Run Inside The (Toe)Box

Run Inside the (toe)Box

Choosing the right pair of running shoes is difficult. There are so many brands, styles, support categories and colors to choose from, it can be overwhelming! Even I get distracted by all the new sparkly shoes when I’m in a running store. So don’t feel bad. That’s totally normal. So how do you refocus and decide which shoe is best for you? Good question. I’ve got a few tips for you.

In a previous blog post, I shared my running shoe essentials checklist to help make your running shoe purchase process more streamlined. Check that out if you haven’t already before continuing on with this one. Go ahead, it’s ok. I’ll wait for ya…After considering those factors I wrote about before, one addition piece that often gets overlooked is the size of the toe box. What’s the toe box you ask? The toe box is the part of every shoe where the ball of your foot resides. It can be rounded or more tapered depending on the type of the shoe, and is designed to provide protection for your toes. Athletic shoe toe boxes tend to be more rounded and spacious to allow for improved traction during activities.

When we’re moving around, we need our feet to splay. This is important for a few reasons. Our feet are designed to spread out (splay) in order to provide shock absorption when we step, run, and jump around (1). This creates an elastic recoil effect through the plantar fascia, arch, and intrinsic muscles of the foot, which helps propel our body forward (1,2). However, if our feet cannot splay properly (and I’m talking about the space from your big toe all the way across to your pinky toe), blisters, bunions, hammer toes, etc…result and this elastic recoil process becomes interrupted, making movement less efficient, and increasing risk for injury (1,3,4). When our feet aren’t able to take advantage of this elastic recoil properly, our mechanics become altered and the shock absorption that is designed to take place in our feet gets transferred elsewhere in the body (often at the ankle, knee or hip) often resulting in overuse injuries. So how can you make sure that your feet have enough room to splay? Here’s your quick and dirty test: remove the insert that is inside your running shoe and place it flat on the ground. Now stand barefoot (socks on is totally fine) on top of the insert. Do your toes spread out and overflow outside the width of the insert? If so, your shoe is too narrow for you, thus preventing adequate splay to happen. If you’re foot is equal to or slightly narrower than the insert you’re shoe is the right size for you.


Note: Orange Line = Toe Box Width

So go check your toe box width and see how you fair!



  1. Ker, R. F., et al. “The spring in the arch of the human foot.” Nature6100 (1987): 147-149
  2. Perl, Daniel P., Adam I. Daoud, and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy.” Med Sci Sports Exerc7 (2012): 1335-43
  3. Branthwaite, Helen, Nachiappan Chockalingam, and Andrew Greenhalgh. “The effect of shoe toe box shape and volume on forefoot interdigital and plantar pressures in healthy females.” Journal of foot and ankle research1 (2013): 28
  4. Luo, Geng, et al. “Improved footwear comfort reduces oxygen consumption during running.” Footwear Science1 (2009): 25-29