One of the first pieces of gear we need to upgrade is our running shoes. We often start with whatever is available and quickly realize that the right, high quality, properly fitted running shoe is a game changer!
Running shoes need to fit slightly different than your everyday casual shoe.
We’re looking for a shoe that provides enough room for your toes to spread out and grab the ground, enough space for your foot to swell as the miles increase and one that supports your movement.
Ill-fitting running shoes can lead to a host of injuries tendonitis, stress fractures, knee pain, ankle pain to bunions.
We obviously want to avoid injuries to keep our training consistent, so this article is here to help avoid those issues and help you tell whether running shoes fit properly or not.
How To Tell If Running Shoes Fit Properly
First, can I say that simply rocking back and forth from heel to toe when trying on a shoe is absolutely not going to cut it for your running shoes.
Running stores 100% allow you to head out and run up and down the sidewalk to truly see how the shoe feels while you’re moving, which is completely different than than weird standing dance we do.
What should you look for in that test run?
Wiggle Room For Your Toes
Most runners find that they will go up an entire shoe size from their casual shoes to have enough room for their toes to freely move and feet to swell as they run.
Being able to place a thumbwidth in front of your longest toe to the end of the shoe is often a great test.
If your toes are already hitting the end of the shoe, that means as soon as you start to run even slightly downhill the pressure is ramped up and you’re very likely to get ablack toenail from running or you’ll begin dealing with numb feet while running.
Another way to look at this is examining the toe box.Most shoes have a slightly rounded toe area, while Zero Drop shoes are often designed to have a wider toe box that allows for more spreading of the toes.
The theory is that you want more access for your toes to spread, grab the ground and push away. In two decades of running, I’ve tested all manner of shoes and the rounded ends don’t bother me.
You’ll want a wider toe box in your running shoes if:
- You have a naturally wider foot
- You’re running with bunions – the widest part of your foot is made broader and you want space for it
- You like the feel of barefoot running
- You frequently get blisters on your toes
My top picks for wider toebox: New Balance and Altra.
No Pinching or Tightness on Top of Foot
Another area that often goes overlooked is the fit along the top of the foot, which is why I want you to actually run in the shoe. Sometimes you’ll find as you start to run that the shoe simply breaks in a weird way causing pressure on the top of your foot.
Each shoe is designed with a different level of flexibility and it could simply be that your foot strike doesn’t work with that shoe.
Additionally, if you’re feeling tightness it means your foot again doesn’t have enough room to swell during longer runs. Many times this can be resolved with adjusting the lacing technique, but it’s good to know that upfront.Example: Here we unlaced along the bottom of the shoe to pull up around the toe and create more space. You could do a similar lacing right along the middle of the shoe to relieve pressure.
Test with your insoles
Finally, if you need to put an insole in your shoe bring it with you to the store. This will change the height of your foot inside the shoe.
Some shoes like my favorite Nike React are a knit, so there’s not room for the shoe to expand upwards, which means you’ll know quickly by placing your insert that the shoe it too tight.
Support for your Arches
When you start to run in a shoe, the shoe store will often look at whether your foot falls inward or rolls out.
This is how they often determine if you need a stability shoe and it’s my one complaint with running stores.
- A foot falling inward is often a sign of weak hips and glutes
- Ensure you’re doing all the core work before buying an extra supportive shoe
- Too much support simply covers those weaknesses until they lead to injury
That being said, sometimes we have done all the work and our foot is still falling inward or we’re running with flat feet. We don’t want our foot to be working extra hard, as that can lead to cramps or issues like plantar fasciitis.
In that case, you may still prefer to buy a neutral running shoe and utilized an insole that’s really designed for how your foot moves.
Most runners don’t love the feel of a stability shoe because it’s much firmer and often feels like a poor fit, but we’re talked in to it.
Is the cushion right?
Who doesn’t love feeling like you’re running on a cloud? But too much cushion in a long run shoe can actually backfire, as you start to sink in the shoe, creating lower back pain while running.
- Old running shoes breakdown and that can lead to stress fractures, so it’s not just about the cushion but the whole structure of the shoe
- A shoe that fits should feel good under the ball of your foot in the store doing your test run, if you’re trying to convince yourself the shoe isn’t too hard and you like it…walk away.
- Each runner has a different level of cushion that feels good, just like buying a mattress
- You will have different levels of cushion for different runs (i.e. speed work days vs marathon long runs)
Does it work with your preferred socks?
This isn’t about do you love the colors? Though honestly that really is still a factor for me.
This is about the thickness of your socks and how that changes the way the shoe fits your foot.
If you know you love running in a cushioned sock or will be running through the winter in thicker socks, then make sure to test out your shoes with those on. You could find you want to go up another half size to accommodate the length and width better.
On the flipside, if you often run or race in compression socks you may notice that suddenly the shoe feels loose. This can work to your advantage with slightly newer shoes come race day that haven’t been stretched from many miles.
Signs Your Running Shoes Don’t Fit
Have a current pair of shoes that you think you maybe should replace, but gosh they aren’t that worn out. Let’s talk about signs they’re not a properly fitting running shoe and you need to get a new pair ASAP:
- Tingling or numbness in your toes after runs (shoes are too small)
- Constant blisters (shoes are moving or causing too much friction)
- Legs feel tired all the time, even with good recovery (find out how long do running shoes last)
- Frequent knee pain, ankle pain or shin splints (core strength matters most, but next is support from your shoe)
I hope this helps you get a good fit in running shoes.
There really are SO MANY options for every size and shape that if you can cover the basics around enough space for your foot then you can start to focus simply on what feels good.
More Running Shoe Tips:
- Why you need multiple pairs of running shoes
- Comparing Asics and Brooks
- Comparing Hoka and ASICS
- Best shoes for Achilles Pain
- How to clean running shoes
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