slight rocker shape of the midsole gives the 1080 polished landing manners, and the multi-piece outsole helps create a smooth loading experience.

There’s plenty of cushioning on tap even for marathon-distance runs. The reformulated Fresh Foam keeps the feet fresh over multi-hour wearings – we see the V10 as one of the best versions to date.

11) New Balance FuelCell Propel

One of the features that make the Propel suitable for heel strikers is its flared midsole. The wide base keeps the rearfoot landings planted and supportive regardless of whether you land on the inside or outside heel edge.

The Propel’s noticeably soft ride is worth mentioning. Be it recovery runs or easy long runs, the FuelCell Propel will help you do both in superlative ride comfort.

Do you own any of these shoes? Improve this review by sharing your insights – submit a review here.