If you’re in need of a new pair of kicks but not sure how to find the right fit, we’ve got you covered.
From proper measuring techniques and gait analysis to wearing socks and trying on shoes later in the day, finding the right running shoe may not be rocket science, but it does require some basic knowledge about fit, type, and performance.
Read on to learn how to find the right running shoe for you.
The first step to ensuring a good fit is to determine the correct shoe size, including length and width.
“Running shoe fit is a combination of providing enough space for the foot to have room in the shoe and enough support so that the foot is not moving or sliding within the shoe,” explains Patrick Maloney, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center.
It’s also essential to get a good measurement of shoe length and width with your socks on — and be sure to wear the type you’ll use for running.
For proper length, allow for at least 1/2 to 1 inch (a thumb’s width) between your longest toe and the shoe’s end. To get a feel for the proper width, you should be able to pinch some material at the sides or top of the shoe.
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.
Alice Holland, DPT, of Stride Strong Physical Therapy, says this leaves room for foot expansion during and after your pounding of the pavement.
Once the measuring is done, the fun begins.
It’s now time to try on several brands and types of running shoes. According to Maloney, working with an experienced shoe professional who can help you with a proper fit is key to this part of the process.
In addition to making sure you have the right fit, they’ll help you choose shoes that consider your foot alignment, planned mileage, running surface, and other variables that contribute to which shoes you should wear.
Some specialty running shoe stores and sports-oriented podiatry offices also offer gait analysis. This can tell you how much support you need in the midfoot of your running shoe.
According to Nelya Lobkova, DPM, the results of a gait analysis will determine which of the three categories of running shoes you should consider:
- motion control
This helps ensure you end up with running shoe that’ll provide adequate support.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search based on these criteria, take some time to do a trial jog or run in the shoes. This will help you determine whether you like their responsiveness and heel drop (the level of cushioning under your heel versus under your toes).
Make sure to wear the socks you plan on running in and bring any inserts — if you use them. Most stores will allow you to test the shoes around the store.
The main benefit of a proper fit, says Maloney, is good stability and support for your foot, which will allow your desired level of running and activity. A running shoe that’s too big can cause damage to toes, and one that’s too small often causes damage to toenails.
Holland says the right fit will allow for the following while you’re testing out the shoes:
- Your toes should have ample room to spread wide.
- Your toes shouldn’t feel constricted or touch the end of the shoe.
- Your heel should feel comfortably cupped in the back of the shoe, which ensures that your foot won’t slip out from the back of the shoe. (Note: If your heel is naturally skinny, there are lacing mechanisms and inexpensive heel cups you can purchase to prevent this slippage.)
Holland also points out that the shoe shouldn’t alter your foot angles to extremes of supination or pronation.
“Typically, physical therapists like to see subtalar neutral when standing in the shoe, which means that the ankle is neither tilted too much to the right or left,” she says.
How you lace your running shoes can make a big difference in terms of fit. If you’re new to running and unsure which style of lacing to choose, ask a shoe expert for help.
Beyond that, Lobkova recommends using the style that provides the snuggest fit: “Laces that are too loose and too tight are common signs that the shoe is not the right fit, and the lacing is being done to compensate for poor fit.”
In general, Holland says, make sure the shoe fit is correct before you consider lacing techniques.
“If there’s any part of the shoe that slips or feels tight, or you feel the structure of the shoe too much, tell your running store adviser, and they will help you with lacing or provide socks, heel cups, or other accessories that make the fit better.”
A good rule of thumb, says Holland, is that the shoes should essentially “disappear” from your consciousness when you run: “Anything that registers to you will turn out to be a nuisance at mile 14.”
To get a better idea of lacing techniques, check out this video that demonstrates several methods.
Finding a reliable pair of running shoes involves more than choosing the best color and style. In addition to the right size, here are some other things to consider:
- To get the best fit, ask a qualified fitter, such as a running shoe expert or podiatrist, to measure both of your feet while standing.
- Remeasure your feet every year. As your arches sink, your feet may lengthen.
- Feet tend to swell throughout the day, so it’s good to try on shoes in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning.
- Always fit a shoe to your larger foot.
- Pay attention to the toe box, which is the area where your forefoot and toes are. This space should be big enough that you can wiggle your toes easily.
- When trying on running shoes, make sure you’re aware of the type of running you do. For instance, trail running needs to have specific trail running shoes.
- Feel for tightness or potential sore spots to avoid problems later on.
- Try shoes on before purchasing.
The benefits of a proper fit include:
- provides a more comfortable run
- allows you to focus on body performance and run enjoyability, not shoe performance
- gives you the motivation to continue with training
- decreases or eliminates the incidence of blisters, calluses, and bunions.
It’s easy to see and feel the benefits of a proper fit. But sometimes, the downsides are harder to spot.
According to Holland, a shoe can affect how you run if the incorrect fit is substantial. It can also cause strain in your foot, which she says decreases performance and indirectly may cause injury.
A running shoe that doesn’t fit correctly could cause injury in your feet and legs. “Problems such as nerve impingement, tendonitis, heel pain, stress fractures, and ankle sprains may arise weeks or months after wearing poorly fit running shoes,” explains Lobkova.
Fortunately, Lobkova says proper sizing and a gait analysis should prevent potential problems with running shoes.
When it comes to finding the right fit for shoes you use for running or other fitness activities, your best bet is to talk with a specialist — either a running shoe specialist, podiatrist, or physical therapist. They can fit your foot and recommend several shoes for you to consider.