How Should Running Shoes Fit?

As you’re interested in how should running shoes fit. Odds are that you’re looking for a pair of running shoes. But you cannot decide which brand to choose from or what to look for in a shoe. Or perhaps, you’ve recently bought a pair of shoes but it doesn’t feel quite right. 

And so, you’re wondering if it’s something you can fix or something that’d require changing the shoes entirely. Either way, you’d wanna know how to tell if a shoe is your right fit. 

Ideally, your running shoe should be roomy enough to let your feet in and out without discomfort. It shouldn’t cramp your toes and shouldn’t suffocate your foot muscles. Also, it should provide appropriate arch support. 

But the same shoe should be cozy enough to keep your heel from slipping. 

That said, each one of us has a unique pair of feet. And so, finding your perfect match may sound a bit overwhelming. But here, we’ll discuss a step-wise approach to finding the right running shoe. We’ll also talk about how to make your current shoes more comfortable.

But a good start for pinpointing the right pair is by picking an appropriate shoe type.

Choosing the Right Running Shoe Type

This choice boils down to the foot type and the purpose of running shoes.

You see, running shoes are designed for certain conditions. Some shoes like Mafate Speed 4 have thick soles and deep lugs for stability on rough rocky terrains. Meanwhile, others like Brooks Ghost 15 have curved thin soles for speedy marathons.

Surely, deciding on the purpose of running shoes narrows down shoe types. But, it’s ultimately your foot type that determines which pair will suit you best.

Now, the foot type in terms of shoe sizing refers to the foot’s arch. It’s because the hollowness of the midfoot decides the foot’s pressure points and where it leans with each step. 

You can tell your foot type by observing your footprints from a worn-out shoe sole. Or, you can put your wet foot on a piece of paper and carefully observe the watermarks.

Alternatively, you can seek professional advice from a specialty shoe store.

Most people have neutral arches where the midfoot leaves about half an imprint (Figure 1). Such a foot is perfectly balanced between the heel and the ball of the foot.

Figure 1: Human foot types based on structure and their impact

In contrast, people with high arches have slim mid-foot imprints. Such feet put more pressure on the outer edge. And so, these end up rolling away from the body i.e. supinate.

Meanwhile, people without any arches have flat feet which leave complete foot imprints. 

You’d assume that flat feet will be perfectly uniform. But in reality, a flat foot puts more pressure on its inner edge. So, these feet end up rolling inwards i.e. pronate. 

As each foot type behaves differently; certain shoes are good for just one foot type.

For instance, arched feet need narrow shoes with extra mid-foot cushioning. But the same shoes may be incompatible with flat feet which require wide soles.

Of course, cushioning or width alone cannot decide if a shoe will be appropriate for someone. Yet, certain shoe types are found more compatible with a particular foot type. Say,

  1. Neutral cushioned shoes provide ideal shock resistance for arched feet.
  2. Stability shoes with thick platform soles and deep lugs are good for flat feet.
  3. Motion control shoes with extra cushioning in mid-foot are compatible with high arches.
  4. Minimalist/barefoot shoes are appropriate for neutral arches.

Though this list points out which shoe type to pick, it doesn’t say what the right fit feels like. So, let’s deal with:

Key Elements of Proper Fit

The right shoe doesn’t just host your foot, it also provides a bit more wiggle room for comfort. Let’s see how each part of the right shoe fits: 

1. Toe Box

The ideal toe box allows the toes to move freely – without feeling cramped or squeezed.

This means there’s at least half an inch of space between the end of your shoes and your toes.

Surely, you can measure your foot length and add 1.27 cm to give away your supposed shoe length. But this probably won’t work because a narrow shoe’s length doesn’t represent its actual toe space.

Thankfully, there’s an easier way to get that half an inch of wiggle space just right. 

All you have to do is wear that shoe and slide your foot forward as much as you can. Then, insert your thumb between your heel and the back of your shoe.

Since a thumb’s width is roughly half an inch; you being able to insert your thumb and foot together in your shoe will make it your right fit.

