Some ways to achieve better shoe fit

Admit it. Sometimes you buy a shoe not because it fits you best or works best for you, but because you like its look and colours. I know I do. The problem is sometimes the shoe doesn’t quite fit your foot very well. Sometimes, the fit is too far off and there is no way to make it work, but oftentimes, with some tweaks, it can be made to work well enough. Here, I will highlight some common fit complaints and suggest some remedies that may alleviate the problems.

Tight Toebox
There is a tendency for some shoes to have narrower toeboxes. This is mostly because aesthetically a shoe with a more pointed front looks nicer. Tight toeboxes can predispose us to a myriad of medical problems, e.g. hallux valgus, ingrown toenails, bunions; this is especially so if the shoes are worn for a prolonged period of time. (Incidentally, this is a huge gripe I have with women’s dress shoes.)
One option is to fix the length of the laces at the first pair of eyelets loosely so as to completely eliminate any tension at the toebox when you tighten up the laces. The pics below show how that can be achieved:
Another option is to completely ignore the first set of eyelets and simply start lacing from the second set of eyelets. The drawback of this is increased risk of the foot slipping forward in the shoe and jamming the toes again the front of the shoe when running downhill.

Low Shoe Volume
Sometimes the overall volume of the shoe is too low for your foot type. This means even though the shoe is the right width and length, when lacing up the shoes, you frequently get irritation at the top of your foot, or the top of your foot goes numb. If this happens to you, you probably have high arches (aka high instep). This can be alleviated somewhat by using parallel lacing. Parallel (straight) lacing creates a little more volume in the shoe, compared to the tradition criss cross lacing.

photo credit: Ryan Hodierne

High Shoe Volume

This is the opposite of the above problem. The shoe is the right length, and width, but when you lace things up your foot just slides around in the shoe. The easiest thing to do is to try thicker socks. That instantly reduces the volume mismatch, and some thicker socks actually give the sensation of better cushioning. Alternatively, this pacing method might help.

photo credit:

Narrow Midfoot Section
Racing shoe models in particular tend to have a very narrow footprint in the midfoot/arch region. This is because the shoes are often designed with input from elite runners who tend to have high arches. This creates problems for the rest of us who may not have high arches; Asians especially have been shown to have a higher proportion of flat feet or low arches. Unfortunately this is probably the hardest problem to circumvent. Your best option is to find racing shoe models that come in different width options, because the width difference is almost always in the midfoot section. For reference, women’s shoes come in a standard B width. Some models have an A width (narrow; very rare) or D width (women’s wide) version. Your best bet is to get a D width shoe. The equivalent for men is D as a standard and 2E as a wide version. There is also a 4E as an extra wide but is mostly found in the USA. Barring this, there are several options you can try.

One option is to skip eyelets in the middle of the shoe so that there is more slack in that section. This is called gap lacing.

Another option is to try using the parallel lacing option to generate an overall increase in shoe volume.

Sometimes the arch structure of the insole (aka sockliner) is contributing to the problem. One can cut away part of the arch of the insole to create more room in the midfoot. 

Also, the insole is actually not a compulsory part of the shoe, and many people do happily run in shoes without any insoles. Many shoes are designed to be used even without the insole. Removing the insole instantly creates a lot more volume in the shoe, but one often finds that the shoe feels much firmer and less cushioned without it, so bear that in mind if you are planning to go that route.

Heel slippage
Heel slippage is what happens when your heel slips out of the shoe partially as you run, even though you have tightened the shoe as much as you can. It is a result of a heel cup that is too high volume for your heel. The best remedy is to choose shoes with more structure or lower volume at the heel region. Slippage in and of itself doesn’t actually make you slower, but it can cause discomfort and blisters in the heel and Achilles from rubbing in some cases. That’s where that extra eyelet right at the top of the shoe comes in. This method of lacing is called lock-lacking. You create a lock at the top of the shoe, to get a more secure fit and hopefully prevent heel slippage.

It is always best to get a shoe that fits well, so you don’t have to resort to unnecessary hacks to make it work, but barring that, the above tricks may save you a world of grief when you are trying to make that odd-fitting shoe work for you.


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