Tying your running shoes might feel like second nature—just something you mindlessly do before heading out the door for your workout. But you should be spending more time and attention on how you lace up.
It turns out, certain shoes can cause discomfort, not because of the way they’re made, but because you’re lacing them improperly for your foot—and this adds a whole new dimension to running shoe shopping.
“As runners select shoes, they need to be grounded in comfort, and a big part of selecting a comfortable shoe means ensuring your foot shape matches the shoe shape,” says Victor Ornelas, footwear specialist and director of brand management at Fleet Feet. That said, what many runners don’t realize is that once you find a shoe that’s a good fit, you can personalize it even further to make it a great fit.
Say you found a shoe that fits well, but you wish it had more security in the heel, or a little more volume in the mid-foot. Certain lacing techniques can allow you to personalize the shoe to your foot without making alterations to the actual shoe or continuing your hunt for another pair.
Everyone has a unique foot shape, so in essence, no shoe will fit your foot exactly unless it’s custom-made. When trying out running shoes, you should always try to find the best solution without having to make a modification, “but lacing techniques are the last 1 percent you can use to further personalize a shoe,” says Ornelas. (Related: How to Determine Your Running Gait—and Why It Matters)
So why, exactly, would you want to redo the laces on your sneakers? The main factor is comfort. A shoe that’s even a little bit loose or snug can cause problems. “If you have a lot of movement or too much tightness, that could lead to a callus or, in extreme situations, bruising,” says Ornelas. Plus, an ill-fitting shoe increases your risk of blisters, hot spots or other irritation.
Another surprising thing you probably never considered is switching up your technique depending on what kind of activity you’re doing. For example, if you’re about to do an intense HIIT workout, you may want to try a lacing technique that gives you extra security; if you’re doing a recovery workout or a walk, you can switch back to a looser lacing pattern. The type of socks you’re wearing can also dictate lacing techniques, too—thicker socks you wear to the gym or for outdoor runs in the winter, for example, might require a looser lacing pattern to ensure the shoe fits properly. (Related: How to Find the Best Workout Shoes for Flat Feet)
Sometimes a simple change in your lacing pattern can create a nuanced difference that alleviates pressure or changes the way something feels, that you didn’t even know needed to feel better in the first place. “It’s kind of wild how effective an alternative lacing pattern can be,” says Ashley Arnold, content manager for Fleet Feet.
Check out the below video where Arnold shows you how to do four of the most common lacing techniques that could drastically improve your comfort level and maybe even your performance to boot.
4 Lacing Techniques for Your Workout Shoes
You don’t need to be in the market for new running shoes to try out these lacing techniques—you can put them to use on your current pair at home right now.
1. Heel Lock, aka “Marathon Race Loop”
Best for: Runners who experience heel slipping or have narrow heels (which is very common)
How it works: Adjusts the laces to secure the heel in place but not put undue pressure at the top of the ankle
2. High Instep
Best for: Runners with a high instep
How it works: Creates a window in the lacing pattern by skipping eyelets, which adds volume in the mid-foot while reducing pressure
3. Wide Feet
Best for: Runners with wide feet
How it works: Skips eyelets for a horizontal lacing pattern to provide greater volume in the toe box
4. Big Toe Pressure
Best for: Runners prone to bunions (or who wear high heels often)
How it works: Adjusts the laces to redistribute pressure away from the big toe or other toes experiencing pressure, reducing chances of black toenails (P.S. Here’s What to Do If Your Toenail Is Falling Off)