That said, the toe box shouldn’t be tight enough to cause numbness or tingling. Also, it shouldn’t be wide enough to let your foot slide forward and touch the shoe’s toe cap (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Parts of a Running Shoe

Here are a few common troubleshoots. If there are: 

  1. Bruises on your heel or the longest toe, then the shoe is shorter than your shoe size. Sizing up may resolve this issue.
  2. Bunions or squeezed toes, then the shoe model is too narrow. You can try shoe stretchers or sizing up.
  3. Hot spots or blisters under your toes, then the toe box is so wide that your foot keeps sliding within it. Try shoe inserts, thick socks, or sizing down.

2. Heel

The ideal shoe heel is soft and allows the foot to easily slide inside. Also, the heel cup is deep enough to reach the ankle and snug enough to keep the foot locked in its place.

If the heel is loose, then the foot will keep moving back and forth. If you’re lucky, this constant rubbing will only cause foot blisters. But if you’re unlucky, the foot will slide out of the heel cup during your run and result in a twisted ankle. 

Meanwhile, an overly tight heel will also be very unforgiving. Its collar and heel tab will likely stab your foot until it bruises you. It can also result in chronic leg pain if it continues to put pressure on the Achilles tendon.

You can make your loose heels a bit more snug using lacing locks, heel inserts, or thick socks. But the only good way to get rid of a tight heel is by sizing up.

3. Midfoot

Since the midfoot hosts the arch of the foot; it’s crucial that midsole cushioning is according to the foot type.

This means a person with neutral or high arches should wear padded midsoles for good arch support. This will also keep the foot from rolling within the shoe. In contrast, a thick midsole is generally uncomfortable for flatfeet that need wide soles to accommodate natural foot splay. 

Regardless of the foot type, the midfoot should be snug enough to keep the foot locked in place. 

It’s because a properly cushioned but loose midfoot can cause any foot to twist. At the same time, extra tight midfoot can cause painful hot spots and blisters. However, changing the lacing pattern is usually enough to resolve midfoot tightness. 

More on that later, let’s first deal with the final element of perfect fit:

4. Forefoot

The forefoot is the widest part of a shoe that supports the ball of the foot. Since it’s located between the arch and the toes, its shape makes a huge difference to foot comfort (Figure 3). Also, this part experiences the most foot splay. And so, 

Getting the right shoe fit means that your forefoot is compatible with your foot shape. Also, it’s supposed to be made from soft gripping materials that allow natural foot splay while keeping the foot locked in place. 

If the forefoot happens to be too tight, muscles numb down and develop blisters. But if it’s too spacious, then constant rubbing leads to underfoot calluses.

Figure 3: Correct vs Incorrect Forefoot and Toe Box according to Foot Type

Surely, you can use extra padding or thick socks to make a loose forefoot more cozy. But a smaller forefoot would require you to size up. 

Now, this discussion about how a perfect shoe feels may sound a bit overwhelming. But worry not as I’m here to give away a step-wise easy approach to finding the one match.

Step 1: Getting the Size Right

The journey to find the right shoe begins with you accurately measuring your shoe size.

For this, I recommend seeking professional help from a specialty shoe store. But you can also do this at home by measuring your foot length. 

Now, I’ve seen a few people directly putting a measuring tape on their feet. But this method is inaccurate as the foot surface is pretty uneven. So, I suggest you trace your foot on a white sheet. Then, use a ruler to measure the distance from the tip of your longest toe to your heel.

Once you’ve your foot length, it’s time to do ‘some’ maths!

The easiest way is to add 1.5cm to your foot length and multiply it by 1.5. This addition of 1.5cm accounts for extra wiggle room for your toes to feel comfortable. Say, your foot length is 23.8 cm so, your shoe size will be roughly 38 in the EU system. 

EU System? Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that different countries have different shoe-sizing formulas. Even the UK shoe sizing is different from that of the EU.

So, we’ll have to do ‘some more’ maths!

The UK formula for shoes varies for adults and children.

Of course, the Americans needed to have their personalized shoe formula – something that doesn’t employ centimeters. So, we’ll suffer through ‘some more’ maths!

The US has three different formulas: 

That said, nobody in the shoe business likes to do all this maths. Instead, each brand has come up with its shoe sizing references.

So, all you gotta do is take your foot length and consult your shoe brand for shoe size. 

