As runners, our most important piece of equipment is our running shoes, and boy, oh boy, are there a lot of options out there to choose from.
When selecting, the most crucial factor is the fit! I know, I know, we want the ones that look the coolest or match the colors of our favorite running outfits, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
We need to choose running shoes where the fit is perfect.
But how should running shoes fit? How tight should running shoes be? And is it worth going to a running shoe fitting?
If you’re new to running and trying to figure out which first shoes to buy or an experienced runner still on the hunt for the perfect running shoe, let’s see if we can help you find yours.
In this article, we are going to discuss:
- The importance of the perfect fit…and the consequences of bad fit
- Components of the perfect running shoe fitting
- How tight should running shoes
- 8 tips for buying running shoes
Let’s jump in!
If the shoe doesn’t fit…
Having the right running shoe fitting is crucial. How many stories have we heard or shared with other runners about black and blue toenails, lost toenails, blisters, hotspots, and foot pain?
Unfortunately, tons and tons.
The number one reason we end up with these awful foot ailments is commonly linked back to the fit of our running shoes. They are consequences of the too tight, too narrow, too loose, too wide, not enough room in the toe box, too much room in the heel running shoes!
We’ll get into the details of each of these fitting components soon, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of these issues can be avoided if the perfect fitting running shoes are found!
There is no one brand or model of running shoes that work for all of us, so we need to know how they should fit and feel on our feet to begin the quest to find the perfect ones.
Let’s take a look at how running shoes should fit:
rule number 1: Comfort Comes First
Rule number one when looking for running shoes is that they need to feel very comfortable. It may sound silly to mention this, but many of us end up buying shoes that aren’t that comfortable, to begin with.
This may be tolerable for a day-to-day workwear shoe, but for running, it just won’t do. Your running shoe fit needs to be just right to ensure peak performance.
How Tight Should Running Shoes Be?
You need to find a happy medium with the snugness of your running shoes.
You don’t them to be so tight around your foot that you can’t wiggle your toes. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be so loose that your heel pops out of the back while you run or your foot slides around uncontrollably.
Let’s break down the running shoe fit into its separate components:
How Tight Should The Toe Box Be?
In the toe box or the front part of the shoe, you want enough room to be able to wiggle your toes around. However, you don’t want your foot to slide from side to side.
Leave about a thumbnail’s worth of space between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the running shoe. This can vary between ½ an inch to 1 inch of space. The amount of space will depend on a few factors such as your personal preference and the type of terrain you are running in.
When running on the road, shoes can fit a tad snugger than when running on the trails.When trail running, steep downhills push your foot forward against the front of the running shoe, so having a bit of extra room is helpful as your toes won’t get as squished.
However, suppose the trail you are used to is quite technical. In that case, it helps to use the fit of a road running shoe as you want to have complete control over the movement of your feet and have your feet move in sync with your running shoes.
A snugger shoe is also appropriate for training intervals and speed on the road; however, when running long runs and recovery runs, your shoes can fit a bit looser for maximum comfort.
Have I convinced you to buy two pairs of running shoes yet? Or even more for those of us who run trail and road? It’s always a good idea to switch up your running shoes anyhow, as it forces you to change your foot strike and breaks up the impact.
Whether you decide to leave ½ an inch or 1 inch in the toe box, be sure the arch of the shoe lines up with the arch of your foot for a comfortable fit.
Related: Pain On the Top of Your Foot? 5 Common Causes + Helpful Tips
How Tight Should The Width Be?
The toe box and overall shoe width will depend on your feet.
If you have bunions or wide feet in general, you’ll need a brand and model that allows enough space for your foot type. After adequately tying the shoes, they should feel very comfortable. This can’t be stressed enough. If you feel your foot is being squished in any way, or there is any discomfort, this is not the size or perhaps model for you.
Never buy shoes that feel too tight in any way. Thinking the shoes will “break in” is a common misconception. Sure, over time, shoes wear out, but that’s over time. By then, you’ll already have suffered from blisters and pain, your shoes will be worn out, and you’ll be ready to buy new ones.
The toe box will be a bit more spacious for those of us with wide feet; however, down the length of the foot, the fit should always feel snug, not tight, comfortable snug so that no sliding occurs.
How Tight Should The Heel Cup Be?
The heel cup or back end of the shoe should cradle your heel enough so it doesn’t pop out when you walk or run, but not so tight that it provokes discomfort in your ankle or on the sides of your heel.
8 Tips When Buying Running Shoes
#1 Try Them On
In an ideal world, an 8 ½ would be an 8 ½ across the board, all brands and models would follow strict sizing structures, and we could easily order online.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Always try on running shoes during a running shoe fitting before buying them, and never blindly order them online.
The only way you are allowed to do so is to have used the same brand and model for years, had success, and that the brand has made no changes to that particular model.
This is a rare case as most of us have yet to find the perfect fitting running shoes; therefore, we continue our quest to find perfection!
#2 Try Them On With Running Socks
Bring your running socks with you when you try on shoes. Your “at the office” socks will not do, and the thickness and feel will vary from your running socks.
