Signs Your Running Shoes Are Too Small — and How to Shop For a Pair That Actually Fit

Getty Images | FatCamera
Getty Images | FatCamera

For years, I swore that I absolutely hated running — the blisters, the throbbing foot pain, the soreness. But, in reality, what I really hated was my running shoes. They just didn't fit properly.

I'm a much more discerning running shoe shopper now, and I wish I had known the signs to look out for when I was layering band-aids on my toes. Hoping to help anyone in the same uncomfortable situation, I reached out to some experts for their tips on running shoe sizing.

Professional runner Stephanie Rothstein Bruce notes there are a few signs that may indicate your running shoes aren't the right fit.

For example, if the shoe is too small, she can usually feel her toes crunch up.

"Numbness can happen from several factors, but too tight of shoes, especially around the top of your foot, can lead to unnecessary soreness," Bruce explains. "You should be able to log many miles in your new shoes if they are the proper size and fit."

Sometimes it can be hard to know how tight is too tight when it comes to your shoes. In this circumstance, Bruce says there should be a very small amount of wiggle room in your toe box — "enough for you to lift your toes with your shoes on," she adds.

"Your feet will expand a tiny bit as they get warm, which happens when you are running. So, you want to allow for a little extra room in the shoe."

Bruce also likes to check the soles of her shoes to ensure the arch feels natural. If her foot slides into the heel without resistance, that's another sign to her that the shoes fit properly — she swears by the soft and cushiony HOKA Clifton 7 shoes.

As a general rule, Bruce suggests trying your running shoes on and doing a test run before purchasing. "At running stores, many times they will have a treadmill where you can run and a camera films you and you can then look and analyze your form," Bruce says. "A running shoe should feel snug, but not tight, and I always say my HOKAs are 'out of the box' shoes, meaning they fit properly if you can take them out of their box and go for a run."

If you're dealing with pain, it's never a bad idea to check in with a physical therapist or a podiatrist who can rule out any potential issues, and perhaps even guide you to the option of new shoes.

A running shoe expert at a running speciality store can also point you in the right direction and give you some guidelines on fit — and even what brands to check out.

"We always recommend about a thumbs-width of space," Alexandria Suhr, a store manager at the running specialty store JackRabbit in New York City. "The best way to measure this is to lightly tap your heel on the ground to make sure your heel is at the back of the shoe, ensure you are standing up with your full weight on your feet, and press your thumb down sideways in front of your longest toe to ensure you have the adequate amount of space."

Like, Bruce had mentioned, your feet will swell, so this is important — however, Suhr says having too much space is also an issue. "Your feet should feel secure and supported in the shoe, but they should also have enough space to splay out naturally and not be too constricted in the shoe."

Wile Suhr says a general rule is going up at least a half a size from your dress shoe size, but it really all depends on your foot and the brand of shoe you're trying. For example, one brand might run narrow, and perhaps your foot needs a wider design.

"What may work for one person, may not work for someone else. It's best to go off your own personal comfort and feel when picking out a pair of shoes. Shoe experts are there to give you the tools and guide you to the right shoe for you, but ultimately, you get to decide what's best for your feet!" Suhr says.

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