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Athletic Shoes: Lace Them to Fit

Experts say proper shoe lacing makes a difference for your feet. It's just one of many simple things you can do to safeguard your feet while you put them through the demands of an athletic workout or even a long day of walking over all sorts of surfaces. Simply lacing your shoes or sneakers properly, along with choosing a shoe that fits your foot correctly, can add comfort to your stride and prevent foot injuries.

Importance of good fit

Improper fit and poor lacing technique are a dangerous combination. They can cause a variety of foot ills, from blisters and hammertoes to foot disorders that are potentially disabling.

Forget what you may have been told about buying snug-fitting athletic shoes that will break in with time. If the shoes don't fit comfortably the first time you try them on, put them back and try on another pair.

If possible, try on athletic shoes right after you've done the activity for which you're buying the shoes, because exercise makes your feet swell and will change the fit. Try running or walking to the shoe store. Another trick: Go to the shoe store at the end of the day, because that's when your feet will be their largest from all the walking and standing you've done.

Buying shoes

Some fit tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Buy a shoe one-half inch longer than your longest toe.

  • The forefoot should not be crowded; be sure your toes can extend.

  • Be sure there's a snug fit around the heel of the shoe.

  • Your feet expand when bearing weight, so stand when your feet are measured.

  • In many people, one foot is larger than the other. Shoes should be fitted to your longer and wider foot. Although the toe box should be spacious, too much space can make your feet slide, causing blisters.

How to lace your shoes

Once you've got the basic fit down, turn your attention to the laces. Here is the proper lacing technique:

  • Loosen the laces as you put on the shoes. This prevents stress on the eyelets and the backs of the shoes. In fact, take all the laces out when trying on a pair of shoes and relace with equal tension.

  • Always begin with the eyelets closest to your toes and pull the laces using one set of eyelets at a time to tighten the shoes. This prevents stress at the tops of the shoes and aids a better fit.

  • When choosing shoes, keep in mind that those with more eyelets allow a more custom fit.

  • The old standby method of lacing—crisscross to the top of the shoe—works best for most athletic shoe wearers.

  • For wide feet: Use the eyelets closer to the tongue of the shoe. This allows greater width to the lacing area and has the same effect as letting out a corset.

  • For narrow heel and wider forefoot: A narrow heel and wider forefoot is a common problem among women. Consider using two laces for a combination fit. Use the closer set of eyelets to adjust the width of the shoe at the forefoot and the wider set to snug up the heel to prevent the heel from acting like a piston.