laces

PERFORMANCE HACK: LACE TIGHTNESS

The right way to tie your shoes depends on your foot type, the workout you're doing, and more.

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Learning to tie your shoes is one of the first great achievements of athleticism

But now, there's brand new technology on the market that could change the way you think about the basic task. Nike’s new Hyperadapt 1.0 shoes, with a price tag of $720, boast an adaptive lacing system. They can be worn for activities ranging from short runs to agility drills to basketball. When you step in, they automatically tighten to your feet. You then adjust snugness via buttons on the sides.

The innovation suggests that lace tightness might be a key, oft-overlooked aspect of performance. In fact, “it's critical,” according to Bob Coll, a competitive long-distance runner and owner of the Eugene Running Company in Oregon.

Tying up too loosely (for workouts like sprints and sports drills in particular) could cause your feet to slide around in—or even pop out of—your shoes, he warns. Worse, it could lead you to twist your ankle. On the other hand, lacing up too tightly could cause excess pressure and lead to an impingement of nerves, explains sports podiatrist Brian Fullem, author of The Runner's Guide to Healthy Feet and Ankles: Simple Steps to Prevent Injury and Run Stronger. “The medial dorsal cutaneous and intermediate dorsal cutaneous nerves are both very close to the skin on the top of the foot and can be damaged when laces are too tight.” Symptoms include burning and tingling or soreness, he notes. 

So, here's how to tie your shoes so they're just right. As a general rule of thumb, "your foot should not be able to move around, but there shouldn’t be any discomfort,” says Fullem. Ideally, you want the lace tightness to be equally distributed across the top of the shoe, though it can be adjusted to alleviate stress in particular areas, he notes. For example, athletes with high arches might feel more comfortable by looping the lace up an eyelet instead of crossing over the top of the shoe, he says. Another strategy: “Starting the lacing one or two eyelets up from the initial hole can relieve pressure from the front of the foot due to conditions such as a Morton's Neuroma [an issue that impacts the ball, near the third and fourth toes].” 

As noted, how you plan to move impacts how you should tie, too. “Different athletic activities require varying degrees of lace tension,” says Coll. So until shoes that can sense your needs—loosening or tightening up on their own—hit the market, make the following workout-specific adjustments.

Shorter, more explosive activities often call for tighter lacing. “In general, people will want the fit to be a bit more snug for sports like basketball that will involve more lateral movement,” says Fullem. The same goes for workouts like sprints. “If you observe world class sprinters, you will notice they often remove their shoes immediately after their races because they have laced them so tightly,” says Coll. Keep 'em snug for trail running as well, which exposes you to uneven surfaces.

Longer, endurance events (marathon running, for example) require less tension. Feet can swell after miles of pounding the pavement, so it’s important to leave room. Says Fullem: “For [distance] running, there is typically not an issue with the shoes being too loose, but rather problems can develop if they are too tight.”