There’s hardly a more annoying experience than receiving your new shiny pair of hoop shoes just to find out they’re suffocating, pinching, and causing a nightmare for your feet. Don’t throw ’em out yet – here’s my personal guide on how to break in basketball shoes quickly & easily.
But what does even breaking in a shoe mean? Can you even do something about it to make the shoe fit better RIGHT AWAY? How about shoes that go easy on you and don’t require a painful adjusting period? Let me break down all that I learned through the years of hooping in dozens of sneakers while also being a wide footer.
SHOW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Breaking in a Shoe? What’s that?
- What Affects the Process
- How to Break in Basketball Shoes Easier
- Shoes for a Hassle-Free Experience
- How to Break in Basketball Shoes: Conclusions
I. BREAKING IN A SHOE? WHAT’S THAT?
For those new to the game – let’s go over what breaking in a shoe even means & why should you care
So, you grab a new pair of sneakers, get your usual size and soon find out they’re overly tight, uncomfortable, and even unbearable the moment you put them on your feet.
Well, that’s not an immediate indication that you should return them. Most of the time, this means these shoes need some break-in time before they can feel optimal for you.
Provided that there are about 0.3-0.5 inches (depends on how much you prefer) of space for your toes, there’s enough space for the foot to sit inside the footbed width-wise and things aren’t too crammed height-wise, there’s no need to panic if things aren’t comfortable at the moment.
HOOP SHOES MIGHT GIVE YOU SOME TROUBLE
This is especially true for basketball sneakers. Why?
Basketball footwear is among the most well-structured models out of the entire sports shoe catalog. Hoopers need stability, support, shock absorption, and traction altogether, as every second counts on the court.
This is why a good portion of hoop shoes utilize upper materials that are reinforced with additional synthetics or sturdier compounds, rigid support chassis systems such as torsional or lateral plates, and sophisticated cushion compounds that are made up of foam, polyurethane, and other resilient components.
Because of the usually beefier construction that basketball shoes take advantage of, our out-of-the-box experience with a new pair can sometimes seem misleading.
The upper could feel suffocating due to the materials that aren’t yet stretched out, step transitions could seem choppy due to plastic components of the shoe not broken in yet, and even the shoe’s cushioning that’s supposed to be nice and bouncy feels stiff and dead during the first few days of action.
This is what the break-in process is all about.
You need to give a new shoe the proper time to adjust to your foot shape and let all of its components mold and start moving better with your foot. It’s okay for some shoes to feel a shell of themselves at first.
A NEW ERA IS HERE, AND FOR THE BETTER
One thing I must mention is that things are much more peachy than they used to be several years back.
The modern era of performance footwear has been gradually evolving and today’s sports sneakers are all about offering the most performance & comfort in as light of a package as possible.
What does this mean? It means that even basketball shoes have become drastically lighter, more flexible, and more comfortable all while still providing the critical features for the player.
Near-paper-thin synthetic materials are now the go-to, and brands are making an effort to get rid of as many unneeded features as possible in order to shed weight and increase mobility.
You’ll rarely see a full-on leather basketball sneaker these days, or any raw material as the base for that matter.
Because of this, we don’t need to suffer for months and months before a shoe starts to feel optimal on our feet anymore. Things are much faster, easier, and more straightforward.
Sure, there can still be instances where a particular model will feel off for quite a while but those days where that’s typical are gone. A few days will almost always be all that you’ll need before you can hoop at your full potential.
So, the chances that you’ll even need to prepare yourself for a break-in period are much smaller these days. Overthinking your decision before buying isn’t going to be needed these days, so don’t worry.
II. WHAT AFFECTS THE PROCESS
Here are the main factors that can greatly affect the duration and intensity of a shoe’s break-in period
Despite modern sports footwear giving us less trouble these days, there are still several factors that decide how long and intense the break-in period will be.
It’s virtually impossible to accurately predict such measures but it’s good for you to be aware of the things that can impact your first few days or weeks with the sneaker. Let’s quickly go over them.
The construction of the shoe is the biggest defining factor for your break-in process. Duh.
Ask yourself what kind of materials does the sneaker utilize? If there are a lot of raw compounds such as leather, nubuck, or suede – things will take some more time. But then again, you’ll rarely come across such a shoe these days.
