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How Should Running Shoes Fit?

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It’s all about the fit.

I had a running mentor once call me out on my focus on what I call the prettiness factor. You know, the look, cut, angles, material, colors, and of course, how they all played together to make the coolest looking running shoes.

Like many, I think I have a particularly keen eye for the trendiest shoe designs and colors that match my athletic wardrobe. And before you say it, I know plenty of guys that have the same knack for stylish running shoes.

But deep down we know that the prettiness factor has little to do with how the shoe performs while working to reach our running goals. So consider what follows to be a reality check. A guide to understanding just how running shoes should fit and how you can identify the best running shoe for your particular needs.

How should running shoes fit?

Let’s settle an age-old debate. Tight is not always right.

Countless individuals spend their childhood and adult lives in ill-fitting shoes with laces that are entirely too tight. This cuts off circulation throughout your foot and ankle and can cause strain amongst the 26 individual bones within your foot.

So, put short, your running shoes should be comfortably snug without adding undue pressure on your toes, heel, and top of your foot.

Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, how snug should running shoes actually be?

how should running shoes fit

Elements of a perfectly fitted running shoe;

1. Toe Fit

While your foot is in the shoe and laces up, make sure you can fit a full thumb’s-width between your toe and the tip of the shoe. A half an inch if you’re looking for an exact length. No more, no less. This extra space in the toe-box will allow room to wiggle and prevent them from being jammed into the tip of your shoe.

2. Midsole

The midsole of the shoe should fit like a glove but if you can’t find the perfect fit through this area, err on the side of a bit too loose as you can strategically laice the shoes to be tighter in this area.

3. Heel

The heel should be snug but not constricting and of course, shouldn’t slip around when moving. While trying the shoe on, take a few laps to get a sense of how the heel is going to perform in full stride. The last thing you want is to be distracted by a poor performing heel while you’re on a run, or worse…during a race. One study suggests that running shoes that are equipped with a rigid heel will improve control and reduce the risk of overload injuries.

4. Upper & Laces

We often forget about this element when fitting a shoe, but the upper part of the shoe, including the laces, can cause irritation. Be sure that the upper doesn’t press down on the top of your foot too hard. It should clutch your foot, not suffocate it.

Also, higher lacing is noted to help provide a better shoe performance, reducing the risk of injury.

Rule of Thumb: Size Up Your Running Shoes

It’s likely you know your shoe size off the top of your head. You know what fits, or “feels” right but it’s also likely you’re wearing too small of a shoe.

I know your hesitation. Shoes aren’t cheap and risking the wrong size could mean eating the cost of your, now, used running shoes. But I implore you to take a leap of faith.

Bump up half a size on your next pair of running shoes. Of course, like anything new, you may have to get used to it, but the additional space will let your puppies breath and it’s unlikely that you’ll suffer from less stability.

Additional Considerations For Proper Running Shoe Fit

Foot Accessories

From socks, insoles, tape, and ankle braces, there are multiple accessories that can’t be forgotten when finding the right running shoe fit. What it usually boils down to is the amount of additional space you’ll need to allow for all these accessories to be worn comfortably with the shoe.

As noted above, when in doubt, size up.

Also, don’t forget that the material of each foot accessory needs to work well with the material inside the shoe. Slipping, bunching, rubbing, etc… can all occur when you introduce a new accessory. Experiment with what works best for you.


Different running surfaces and distances need to be taken into account when fitting for a running shoe. Cross-country, trail, track and road runners all likely need a different outsole to help them perform. Understanding what types of materials and traction is needed will help narrow your running shoe options significantly.


Runners are athletes. Athletes sweat. And an athletes’ feet are guaranteed to suffer from increased moisture regardless of the climate you run in. There are multiple hot and cold climate shoe options that utilize different materials, so be conscious of how you can control the temperature with the right decisions on shoe material.

Wide or Narrow Feet

Both wide and narrow feet are very common occurrences, so don’t think you’re alone. It usually just takes a little extra testing to understand which brands offer wide or narrow running shoe options or just naturally have a wide or narrow sizing.

Risks of Running In Ill-Fitting Shoes

Finally, a word to the wise. Running shoes that don’t fit can result in a myriad of problems. What types of problems you ask? Here’s just a shortlist of preventable issues;

So whatever your favorite running activity is the last thing you want is to be sidelined! Keep your feet healthy and happy by taking a little extra time to understand how running shoes should fit and how to identify the best options for your next purchase. We’ve made it easy to find the best running shoe options with a number of buying guides and hundreds of individual running shoe reviews.