However, shoe length doesn’t cover shoe shape. So, you’ll still have to try on a few shoes before you take one home. But here are a few things to remember:

  1. Your shoe size can change over time so I suggest getting a fresh measure each time. 
  2. If you plan on wearing orthotics or socks, it’s a good idea to wear them when trying on new shoes. 
  3. Feet swell at the end of the day so it’s best to shop for shoes in the evening.
  4. If it’s a choice between two shoe sizes, pick the bigger one. After all, it’s easier to add accessories to a big pair rather than stretch a small one. 

How Should Running Shoes Fit Width?

A running shoe’s width is enough to keep the foot cozy but without cramping it.

Now, shoe brands offer different widths for each model. These are denoted by conventions where (N) depicts Narrow; (M) depicts Standard, (W) depicts Wide size; and (XW) depicts Extra Wide. But some brands use different letters where “D” represents medium and “2E” denotes extra wide (See table).

If you only wear one brand; then your previous shoe size may work just fine for your new pair. 

But a dress shoe width is generally improper for running purposes.

It’s because runners usually need a bigger shoe size than their actual shoe size. This not only helps them host their thick socks and orthotics but also gives enough room for natural foot splay and swelling. 

Now, sizing up to get rid of a tight shoe feeling is a great idea. But if you’re opting for a smaller but wider shoe model; then I suggest you pick another shoe model. 

It’s because sizing down for shoe width alone is never a good idea. 

After all, a ‘short’ shoe with your ideal foot width will still be an uncomfortable size. Such a shoe may end up causing bunions, bone damage, or chronic muscle pain

Fortunately, you can avoid all these issues if you just try on a new pair and walk a few steps before you take a model home. But nowadays, online shopping is the norm. So, if you are buying from home then, you might as well ask your vendor to send in three different shoe sizes. This way you’ll know for sure if you’ve made the right choice and then, return the two pairs that don’t fit properly. 

Running Shoe Size Chart

Since shoe sizing systems vary across regions and brands. I recommend you consult your shoe brand for proper sizing references. But here’s the standard shoe size chart:

How Should Running Shoes Fit Heel?

A good heel is soft and cushioned but snug enough to keep the heel locked in its place.

You see, if the heel cup fits only loosely; then the foot may grow blisters from constant rubbing. Also, the foot may randomly come out during a running session and may result in severe accidents. 

In contrast, if the heel is too tight then it may cause bruising or muscle numbness.  

That said, runners tend to prefer slightly large shoes to provide room for the natural foot splay and thick socks. So, keeping the heel locked in its place usually comes down to lacing knots like a runner’s loop (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Step-wise approach to tie Runner’s Loop

However, if your shoe provides you a thumb width’s space as the extra wiggle room. Then, your shoe will probably work brilliantly. But any more space than a thumb’s width may require shoe accessories; otherwise, the shoe will slip out.   

How Should Running Shoes Fit Toe?

A good running shoe keeps the toes snug but free enough to move at the same time.

You see, toes tend to move forward and spread with each step. This helps the foot to propel forward and absorb the shock of each stride. And so, the toe box should have enough wiggle room to accommodate foot splay and toe movement. 

This usually means that your shoe length should offer at least half an inch of extra space. Again, if you can insert both your foot and a thumb inside the shoe, the shoe is good enough.

But how wide your toe box should be will depend on how you feel about it.

If it feels cramped, it probably is and if it feels too loose, it may be that way. 

Now, it’d be nice if your toes could talk and tell you how they feel about the new shoe. But ‘stupid toes’ don’t talk until it’s a bit too late. Kidding. 

To be honest, toes do talk. Only it’s a coded language of ‘what went wrong’ by: 

  1. Growing black toenails from the narrow toe boxes.
  2. Getting blisters from wide but uncushioned toe boxes.
  3. Developing bunions and joint pains from a tight and stiff toe box.

That said, there’s an easy way to get the toe box just right. It’s to find a shoe with a toe box matching your foot shape (Figure 5). 

Figure 5: Ideal toe box shape for a given foot shape 

Though lacing may not directly control the toe box, it can certainly make a huge difference to the toes by keeping the midfoot locked in place. This brings us to:

Step 2: The Ideal Lacing Technique

The runners use different lacing patterns and knots to customize shoe snugness. And so, a good lacing technique keeps the foot both comfortable and locked in its place. 

