How should running shoes fit?

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Finding a good fitting running shoe is crucial for enjoying long runs without experiencing discomfort or blistering. Running shoes should be snug, but not too tight; flexible but supportive.

If you find that after a run your feet hurt or find blisters forming, your shoes may very well be the problem. Even a running shoe that’s only slightly off of the correct fit can cause issues if you run every day, participate in endurance running, or trail running.

Key Point: How should running shoes fit? There’s a science to it, but the key factors come down to the type of running you do, how often you do it, and the shape of your foot and the shape of your arch.

What should you look for?

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Heel coverage

Starting from the back, a snug heel that fits well shouldn’t feel too loose or tight in order to prevent your heel from rubbing against the back of the shoe.

Friction from this motion can lead to those annoying cuts and blisters on your ankles and usually results in an endless stream of bandaids. Our goal is to keep you pain free without the added expenses from Walgreens. 

If your heel feels like it’s moving around in the shoe, then your shoe is too big and you should look for a tighter fit.

However, it shouldn’t feel so snug that the experience wearing the pair becomes restrictive. Once laced up, you’re looking for a comfortable and cushioned feel that is just right.

If you start to notice blisters on your heels after a run, then it is a sign that maybe your heel still might be too loose or tight in the shoe, as each stride is creating too much friction between your heel and the shoe. It could also just mean you need a change of socks. 

Fitted midsole

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

The midsole of a running shoe often isn’t thought much about because we don’t really see it. Since it is inside of the running shoe, it can often be hard to determine whether or not the shoes will suit you unless you try it out first hand.

So when sliding the shoes on for the first time, try to pay attention to how much support the sole gives you.

That will be important for shock absorption, especially if you require more arch support than most and depending on the terrain you plan to run or jog on. Carbon fiber insoles can also help to add support to midsoles that bend too easy.

But the key part is that the midsole should fit your foot like a glove.

Giving a cozy feeling without having to tighten the laces too much. If the shoe feels a bit too tight or lose in the midsole, you can try different lacing styles to help the shoes better conform to the midsection of your foot.

Personal goals

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Focusing more on the midsole, a key component of finding the right type of shoe and size depends on the shape of your arches, type of cushioning category (levels 1-5), and pronation your natural walk.

Once finding out which areas you fit in, combine that with the type of running you wish to buy, be it a long-distance trail runner, short-distance road runner, and so on.

Knowing what you are personally looking for in a shoe and workout will also play a role in deciding what kind of running shoes you will ultimately need.

Toe wiggle room

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

When you run, your body pumps blood at a much faster rate to deliver oxygen throughout your joints and limbs.

This extra blood flow reaches your feet as well, and with each stride your foot swells because of this. So, to help accommodate for this extra swelling, runners usually buy shoes slightly larger than normal.

To check if there is enough space in the shoe, place your thumb in between your biggest toe and the tip of the shoe.

There should be enough area to fit your whole thumb. To get this result, it’s unlikely you will be wearing the same size shoe that you normally would. But sizes cannot always be trusted. So it’s better to test for yourself and see if you have the right amount of required toe room this way.

Also, because you’re bound to have extra space in the front of the shoe to accommodate for the extra swelling, it is paramount that you make sure the heel and midsole fit to the requirements previously mentioned above.

Overall fit quality

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Once you’ve checked all the boxes, the pair of running shoes you have chosen should feel comfortable as soon as you wrap them around your feet and tighten those laces.

If you’re looking to break in your new shoes because they may not feel comfortable at first, chances are that isn’t the shoe for you. While breaking in shoes in a necessary step in all shoe purchases, don’t purchase a stylish but uncomfortable shoe believing it will fit better once you break it in.

Your heels will feel the brunt of the force for the first few runs and possibly more, so treat them kindly.

You want your new pair of running shoes to fit perfectly from the start, with little to no break in period required.

To help figure this out quickly, try out each pair in the kind of socks you intend to run in. This will help give you better, and more hands-on, feedback on the shoe’s long term performance while saving you from potentially being stuck with a painful and ankle-punishing shoe pair for six months or more.

And remember, shoe insoles are a runner’s best friend. They can make shoes fit perfect that would otherwise be too roomy. Here’s a guide to the benefits of shoe insoles.

What Types of Shoe Materials are Best Suited to Runners

The best running shoes are made from several materials with each material adding form and function to the shoes’ overall design and use.

  • The sole with its three layers – outsole, midsole and insole – is a combination of materials like ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) for the insole, polyurethane with gel or liquid silicone for the midsole, and carbon rubber for the outsole.
  • The shoe upper, which encases the foot, can be made of fabric or breathable mesh.
  • The shoe last is the final layer separating the insole and midsole, and it can be made with Strobel lasting.

The materials must be lightweight to allow unrestricted movement of the feet yet durable enough to withstand the high-impact forces generated by running.

How Should Running Shoes Fit for Trail Running?

The best fit for running shoes for trail running is a delicate balance between a snug fit around the feet but with more space at the forefoot. When choosing your running shoes, keep these tips in mind.

  • Wear your best trail running socks.
  • Look for comfortable support, particularly in the arch and midfoot area. The running shoes should provide sufficient support and a snug fit but not so snug that it pinches.
  • Check the heel hug, meaning the heels of the shoes provides a secure feeling of being locked down (i.e., the rear of your foot doesn’t lift when you’re running). 
  • Check that your toes have enough wiggle space. With your feet moving forward when running trails, your toes shouldn’t bang hard against the front of your running shoes.
  • Look for running shoes with a wider area at the forefoot and with a good grip or traction.

How Should Running Shoes Fit for Endurance Running (Marathons)?

For marathon runners, the universal goal when picking running shoes is a balance between comfort, support and stability as well as the shoes being fairly lightweight. The rationale is that the lighter the weight of the running shoes, the less energy needed to propel yourself forward.

Aside from the fit, it’s also important for marathon runners to use running shoes that have already been “broken in” or the running shoes that they have trained in. Better yet, you should use your running shoes for both long runs and speed exercises. The idea of breaking in your running shoes is that these decrease the risks of foot issues, such as bruised toenails and blisters, during the marathon.

But don’t use them way before the marathon! You want them to still be extra-bouncy during the race.

Which Socks Help Running Shoes Fit Better?

There’s no one-size-fits-all socks for running shoes but you want to choose socks that will keep your feet comfortable, cushioned and dry during your run. Look for moisture-wicking socks with cushioning and compression features as well as good traction, arch support, and sufficient sock height.

Conclusion: To decide how a running shoe should fit, you’ll need to determine what type of running you want to prioritize, and you’ll need to understand the form and shape of your foot. We all have bodies and different shapes and sizes, so your best bet is to follow the above-mentioned principles and experiment which feels best for you.

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Randy Brangman

Randy Brangman is a Licensed Physical Therapist and Exercise Therapist and a former long distance runner. He is the founder and Lead Exercise Instructor at Trinity of Wellness. Spending more time in running shoes than flip flops, he travels the world while going through pair after pair. He is currently writing a book about joint therapy.