The right shoe fit can make or break the success of your running. And just because a shoe doesn’t feel terrible on your feet, it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you!
So how should running shoes fit?
A fair bit goes into it, but once you know what to look for, you should find it much easier to find the right shoes. And once you’ve got that right… You can expect even better performance on your runs.
Why Is It Important to Find the Perfect Fit?
Running shoes should do two things very well—keep you comfortable while running and protect your feet from injury.
When you have the right fit running shoes, this happens naturally. But two things can happen when you wear shoes that don’t fit well—even if they don’t feel completely uncomfortable.
One is that as time goes by, you’re likely to feel more and more uncomfortable in the shoes. They may chafe a little in certain places or feel uncomfortably tight or loose in some areas.
You may find that your heel pops out of the shoe when you’re moving at a higher speed, or you need to constantly readjust your foot in the shoe.
Two, you become more prone to injury. Maybe your foot is a little less stable, and you turn your ankle more often. Or perhaps you suddenly have an ITB pain that was never there before.
A lack of proper cushioning and support for your foot can lead to these things. This is why it’s essential to get the right fit for you—not just grabbing the most eye-catching pair of shoes you see!
How to Know If Your Shoes Are A Bad Fit
If you’re wondering about the shoes you’re wearing currently, there are a few ways to tell if they’re a good fit or a bad one. You might think that these things are normal, but they’re an indication of a poorly-fitting shoe!
The first sign is blisters on your heel, your toes, or the ball of your foot. That means your shoes are chafing in certain places, and if they’re the right fit, they shouldn’t chafe at all.
The second sign is bruised toes or black or damaged toenails. This means your toes are hitting the front of your shoes when you run, so there’s most likely not enough room in the toe box.
Sometimes, you may also experience redness or irritation on the top of your foot as the laces bite into your foot due to bad fit.
Different Types of Running Shoes
The first thing to understand is that not all running shoes are the same. And they definitely aren’t all made for the same type of foot! Here are the three types of running shoes—and we’re talking about foot type here, not running type.
Neutral Running Shoes
About half the population has neutral feet. This means the feet are properly positioned and roll slightly inwards as you walk—about 15 percent.
The majority of running shoes cater to neutral feet. You can walk into a shoe store anywhere and most of their shoes are neutral.
30 to 40 percent of people overpronate, which means their feet roll inwards more than the usual 15 percent. It might not feel weird to them, but you can be more susceptible to injury when running with rolling feet.
This is where stability shoes come in. They were created specifically for overpronators. These kinds of shoes have built-in support to prevent that excess rolling.
If you’re an overpronator, choosing a stability shoe over a neutral shoe is highly recommended. Although neutral runners can wear a stability shoe—if the support isn’t intrusive—in many cases, the unnecessary support can be uncomfortable and adds weight to the shoe.
Motion Control Shoes
Motion control shoes are similar to stability shoes, but they’re designed for severe overpronators. Mild overpronators may get away with wearing a well-padded, stiff, neutral shoe, but severe overpronators need as much support as they can get.
These shoes typically have much more robust support systems built into them. However, they are generally quite a bit heavier than regular shoes.
Identifying Your Foot Type
First things first—to know which type of shoe you need, you need to know your foot type. Here are a few ways to figure it out.
The Cardboard Test
You’ll need a piece of cardboard for this test. It doesn’t have to be very thick, but it should be thicker than a regular sheet of paper. Place it on the floor somewhere you can stand on it.
Then, you’ll want to wet your feet—just enough to leave footprints on the cardboard but not so much that the whole piece gets wet. Step onto the cardboard, stand for a moment naturally—don’t press your feet down any more than normal—and then get off the cardboard.
You’ll see a damp silhouette of your feet. Using this, you can figure out your foot type. If you see a very thin stripe on the outer edge and a large “empty space” area underneath your arch, it’s likely that you underpronate—walk more on the outer edges of your feet.
If almost the entire silhouette of the foot is “colored in,” your arch may be flatter than average, which means you’re an overpronator. Neutral feet have about half and half “colored in” and “empty space.”
Another way you can tell—if you can’t get hold of cardboard or if you want to confirm what the cardboard is telling you—is to look at the outsole of an old pair of shoes you have.
If you have a neutral foot, the wear and tear on the bottom of the shoe should be quite equal on the left and right sides.
Overpronators will see their shoes worn down much more on the inside edge, while underpronators will see more wear on the outer edge.
Have Your Feet Measured
Once you know the type of shoe you need, the next step is to get as accurate a measurement of your foot as possible. This can make the difference between comfort and a black toenail when running!
You can do this at any shoe store or running store near you. It’s best to get it done professionally and not do it yourself because it can be difficult to measure arch length without the right tool.
Keep in mind that your foot size does change over time. You should get your feet measured at least once a year, especially if you’ve had a foot injury, been pregnant, or spent a lot of time on your feet.
How Should a Running Shoe Fit?
Here’s a quick guide to how your running shoes should fit. Get these steps right, and you should find that your shoes fit better and your performance improves!