#3 Shoe Shop In The PM
After walking around all day, our feet tend to swell up. This also happens when we run, so the best time to try on running shoes for the perfect fit is in the afternoon when our feet are at their worst.
#4 Lace Them Up
When trying running shoes on, ensure the lacing is complete. Shoes on display or still in the box are usually not laced up properly. Take the time to lace and tie them correctly. The knot should be loose enough where you can place your finger between the knot and the tongue of the shoe and there is not pain in the instep of the foot.
#5 Walk (Or Run) Around
To ensure the running shoes are actually comfortable, you need to move around. They could feel comfortable sitting or standing still, but you need to know how you feel when you are in motion.
Walking around the store, or jogging if they let you, will give you a better idea of the comfort level and fit of the running shoes.
#6 Go Big
If you are indecisive and between two sizes, get the bigger one. You’re better off with shoes a bit bigger than too small. You can always wear thicker running socks to compensate.
By taking all of this advice, you will most likely end up with running shoes that are ½ – 1 size larger than your usual day-to-day footwear. This is standard practice for all runners.
#7 Ask For Help
Knowledgeable staff can assist in your running shoe fitting.
They can also lead you in the right direction when choosing a model based on your foot posture. Still, studies show it’s recommended to stick to a neutral shoe unless you have a very severe pronated or supinated posture.
#8 Don’t Rush
Don‘t rush into buying just any running shoes. Go to different stores and try on a variety of brands and models. Take your time when trying them on and ensure a great, comfortable fit.
This decision may make or break your next running goal, so make it carefully.
At the end of this journey, you’ll end up with a pair, or two, or three, of running shoes. But you won’t honestly know if you love them or hate them until you put in the miles. Trial and error is a big part of running in general, and this is just one more piece that you have to work at until you get it right.
If you find those perfect running shoes, stick with them, they’re hard to come by.
Check out some of the latest models in our guide to the Best Marathon Running Shoes of 2022 roundup!
A properly fitting running shoe should feel snug in the heel and midfoot, with wiggle room around the toes. While standing, check for proper length and width by pressing your thumb down next to the ball of your foot and around the toes. A good fit should allow for half to a full thumb's width of space.How tight should your running shoes be? ›
When you're first trying on your running shoes in the store or at home, look for the following: Proper toe fit: You want a thumb's width of space between your toe and the end of the shoe. Midfoot and heel fit: You should have a snug (but not tight) fit at the midfoot and heel.Should running shoes be a little tight at first? ›
Shoes do not need to be tight at first. Instead, you should be able to slightly wiggle your toes to ensure you have the correct foot motion. That said, the shoe should be tight enough not to slip, but loose enough to allow movement.How do you know if running shoes fit right? ›
With a proper fit, you should have about a thumbnail's width between your longest toes and the end of the shoes when you stand with all of your weight distributed evenly between both feet. You shouldn't feel any pinching or rubbing on your toes, heels or ankles. The shoes should feel comfortable.Are running shoes supposed to be tied tight? ›
How Tight Should Running Shoes Be Laced? When you tie your shoes they should be snug but not actually tight. Once they are tied up and you think you are good place two fingers side by side on the laces. If you can comfortably fit two fingers over them between the eyelets it is perfect.Is it better to have running shoes a little tight or a little loose? ›
A properly fitting running shoe should feel snug in the heel and midfoot, with wiggle room around the toes. While standing, check for proper length and width by pressing your thumb down next to the ball of your foot and around the toes. A good fit should allow for half to a full thumb's width of space.Should running shoes be 1 size bigger? ›
The further you run the more your foot will naturally expand. This means it's wise to have just a little extra room (about a thumb's width) between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. With this in mind, your running shoe should be around a half size larger than the shoe size you usually get.Does 0.5 shoe size make a difference? ›
A half-size represents a 1/8” difference. It may not seem significant but is enough to distinguish between comfort and discomfort. Because there is no standardisation for shoe sizing, a half size difference will also depend on the brand of shoe. With some makes, a half size will be more significant than others.Is it normal for running shoes to hurt at first? ›
It's normal for new shoes to require an adjustment period, it is not normal for new shoes to cause more than a slight discomfort to your feet. If you're finding yourself getting excessive blisters or feeling pain as you wear the shoes, it's best to return them for a different style or brand.How much heel slip is normal running shoes? ›
When your foot bends to take a step in a new shoe, your heels should slip slightly. 1/8” movement is normal but can feel like much more. Loose slipping in the heels will not cause blisters when broken in gradually, but wearing shoes that are too small and tight will cause friction and then blister.
Running shoes can compress and expand. Insoles and midsole compress and relax over time and tend to shape to your foot, giving your foot a bit more room. In addition, some upper materials can expand when pressure is applied to them over time.Is it bad to wear shoes a half size too big? ›
Other painful effects of wearing shoes that are too big include: Corns and calluses: caused by excessive pressure on the toes. Metatarsalgia: caused by too much pressure on the balls of your feet. Disrupted natural stride: resulting in Achilles tendonitis, arch pain, and pain in the calf muscles.Do shoes stretch over time? ›
Shoes will typically stretch all on their own as you wear them. Leather shoes, whether it be men's dress shoes or women's heels, will fit over time. But if they are too tight and uncomfortable to wear in, try some of these easy hacks to stretch your shoes up to half a size or so to accommodate your feet.Why do my feet slide forward in running shoes? ›
When your heel isn't held firmly, your foot can slip forward and bump your toes against the front of your shoes. Your fix is the runner's loop: Lace your shoes normally, crisscrossing them until you reach the second eyelet below the top on each side.