Now, we all kinda assume that lacing ought to be continuous. But each one of us has a unique foot shape. So, a lacing pattern that feels right to you; may be uncomfortable for someone else’s feet. 

If the lacing is too tight, it may cause muscle numbness. But if it’s done loosely, then the foot may slide within the shoe or jump out during the run. Surely, lacing knots like the runner’s loop can usually help keep the heel locked. 

However, changing the lacing pattern to fit your foot type will require some personalized touch. 

But it’s pretty easy as all you’ve to do is create wider patterns at your pressure points and narrow patterns for the rest of the shoe (Figure 6). 

Figure 6: Widening the lacing pattern to fix foot hotspots from extra pressure

Here are a few lacing techniques according to foot types (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Ideal lacing technique for different foot types 

Step 3: Getting the Right Fit Dialed In

Getting the right-fitting shoe also means avoiding the wrong pair. It’s because you’ll narrow down two or more shoe models. But then, you may end up picking one based solely on aesthetics, assuming that you can throw in some accessories to make it comfortable.   

Surely, if your shoe size comes in between two standard sizes; then you’ll have to add accessories. But I’d recommend a shoe that requires minimum adjusting. 

So, here are a few things to watch out:

  1. A stiff heel and midfoot cushioning that doesn’t align with your foot arch is not worth your time. Even if it feels good for a while.
  2. If the shoe has more than a thumb width’s extra space, it may slip out a lot. Size down rather than adding inserts. 
  3. Never buy a shoe without trying it on and walking a few steps in it.
  4. If the toe box feels tight size up or move on. It’s because a toe box that may stretch over time will still cause painful limbs before it becomes your size. 

If you’ve already bought new shoes. Then, you can adjust these by adding insoles for extra cushioning; orthotics to support arches; and silicon pads for heels. In case you want more space, try heat molding or shoe stretchers. 

That said, a new pair of shoes may just feel unfamiliar. So, try your new shoes for short periods and then, gradually increase your time with them. This will help you get used to them.

Step 4: Finding Your Perfect Fit Match

Finding your shoe soulmate can be a bit challenging as there are so many models and options to choose from. But here are a few final tips to help you zero in on the one:

  1. Get your shoe size measured by professionals. Some shoe stores also provide online services and software to find your ideal shoe size.
  2. Don’t take your first pick home before trying on different shoes. 
  3. Don’t stick to a model or a style for the sake of brand loyalty. It’s because running shoes are meant to be comfortable.
  4. Try getting a shoe that would require minimum lacing adjustments and accessories.
  5. Walk a few steps in your new shoes to know the shoe is your size.

Should Running Shoes Be a Size Bigger?

That depends on your running habits and your foot type.

You see, several runners wear a digit or half up their ideal shoe size. This helps them deal with natural foot splay and swelling. It also helps them add more accessories if needed. But foot splay varies for each person. 

For instance, a flat foot splays on its sides but an arched foot spreads to fill the arch. So, a flat foot may need wider soles compared to an arched person.

So, stating that you should wear a bigger size than your actual shoe size is not accurate.

But if you are considering sizing up; it’ll be a good idea if: 

  1. You’re a flat foot that runs a lot.
  1. You spend at least 1/3rd of your working day in running shoes.
  2. Your shoes fit you without leaving half an inch of wiggle room.
  3. Your shoe size is in the middle of two different sizes. Or, your two feet have two different sizes.

But you may still be wondering: 

Should Running Shoes Be Slightly Too Big?

Yes, the running shoes should offer at least 0.5 inches more than your actual foot length.

Now, the feet appear well-structured and a bit rigid. But they spread and slightly change shape with each step i.e. natural foot splay. Also, the body fluids tend to linger in the legs as the day goes by. That’s why the feet become swollen in the evening.

So, a shoe should be roomy enough to let the foot in and also endure its splay. That means running shoes should be slightly large.

But if your shoe heel keeps coming off too easily; then that shoe may be too big for you. So,

Should You Size Up in Running Shoes? 

That depends on your foot shape, running style, and the shoe you’re eyeing up.

