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The Monday Shakeout: The Importance of Heel Bevels in Shoe Design
By Matthew Klein

Welcome back to another edition of the Monday Shakeout! This week we dive into heel bevels, one of our three obsessions at Doctors of Running. Matt shares what a heel bevel is and why it is an element he feels many companies fix to easily improve the ride of their shoes.

If you have read, listened to, or watched Doctors of Running content, you may be aware that I (Matt) tend to talk about heel bevels quite a bit. A heel bevel refers to the presence (or lack thereof) of a curve at the back of the heel. This is meant to imitate the heel rocker, one of the three major rockers inherent to the foot and ankle (heel, ankle and forefoot rocker). These natural mechanisms exist in this area to improve efficiency during walking and running. The heel rocker of the foot refers to the naturally curved heel bone (calcaneus). The posterior curve helps the foot roll forward during heel strike (Sobhani et al., 2013). This applies both during walking and running, as 70% of runners land heel first during initial contact (Kamser et al., 2013). A large percentage of runners may naturally choose this because of the known improvements in running economy and efficiency when utilizing this during slower running (Gruber et al., 2013).

The posterior/back part of a shoe is designed in a few different ways. The common design previously was to not have a heel bevel but instead a sharp square-like edge. Another design recently has been to actually have a posterior flare, where the sole extends posteriorly. Then the final major design is to curve the heel.

Why Heel Bevels are Important

The reason I talk about this is that the heel design of a shoe does impact both biomechanics as well as the load/stress into a variety of muscles and tissues (Sobhani et al., 2013). A shoe that does not have a heel bevel or has a posterior flare causes an early initial contact. That means the body hits the ground before it is ready. Normally, as the limb is swinging through the air before landing, muscles turn on at a certain to prepare to absorb the impact. If you hit the ground before those muscles are on, instead of the muscles being able to adequately absorb impact, those forces are absorbed by passive structures like bones, ligaments, cartilage, and more. While they can do that, muscles are far better equipped to handle these forces and heal much faster than those other tissues.

The other challenge that occurs without a heel bevel is after the foot has hit the ground. During a heel landing, the front of the foot/toes must transition from being in the air down to the ground. To prevent these from slamming into the ground, the ankle dorsiflexor muscles, especially the anterior tibialis muscle (on the front of the lower leg), must eccentrically (contracting while being lengthened) control the foot downward after contact. The sharper the heel or the more beveled it is, the faster the front of the foot gets brought down to the ground, requiring more eccentric torque and power out of these muscles. Fast eccentric motions create the highest levels of forces and are also the most common actions preceding many injuries. If these muscles are not strong enough, they can quickly become overworked.

In addition to the anterior tibialis being irritated, the lack of a bevel can increase stress into passive structures like bone, ligaments, etc. "Shin Splints" or "Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome", which are general terms for pain in the front of the leg, may in some runners be influenced by the lack of a bevel increasing stress into those areas.

A beveled heel reduces the amount of stress into the anterior tibialis and other tissues by improving the transition forward during heel strike. Rather than pitching the foot forward, a beveled heel eases the transition of the foot down without the need for extra energy. It also makes the ride of the shoe in the back far smoother and becomes more important the taller or stiffer a shoe is (Sobhani et al., 2013).

The Correct Design for a Heel Bevel

Heel bevels, like anything else, have a correct way of being executed. The majority of people do not land perfectly in the middle of their heels. The majority land on the posterior lateral (back outside) part of their foot/shoe. That is one of the reasons most people will see a large amount of wear at that part of the outsole and is quite normal (note: no wear pattern has ever been associated with any injury or pathology at the time of this article). Thus, a heel bevel should be angled slightly lateral to accommodate that landing position and correctly ease the foot down to the ground. There are a few occasions where I have seen a heel bevel angled medially (inward) and it ended up being useless, feeling exactly the same as if no bevel existed because almost no one lands on the medial side and rolls out (there are a few extremely rare cases).

The steepness of the heel bevel can also make a difference. A long heel bevel can sometimes make for a slow transition down or in others it can make the heel feel like it is missing (some people will naturally shift their landing mechanics more forward to accommodate this). A steep heel bevel can feel too aggressive as the foot is rolled quickly down. This can almost make it feel like there is not a bevel depending on the steepness/grade. The purpose of the shoe should dictate the steepness as well as the type of runner using the shoe.

Given that a heel bevel improves the transition at heel strike, reduces stress on the anterior structures of the lower leg, and imitates an important feature of the foot for efficiency, the majority of running shoes should be designed with some kind of heel bevel (those designed for certain pathologic gait types, balance impairments, etc are a different story). Those runners who land farther forward will not be as impacted by this, but given the majority of runners, both recreational and elite, land at the heel, this should be a standard, non-negotiable design (Hayes & Caplan, 2012).

It is for the above reasons I discuss this frequently, as the impact phase of running also has some of the highest forces during the entire gait cycle. This can be a problematic area injury-wise for new runners, given that those fast eccentric forces are a risk for injury in those not prepared to handle them or who take on too much to recover from. It is no surprise that maximal, rockered shoes with large heel bevels have been extremely popular recently. Combining a ton of cushioning with a smooth heel transition likely feels good for a ton of people. A heel bevel is a natural extension of the heel rocker of the foot and for normal gait, should be included in running footwear design. 


Gruber, A. H., Umberger, B. R., Braun, B., & Hamill, J. (2013). Economy and rate of carbohydrate oxidation during running with rearfoot and forefoot strike patterns. Journal of Applied Physiology.

Hayes, P., & Caplan, N. (2012). Foot strike patterns and ground contact times during high-calibre middle-distance races. Journal of sports sciences30(12), 1275-1283.

Kasmer, M. E., Liu, X. C., Roberts, K. G., & Valadao, J. M. (2013). Foot-strike pattern and performance in a marathon. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(3), 286-292.

Sobhani, S., Hijmans, J., van den Heuvel, E., Zwerver, J., Dekker, R., & Postema, K. (2013). Biomechanics of slow running and walking with a rocker shoe. Gait & posture38(4), 998-1004.


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