If you do – take into account that certain leather models, for example, can be quite stubborn and can take as much as several weeks or MONTHS before starting to feel the way they should.
On the contrary, take lighter synthetics such as knits, wovens, and jacquards and the process becomes almost instantaneous with some of those shoes even feeling a-okay right out of the box. This is now quite common.
But it’s not all about the uppers.
Other areas of the shoe such as the midsole, outsole, and support components all need some time before everything starts flowing together smoothly.
Support plates could feel stiff at first, cushioning systems might seem not plush enough vs. how they were advertised and even the shoe’s traction could seem subpar.
Most of the time – this is all normal.
Plastic components take a while to soften up and start moving better with the foot, foam compounds used for cushioning also need to heat up to start properly compressing, and a lot of rubber outsoles on hoop shoes these days need to be worn for a bit to become more flexible and cover more ground, thus provide better grip.
In essence, the more stuff your shoe has, the longer it will take for everything to start feeling right.
If you’ve got a wide foot as I do – things could be a bit more complicated.
An average basketball shoe isn’t particularly built with wide footers in mind, so the initial experience with a shoe for me is usually different from the one for a person with a more common foot shape.
My foot is also fairly thick with a tall midfoot bone – that doesn’t make it any easier. So, you’d imagine I don’t exactly have the best time when shopping for a shoe that I know won’t fit as well as it would for someone else.
I encourage you to check out my list of the best basketball shoes for wide feet – that’ll get you started if you’re part of the club.
But despite having a thicker foot, you should still give a sneaker some time (even more than usual) before deciding it’s not for you.
I’m speaking from experience – most shoes that aren’t exactly made for wider feet end up just fine if I’m patient and can live with the discomfort for a couple of weeks.
The level of abrasion of the court you’re playing on can impact how quickly the shoe will be broken in.
If you hoop indoors on a classic hardwood surface – the outsole, midsole, and even the upper will take a bit more to start budging as opposed to hooping on an outdoor concrete surface.
A more abrasive surface such as the beloved blacktop will result in the shoe’s outsole rubber starting to mold faster, and the midsoles will need to absorb more force, thus you’ll start feeling the feedback quicker.
Of course, there’s also the durability factor as any shoe will wear out faster outdoors than indoors. But if we had to compare where most of the components would break in faster – a less forgiving surface such as concrete would be the answer.
The way you play will also decide how much your shoe needs to work to keep up. This obviously ties into how fast it’ll fully break in and start feeling comfortable.
It might be a good idea to take it easy and do some light work at first as you’re not yet sure if this exact sneaker is even for you.
But as you get used to them, your play style and tendencies will help determine how stubborn the sneaker really is.
If you’re someone like me, who’s an aggressive slasher to the rim and who definitely plays with explosiveness – you’ll get a feeling of the shoe quite quickly.
However, for guys that take a slower, more methodical approach to their game or just wear the shoes for casual shootarounds – it’ll take a bit more time to stretch things out to a degree.
III. HOW TO BREAK IN BASKETBALL SHOES EASIER
If you’ve got a stubborn pair of kicks – don’t panic. Here’s everything you can do to make the first days smoother
Despite the performance footwear market’s shift to lighter, thinner, and more comfortable as the focal points – chances are you’ll still come across a desirable sneaker that will give you trouble.
There are some things you can do if the experience is too much for you for one reason or another.
Let me give you my best recommendation of what to do if the break-in process of a shoe is a bit too harsh. I got a tip for each scenario going from just a bit of discomfort all the way to the shoe being unbearable for you.
Sometimes, all a shoe needs is a few hours. This is especially true for today’s models as all they really need is some heat and a few wears for the materials to adjust.
So, if you’re feeling near-optimal but things could be a tad bit better – simply arrive at your practices or scrimmages with your guys with the shoes already on.
The 20-30 extra minutes of headroom each day before playing could mean a whole day of break-in time while playing is sliced off the to-do list.
TRAIN, NOT PLAY
If you’re just feeling a little bit of tightness but you can still play somewhat comfortably – there’s really no need to do much.
If you’d like to save basketball action when the shoe has been fully broken in – do other physical activities with the shoe for the first few days. This will accelerate the process and the sneakers will be ready to rock ‘n roll when it’s game time.