Choose the Right Type of Shoe
Find out whether you need a neutral shoe, a stability shoe, or a motion control shoe. Getting this right can save you a lot of headaches down the line. With this in mind, ensure you’re only shopping for those shoes!
Width and Shape of the Shoe
After measuring your feet, you know exactly what to look for in size. You’ll know the width of your feet, the length, and the length of your arch.
This will make a huge difference when you shop. Instead of just shopping for a “size 5”, you can shop according to your exact measurements.
Toe Box Fit
Different shoes have different toe box shapes. What works for others may work better for you! It’s a good idea to try on a few different brands and see how the toe box fits.
If it’s touching your baby toe or your big toe, it’s probably not the right shape for you. There should be a bit of space between your toes and the upper of the shoe—about a finger’s width.
Top of Your Foot
The top of your foot—where your laces are—should not feel like it’s being compressed. While there shouldn’t be any space between the upper and the top of your foot, there also shouldn’t be any lace bite.
Take a bit of walk around in any pair of shoes you try on. If there’s discomfort in this area, the shoe may not be the right fit for you.
The midfoot can be a tricky area. For those with wide feet, the shoe must fit comfortably at the widest part of your foot, but it should still be snug and comfy in the midfoot too.
Some people have wide feet from toe to heel, while others have a wide forefoot but a narrower midfoot and heel. Finding the right fit in the midfoot will ensure the shoe stays snug around your foot as you exercise.
It’s also important that the shoe fits snugly in the heel. If it’s too big, you’ll experience heel slippage, which can be irritating and lead to blisters. But if it’s too small, you’re likely to feel pain after being on your feet for a short while.
The shoe should feel like it’s gently hugging the back of your heel. It shouldn’t be squeezing but should gently cup the heel in place.
Tips for Finding the Right Fit
Here are some fitting tips to make sure you get the right fit from the start. Remember these when you’re shoe shopping!
Try on Shoes at the End of the Day
Your feet swell a little during the day, even if it’s not noticeable. If you go shopping in the morning, the shoes might feel like a great fit… But when your feet swell later, they may suddenly feel too tight and uncomfortable.
Rather, shop at the end of the day when they’re already a little puffy. If you can find a perfect fit, then they’ll be quite fine when you put them onto your normal-sized feet.
Wear the Socks and Orthotics You Plan to Run In
There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect fit… Only to wear different socks when you run and find that something chafes.
When you go shopping, try to wear the socks you’ll be wearing when you run. That way, you can get the “real feel” of the shoes when you’re wearing the socks you wear most often. The same goes for orthotics.
Try to stick to a certain sock thickness across all your socks. This will prevent any unnecessary issues with different thicknesses in your shoes.
Fit Your Largest Foot First
Yes—your feet are different sizes! Not by much, but one will be noticeably bigger than the other. You’ll find this out when you get your feet measured.
Try fitting the shoes to your biggest foot first. You’ll immediately notice if any little issues could become big issues.
Make Sure to Try on Both Shoes
Don’t just leave it with your biggest foot, though. Try on both shoes—your feet may be slightly differently shaped so it’s worth trying both. Make sure the pair of shoes feel good on both feet and not just on one.
Stand, Walk, and Run Test
If you have a bit of space in the store, do the stand, walk, and run test. Standing in shoes might feel great, but doing a short and easy run around the store might reveal discomfort.
Wiggle Room for the Toes
Make sure the shoes have some room in the toe box. When you run, your feet naturally move forward in the shoe a tiny bit, so having some space between your toes and the front prevents those bruised toes and black toenails.
Aim for a thumb-widths between the longest part of your toe and the front of the shoe.
If you know a few different lacing techniques, try out a few on your potential new pair of shoes. Some techniques can alleviate lace bite quite effectively and prevent you from discounting a shoe that could be saved with a different lacing technique!
Make Sure the Shoe Feels Comfortable
Buy shoes for comfort… Not for looks. As attractive as that new colorway is, it won’t make you feel better when you’re halfway through a run and your feet are in pain because your shoes don’t fit!
Things to Consider When Trying on Shoes
Once you’ve got the basics right, here are a few more things to consider to make sure you get the right fit for you.
- Each brand will fit differently: Nike shoes are known to be narrow. New Balance are known to run wide. Do a bit of research on brands before you go shoe shopping, but expect different fits across the board.
- Consider your foot shape: You may know your sizes, but try to match the shoe to your foot’s shape. Do you have a wide forefoot and a narrow midfoot and heel? Or is your foot narrow or wide all the way through?
- Do you have foot conditions? Foot conditions like bunions, hammer toes, flat feet, metatarsalgia, or others can affect the comfort and support of your shoes. Learn more about the ideal shoes for your condition first so you know what to look for in the store!
- How often will you be running? The more often you’ll run, the more durable the shoes need to be. You’ll need to look for a more robust outsole and durable cushioning.
- Where will you be running? Running on roads, trails, tracks, or other surfaces requires different shoes. Road running shoes are smoother on the outsole, while trail running shoes have chunky lugs for better grip.
- Your weight: Heavier runners will most likely need a more cushioned shoe that can support their weight over a long period of time.