Since you’re considering a size change; I’m assuming that you’re not comfortable in your current shoes. In that case, consider the following options:

  1. Feet can change shape and size over time. So, getting a fresh measure by a professional is a great idea. 
  2. Shoe sizing varies across brands. Also, different shoe models don’t fit different people the same way. So, it’s always a good idea to try on your shoes before buying them.
  3. Perhaps, your thick socks or insoles are constricting your foot. Try wearing thin socks and removing shoe inserts to see if the shoe fits you fine.

If your feet still feel after trying all these options. Then, it’s time to size up.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know if My Running Shoes are Worn Out? What’s the Mileage Lifespan?

Your feet will experience a lot more of the running ground and its harshness in a worn-out shoe than otherwise. 

Now, an average running shoe is good for about 300-500 miles i.e. 400-800 km. But this also depends on the weight of the runner, his gait, stride rate, shoe brand, and the type of terrain. 

For instance, a pair of running shoes used for hiking up rocky mountains will wear out faster than a pair for road runs. 

So, you’ll have to look for the following signs to tell if your shoe has completed its lifespan: 

  1. The outsole has worn down and has uneven lugs.
  2. The midsole cushioning is compressed and has lost its soft bounce. 
  3. There are many noticeable cracks in the soles and the shoe appears wrinkled.
  4. The heel has become stiff and slips a lot.
  5. The foot has started to cause fatigue, rashes, or blisters.

My Toes Feel Jammed in My Running Shoes. What Can I Do to Get More Toe Room?

Most likely, it’s because your toe box doesn’t have enough wiggle room for your forefoot.

Try the following: 

  1. Remove insoles and wear thin socks.
  2. Use heat molding or mechanical shoe stretchers to make more space.  
  3. Widen the lacing pattern to ease down pressure on foot muscles.
  4. Size up or look for a model with a toe shape matching your feet.

If none of these work, seek professional help.

The Arches of My Feet Hurt When I Run But My Shoe Size Seems Right. What Might Be the Issue?

This usually means that the midsole support is not according to foot type.

You see, an arched foot needs midsole cushioning to keep the foot from rolling inwards. And so, wearing flat soles may cause discomfort to the arches. In contrast, a flat foot may feel uneasy if there is extra midsole cushioning.

Other issues include the following.

  1. The shoe midsole cushioning has aged and lost its bounciness. So, the arches hurt from the stiffness of its midsole support. 
  2. Tight lacing may cause the foot muscles to grow numb. Changing the lacing style may resolve this issue. 
  3. You start running without warming up your body first. So, arches hurt as the muscles don’t get enough time to stretch properly.
  4. Wrong body posture, orthotics, or socks may be straining arch muscles. 

If resolving all these doesn’t help, seek a physician to rule out any medical concerns. 

I Have Bunions. What Should I Look For in Running Shoe Fit to Prevent Pain?

Most bunions originate from a narrow toe-box. But some are caused by unbalanced foot support and cushioning. So, here are a few things to consider that will reduce bunion pain:

  1. Wearing shoes with a wide forefoot provides enough room for the toes to avoid bunions. 
  2. Low heel-to-toe drop running shoes provide even footing to relieve bunion pain.
  3. Ample cushioning absorbs shock and reduces bunion pain.
  4. Breathable and flexible shoe materials reduce hot spots and irritation on bunions.
  5. Adjusting the lacing to wider loops can reduce pressure. So, adjustable lacing can solve the issue.

Though sizing up is a good idea to reduce bunion pain. It’s better to remain in your size and pick a different shoe model that matches your foot shape. 

That said, shoe brands like Skechers, Birkenstock, and Dr. Scholl’s have been reported most convenient for bunion pains. Other effective shoe models include Hoka One One Bondi 7; Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21; Saucony Guide 15; ASICS Gel Kayano 25 and New Balance 928v3.

But before you make significant life changes; it’s best to see a doctor for your bunion pain. 


The right shoe is at least half an inch bigger than your actual foot size. But it’s very snug and comfortable from day one. Also, the cushioning is designed according to foot type i.e. extra midfoot cushioning for the arched feet and wide soles for the flat feet.

You can use various accessories to make a shoe comfortable. But if it’s against your shoe type, it will cause you discomfort and joint pains. So, it’s always best to try on your shoes and seek professional advice before taking a shoe home. 

I hope this article helped you understand how a running shoe should fit.

Leave a Comment