WEAR DOUBLE SOCKS
You can always slightly speed up the process by wearing two pairs of thicker socks. Performance socks are your best option to prevent blisters and keep moisture in check but virtually any sock will do.
Wearing double socks means that the upper will undergo a bit more pressure even when you’re idle, so stretching out the upper will be a bit faster.
WEAR THEM CASUALLY
Perhaps the discomfort you’re experiencing is a bit too much for you when we’re talking about physical activity? Wear them casually.
Don’t worry, nothing will happen to your hoop shoes even if you take them to the city, sidewalks, or dirt pathways. Just make sure to clean them out before playing basketball to make sure the traction is ready.
Walking in a shoe casually for a couple of days might not fully break in some shoes but you’ll definitely get a head start.
KEEP ‘EM ON AT HOME
I had instances where a new pair of tennis shoes were so damn tight, that I could barely move in them without feeling pain on the sides of my boat-like feet. This is where wearing such a pair at home comes in handy.
I walked around the house as I normally would, just with the shoes on. I hated it but it was much more endurable than running and jumping on the court.
I did this for a whole week and definitely felt a difference when it was time to try them out for some action. I did train in them about 3 days after purchasing and those first 3 days definitely helped kickstart the adjusting period.
COMBAT ANY GLARING PAINS
There can also be instances where you got the size right, it seems like the foot is compatible with the shoe but there are still several hotspots that are hard to deal with.
This doesn’t always mean you need to play with the shoe some more. Sometimes, certain components are implemented in a way that your foot doesn’t align with them properly.
If you really like the shoe and not looking to put it in your closet to collect dust – there are some things you can do.
For heel pain or slippage – most basic heel protectors can go a long way. Check some of those out on Amazon.
Pinching or digging can happen basically anywhere, so you can take advantage of moleskin bandages on the areas that are problematic.
For foot sole pain or arch pain, aftermarket insoles/midsoles could be your friend. This is a pretty sophisticated topic that needs more detail but my list of the best basketball insoles is a good start.
USE A SHOE STRETCHER SPRAY
I’ve found out about this just recently and it impressed me. Shoe sprays (for whatever purpose) always seemed gimmicky for me as they would usually do more harm than good in the long run.
However, I’ve found a couple of brands that seem to have excellent user reception. Yes, you heard it right – shoe stretcher sprays.
FootMatters make a quality stretch spray, and so does Instant Comfort. You can find sprays from both of these brands on common marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart.
For those unbearable situations where you can barely put the shoe on and move (although it’s very unlikely it would happen nowadays), get yourself a spray, soak the insides of the shoe and leave it for a few hours. Repeat the process if the results are not yet optimal.
Be careful with these though – use them only when you need them as some of these sprays can contain harmful ingredients that could damage the materials of the shoe when used inappropriately.
VISIT A SHOE COBBLER
Honestly, if the only remaining option is the help of a shoe cobbler to forcefully stretch out the shoe, there’s a pretty good chance the shoe isn’t for you.
I had these cases where the pair I so desperately wanted ended up just not working for my wide feet and even though I didn’t bother going to a specialist, perhaps you will.
Most materials that are found on modern basketball shoes aren’t very cooperative when it comes to artificially stretching them out. Fabrics can easily tear or become too flimsy due to over lengthened grain.
However, if you’re looking for help with a more traditional build such as leather or nubuck – you should be able to tailor it to your foot with the help of an expert.
IT MIGHT NOT BE A SHOE FOR YOU
If everything fails and the shoe simply refuses to befriend your feet – you have to know the time when to stop and look for a different pair.
A modern basketball shoe that mainly utilizes synthetic materials shouldn’t give you trouble if you’ve been hooping in them for months. Things were different back in the day, but now, I give most sneakers a month to see if it’s for me.
If I’m still feeling overly suffocated, there’s too much pinching or anything of that nature all these weeks later, it’s probably just my wide feet that are incompatible.
IV. SHOES FOR A HASSLE-FREE EXPERIENCE
For those looking to skip any hassle and just hoop – I’ve got some awesome options for you
Alright, let’s talk hoop shoes.
