There’s so much chat in the running world around shoe technology currently! Every few years there seems to be a new wave of conversation, fuelled by a release of a “ground-breaking” update. Remember the minimalist/barefoot trend? The rocker bottom sole? Now we seem to be at the tail end of the carbon plate conversation. Any guess on what may be next? With all the technology updates and conversation around the “best shoe”, choosing your running shoes can feel like a daunting task. But one thing that is often overlooked in the conversation is comfort. You can have shoes with all the latest technology, promising to make you faster and help reduce injury, but if they aren’t comfortable then you have a higher risk of injury and they’ll end up slowing you down. It may seem ridiculously simple, but comfort is the leading indicator for risk of injury. And the majority of factors that determine comfort is fit. Having seen many pairs come through my door, I’ve seen firsthand the issues that a poorly fitting shoe can cause. I’m keen to talk through some of the simple changes I often make to clients’ shoe uppers which can instantly increase comfort and reduce risk of injury going forward.

Don’t Assume

The first and most basic advice on fitting a shoe is don’t assume your size. With footwear models being updated so frequently, the materials and construction of them often changes too. Even with seemingly small updates, these can completely alter the fit and suitability to your foot. Because of this, with each new purchase it’s important to get fitted by someone with technical expertise (even if you’re just updating your regular pair). Your best bet is someone at a technical shoe store who’ll help ensure you’re going into the right size. We know we can alter the fit of the upper, but it’s best if we don’t need to change anything at all. Afterall, there’s nothing better than being able to go running in a fresh pair of shoes without having to ‘break them in’.

Width

If you want to understand how a shoe is correctly sized to your foot, a great place to start is the width. If the fit is too snug and your foot is overhanging the sides of the shoe, you can develop injuries or contribute to current ones through the compression that the upper will be causing. When looking down at your foot in a running shoe, you should be able to see an even amount of the midsole material either side of the ball of foot. If you can see that you’re showing signs of this bulging and you’re not ready for an upgrade, a quick way to relieve some of this compression is through changing the lacing. By re-lacing and skipping the first pair of eyelets on your shoes (option of skipping the first 2 sets if needed), you’ll offset any additional tightness that the laces may be causing. This adjustment will work best if the laces go all the way down to the widest part of your foot and if the upper material has some give to it. I’ve found this can work nicely for relieving pressure on bunions, neuromas and general rubbing at the forefoot, as these will all be aggravated in shoes that are too tight. On the flip side, if the fit is too wide your foot will lack any support from the upper, allowing for excess movement within the shoe. A common issue caused by this is blistering. If you’re able to pick up excess upper fabric over the front of your foot, the width is likely too generous. Two options for a snugger fit are increasing your sock thickness and ensuring your laces are being tightened firmly from the first right through to the last set of eyelets. Further on this, there are forefoot padding options that sit under the front end of the liner, which can help to fill up any excess volume remaining in the shoe. Making sure you’re buying the correct width to start with is key as even with the range of adjustments available, if the width discrepancy between your foot and the shoe is too extreme a different pair is the only true fix. Although brands have been increasing their width options, be aware that some brands, as a whole, tend to cater to specific foot types, i.e. New Balance is known for increased width, and brands such as Asics will go down to a narrow B width. It is also worth mentioning that there are subtle differences between female and male footwear. I’ve had a few clients who’ve had success going into the opposite gender’s model, as men’s shoes will typically be wider and females narrower. You’ve just got to be careful that the heel still fits comfortably and be aware that some models have different pitch heights for males and females.

Heel Fit

Like width, too much movement at the heel counter (technical term for back of shoe) will cause issues. The friction that this creates can cause the shoe to wear down much quicker, requiring more regular replacement, and leave you more prone to blistering and irritation of the heel. Again, lacing options can help resolve this issue. By taking the laces through to the highest set of eyelets, the upper will have a more secure hold on your heel/ankle, encouraging the shoe to move with your foot instead of against. The step up from this is heel lock lacing, takes longer but allows for a secure hold that lasts for longer, without needing the laces to be firm across the whole of the foot. Commonly done, but often incorrectly, this technique works best when you close off the lace loops completely. I find that pulling the laces down and back towards the ground makes this a lot easier to do. If you’ve never been shown this technique, YouTube is the perfect place to follow a demonstration. As it holds your heel and ankle more securely than traditional lacing, the heel lock technique also provides more rearfoot control and stability, helpful for reducing load through the ankle and foot. Careful not to lace too tightly though, the beauty of the technique means it doesn’t loosen which can also work against you, especially if your feet are prone to getting bigger when you run. Changing the material and thickness of your socks can be a game changer for blistering, cushioning and fit of the heel counter. Try changing up your socks depending on the season/temperature and type of shoes you’re wearing. You’ll be able to get different outcomes of the shoe’s fit and feel, quickly determining what works best for you. My top tip is to stay away from cotton as it holds on to moisture instead of wicking it away, increasing friction and your chance of blistering. Further too, newer materials and sock designs can provide benefits in the way of cushioning and as they are often free of bulky seams, are less likely to cause irritation and rubbing. Going to a more padded sock can help reduce the shearing force, helpful for the issues mentioned above and can reduce irritation of the Achilles.

The Ultimate Fit

Although most of the global shoe talk lately has been around midsole materials, it’s exciting to see Adidas challenging the upper-game with their recently announced ‘Strung’ prototype. A totally customised, robotically woven upper to meet the exact needs of an athlete is it’s claim. It’s said to take into consideration data of foot shape, stride and natural movement of a foot, along with reported comfort from individuals. This new unique looking concept claims to allow for a lighter upper that doesn’t skimp on strength, as the more resilient thread is strategically placed only in the areas that need it. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a while to scope this technology out further as it’ll be around 18 months before it becomes available on the market. In the meantime, let’s get your shoes working better for you. Getting a properly fitting upper can be a game changer to your comfort and performance. If you’ve been having any of the niggles mentioned above, give some of the shoe adjustments a go. There’s always a solution to an ill-fitting shoe, it’s just about finding the cause.

Loren Abel

Loren Abel is a Sports Lab Podiatrist. As if 2020 wasn’t a crazy enough year, Loren made the move up from Christchurch to join our mad bunch, to be our newest addition to the team.