Running shoe size is typically a half size larger than your typical shoe size. So, after determining the length and width and your true shoe size, try a running shoe that's about a half size bigger than your standard shoe size.How do you know if running shoes are too small? ›
Signs Your Running Shoes Are Too Small
If you can feel the tops of your toes or the ends of your toes rubbing, you need a larger size. Even if just your pinky toe rubs, you need a wider toe box—and if you have bunions, you likely need a roomier toe box.
As we all know, if you wear a shoe that is too tight it will hurt your feet and lead to foot ailments, such as blisters, bunions and calluses. But wearing a shoe that is too big will cause us to walk in an unnatural and dysfunctional way. This can lead to serious foot problems.How much room should be in the toe of a shoe? ›
The easiest way to tell if a shoe is too big or too small is to take a look at how much room there is in the toe of the shoe. Generally speaking, there should be about one finger's width of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.How much difference is a half size in shoes? ›
A half size in shoes is only 1/8 of an inch in added length. Shoes size can vary for many reasons, from sports injuries to weight gain and age. It's not uncommon to go up a half size if your feet or arch height begins to become more flat overtime.How much do insoles change shoe size? ›
While insoles don't physically make a shoe smaller, they fill out the empty space between your feet the inside of the shoe. Insoles are also a way to keep shoes fresh as they can be taken out and cleaned. Plus, they can be used together with toe inserts when shoes are too big, providing additional support.
This is usually because the shoes are too tight, inhibiting blood circulation in your feet. Your toes and soles feel like they are burning. This may be because the shoes' soles are too stiff.Why does running hurt at first? ›
Sore muscles are an inescapable part of your running journey at the beginning. Usually, the pain starts a few hours after the workout and can last up to a week. It is caused by unfamiliar movement and sometimes improper technique, which strains the muscles. Take a few days of rest between your runs.How long do running shoes take to break in? ›
So, how long should you expect to break in your new running shoes? Well, in most cases, give them at least two to three weeks to soften up and mold to your feet. But keep in mind that some shoes may take longer to reach their optimum level of comfort.Is it better to jog heel toe or toe heel? ›
“Running toe-heel might help injuries at the knee, where loads are reduced. However, it may cause injuries to the feet and ankle, where loads are increased,” Dr Barton said. “Put simply, when it comes to running style: If it ain't broke, don't fix it."Should you ever heel strike when running? ›
If you aren't currently injured or prone to injuries, experts say there's no real reason to change your foot strike while running. On the other hand, if you find yourself with knee or other injuries often, you may want to try training to land more on the middle portion or balls of your feet as you run.Should your heel lift in running shoes? ›
This study revealed that heel lifts reduce both the force and strain in the Achilles tendon during running. However, it was only the 18 mm heel lift that reduced the strain to the proper level to allow an adaptive response of the Achilles tendon to loading during running.Is it good to wear running shoes while walking? ›
Can running shoes be used as walking shoes? The short answer: yes. Running shoes and walking shoes have similar qualities that make them ideal for being active. While running shoes are designed to be durable for the rigorous demands of running, they are excellent as walking shoes, too.How do I make my running shoes less tight? ›
Use a blow dryer: Ideally, wearing thick wool socks (or two pairs at a time) with the sneakers you want to stretch when using the blow dryer will help. So, turn on your hair dryer, set it to low or medium heat at most and move the dryer constantly to avoid burning the material for no more than 30'' each time.Will running shoes loosen up? ›
Running shoes may be able to stretch a bit depending on the material, but it's most likely that they won't stretch longer. The foam will compress and allow for a bit of room for your toes and the sides of your feet.Do shoes get wider over time? ›
Shoes will typically stretch all on their own as you wear them. Leather shoes, whether it be men's dress shoes or women's heels, will fit over time. But if they are too tight and uncomfortable to wear in, try some of these easy hacks to stretch your shoes up to half a size or so to accommodate your feet.
The new pair will have more support, so they're going to set up differently around your feet. So as a result, it might take just a bit of getting used to. It's just a case of running them in a little bit so that you can get a feel for if something is wrong or if these new shoes aren't going to work for you.Do insoles make shoes tighter? ›
Although often intended to help with posture problems and other discomfort, insoles are also useful to make shoes smaller by taking up extra space in footwear that's a tad on the big side. Full insoles are a fantastic solution if your shoes are too big across the length of your foot.What is the difference between a size 9 and 9.5 shoe? ›
Length: There is approximately a 1/6" difference between each half-size (e.g., between 9 and 9.5, between a 9.5 and a 10, and so on) For every half size up, the width (across the ball) will increase by 1/8"