Have you purchased a new pair of expensive running shoes that seem to be just a little too tight? Perhaps you might be wondering, “Will my running shoes stretch out or loosen up over time?”
Running shoes will begin to loosen up and form to the runner’s foot over time. However, if you purchase shoes that feel tight, you should consider returning them for a shoe that’s half size larger. Feet expand while exercising, which could make already tight shoes begin to feel unbearable. This can lead to abiding discomfort and long-term injury.
Keep reading to find out how shoes expand over time, and how to tell if you just need to break them in, or if an exchange is in order.
Do running shoes stretch out a little over time?
After scouring the internet for months to find the perfect running shoe, you’ve finally landed on purchasing a brand new pair of Salomon running shoes. They’re good enough for Courtney Dauwalter, right? Perhaps you even ordered them online, because it is the 21st century after all! The day the package arrives at your door, you can feel the palpable excitement building.
You rip through the packing tape and pull out your new pristine pair of racers. After giving them that obligatory new shoe sniff (it’s weird but you know you do it), you lace them up only to discover to your horror that they’re about a quarter size too tight!
If you’ve ever been in this horrific situation, then you might be wondering, “Do running shoes stretch out a little over time?” Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you.
Running shoes, like all shoes, do stretch out a little over time. How much they expand will depend on the materials used in your shoe. However, your feet will also expand during your workout so it may not make much of a difference in the overall fit.
When healthy people spend time running or walking, there is an increase in the volume of foot and ankle fluids, leading to a natural expansion in the size of your foot. This is especially true for running, which means the effects of a slightly smaller shoe will be exacerbated throughout your run. If you find your shoe is about a quarter-size too small, the best thing you can do is return it for the next half-size up.
If, however, this is not an option for you, there are some things you can do to get the most size out of the shoes you already have. If, for example, they’re a little snug across the top, you can experiment with lacing techniques to give yourself some breathing room.
Overall, the type of activities you use the shoes for will play a huge role in determining how they expand. If you only use your shoes for road running, the material in your shoes will not likely expand as much as someone who uses their shoes for trail running, or multi-sport training, where they are required to make cuts and put pressure on different points of the shoe.
The rate of expansion will also depend on the materials used in your shoe. Most shoe meshes are made of polyester and nylon fabrics. While nylon is a stretchy material, the amount of expansion over time will depend upon the percentage of nylon used in your shoe mesh. Nylon will only stretch under certain conditions, but will likely begin to shape itself to your foot.
Are running shoes supposed to fit tight?
As a runner, the health of your feet is of paramount importance. Obviously, you don’t your running shoes to be loose enough that you could slip out of them, but how tight should they be?
While running shoes are meant to be snug, having shoes that are too tight can cause some long-term health issues.
Let’s look at how your running shoes should fit at each point on your foot.
Top of foot
The top of the foot should be one of the more tightly fitted areas of the running shoe.
This is because a shoe that doesn’t fit snugly onto the top of the foot can cause all kinds of issues by creating a jarring sensation with each foot strike, leading the runner to have to adjust foot placement within the shoe constantly, and likely leading to skin irritation and injury.
Of course, shoes that fit too tightly on the top of the foot can cause similar discomfort. You want to find something that holds your foot in place, but that doesn’t squeeze the life out of your feet!
You want your heel to fit snugly but comfortably into the heel cup at the back of your shoe.
If you find your foot constantly sliding out of the shoe from the back with each step, then your shoe is not tight enough and you will likely develop some nasty blisters along your Achilles tendon and even on the heel itself.
Conversely, if your heel feels squeezed or you find yourself having to jam your foot into the shoe to accommodate your heel, then you might want to consider going up in size or making some adaptation
The toe box should be one of the less snug areas of the shoe.
Inside the toe box of your running shoes, you should have enough room to wiggle your toes and spread them out.
Shoes that squeeze your toes together will likely form blisters on the insides of your toes, as the constant friction from the rubbing with each squeezed step will result in discomfort and a bloody mess.
Is it better to size up in running shoes?
If you’re having an issue with your shoes being slightly tight when you put them on before your run, it may be better to size up your running shoes. As with everything, this might not be the right decision for everyone.
If you purchased shoes that you are unable to return, either due to store policy or some other deterrent, then you may not be willing to take that $200 bath.
Likewise, if your shoes are just slightly too small, and can be fixed with a few minor adjustments, you may want to DIY your solution.
Is it okay if running shoes are a little big?
Ideally, running shoes will fit snugly without being too tight or too loose.
Having shoes that are just slightly big will not likely cause any issues, but ideally, running shoes will fit snugly without being too tight. Shoes that are entirely too big can cause damage to your toes, as they constantly slide to the front of your shoe, jamming themselves into the toe guard with each step.
Though you don’t want to go to the extreme, it is better to shoot for a size just a bit bigger than your typical shoe size because of the foot expansion that occurs during exercise and to account for the fact that one foot is often slightly larger than the other.
How do you loosen up tight running shoes?
There are a number of tips and tricks for loosening up tight running shoes, with some being more involved than others.
If you need to loosen up tight running shoes you can try:
- Breaking them in – Sometimes, all you need to do is wear your new shoes around for a couple of days. Instead of jumping straight into a run, give the shoes a couple of days to adapt.
- Thick socks – Thick socks do double duty when your new shoes are a little snug. They can both help add extra padding to protect your feet and force the shoes to expand just a bit.
- Heat – Wear your shoes around for about fifteen minutes. When you take them off, blast them with warm air (think hair dryer warm) for several minutes, then walk around in them again. This will encourage them to cool in the shape of your foot.
- Cold – Fill two resealable bags with water. Place a bag inside each shoe and put the shoes in the freezer. The bagged water will initially take the shape of the shoe, but it will expand and apply consistent pressure, stretching the shoe.
If you are a serious marathoner or ultramarathoner and spend significant time in your shoes, you may want to take some of these more drastic measures. However, if you are just a casual runner, you may be able to get away with less invasive adjustments.
Can you make running shoes a little wider?
If your running shoes mostly fit properly but feel a little snug across the laces, you might be more interested in making your shoes wider rather than looser across all areas.
One simple way to make your shoes feel a bit wider is to try a different lacing technique. If you have a wider foot, try to begin lacing your shoes, using a normal criss-cross pattern, then try to thread the laces in a criss-cross pattern, only using every other eyelet. Finally, tie off at the end like you normally would tie off your shoes.
This can create a bit more breathing room for those with wide feet.
When to return or replace your running shoes if they are too tight
Sometimes it’s just not practical to try and force your shoes to fit.
If the shoes are more than slightly too tight or you don’t want to try extreme measures, it’s probably worth trying to exchange your shoes for a pair that’s half a size larger.
When you work out, the increase in foot and ankle fluid will likely make up for any additional space if you size up your shoe a half size. The negative biological effects of wearing a shoe that is a half size too small, far outway the effects of wearing a shoe that is a half or quarter size too big.
- About the Author
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Joshua Bartlett is a professional amateur when it comes to running – basically, he takes his mediocre running ability very seriously.
As the Editor-in-Chief at Saltmarsh Running, it is his job to make sure that readers get only highly-researched and comprehensive questions to all of their running questions.