While the market nowadays is more forgiving than it used to be in the matter of breaking them in, let me give you some examples of recent shoes I played in that gave me minimal-to-zero trouble even during the first few wears.
If you’ll be looking for that broken-in feel right out of the box, look for a shoe that has a synthetic (preferably knit or woven) build, a wider forefoot portion if you’re a wide footer and a generally minimalistic design.
Remember, the fewer features and bulk the shoe has, the less hassle you’ll have to go with.
Here are a few shoe models that impressed me in this matter: I extensively played and tested all of them, and they’re all great all-around performers.
NIKE KOBE A.D. NXT 360FULL REVIEW
💰 $200 🏆 7.8/10
For what many called a next-gen basketball shoe when it launched – the Kobe A.D. NXT 360 is the pinnacle of comfortable right out of the box.
The shoe features a pure knit upper, or 360 degrees of Flyknit as Nikey claims. It’s a glove for your foot – there’s really no better way to describe it. The material is soft, lightweight, stretches out to one’s foot almost right away, all without overly stretching as that would compromise containment.
If you can find it today for a good price (GOAT and StockX will be your options), it’s a great wide footer’s choice and also a very solid all-around performer. Traction was solid on all surfaces, and the drop-in midsole offered an extremely pleasant ride underfoot.
It’s a premium shoe – no other way around it.
UNDER ARMOUR CURRY FLOW 9FULL REVIEW
💰 $160 🏆 8.6/10
The Curry Flow 8 started a breakthrough to what we now call a running sneaker for basketball. It’s really how the improved Curry Flow 9 feels and performs, and for the better.
The shoe features a bit more structured throughout the build compared to its predecessor but the mesh + nylon combo still didn’t give me any trouble. A few wears were all I needed to fully get used to this formula of a sneaker.
The Curry Flow 9 is also a very solid option for wider feet due to its spacious toebox. You’ll also get deadly traction that’s all foam and no rubber, balanced Flow cushion with some of the smoothest heel-to-toe transitions EVER, and lightweight support.
Just be aware that this outsole entirely made of foam needs a few hours to heat up in order for the thread to start moving better and covering more ground. This is why traction might feel mediocre at first (especially indoors).
ADIDAS HARDEN VOL. 4FULL REVIEW
💰 $130 🏆 8.4/10
The 4th Harden sneaker is still among my favorite hoop shoes to play in, no questions asked. It’s a near-perfect low-top and also a solid option for those not looking to spend too much time while experiencing discomfort.
This is because the Harden Vol. 4 comes in several upper variants. I recommend going with the knit + synthetic leather variant for best results. Don’t worry – the leather portion is only on the toebox for added strength since it’s a high-wear area.
The shoe is fairly wide, so, once again, it’s a decent sneaker for wide footers, and it’s a BEAST when we’re talking performance. Traction that’s outdoor-ready, amazing Boost cushion for unparalleled balance, and fantastic support even for a low-cut shoe.
Forget about high-tops: those days are over.
NIKE COSMIC UNITYFULL REVIEW
💰 $150 🏆 8.4/10
One of the more well-rounded basketball shoes from Nike that isn’t a signature model. What might seem ordinary for some, non-signature kicks from the Swoosh don’t usually outperform the flagship models endorsed by athletes.
The Nike Cosmic Unity come out a few years ago but it’s still a stellar shoe. It features a knit upper that’s partly made out of recycled content, it’s wide-footer friendly and I remember I did feel a little suffocated for the first couple of weeks but the majority of reviews from non-wide footers didn’t experience that at all.
While you might need a day or two to feel a full 100% rather than 95%, the Cosmic Unity shouldn’t give you too much trouble.
Traction was great right out of the box, the full-length Zoom Air cushion was fantastic, they were stable and not too clunky, nor too flimsy. These felt just right. Definitely one of the better hoop shoes from Nike.
As a side note, some people have reported having some heel slippage but most cases seemed to go away after a short period.
V. HOW TO BREAK IN BASKETBALL SHOES: CONCLUSIONS
Let’s close the show: here are the main keys to remember on how to break in basketball shoes
Let’s wrap things up.
Now you know that you shouldn’t dread the break-in process of any shoe, and even more so today as the shift from heavy, bulky leather Jordan Retros for the court went away long ago.
Just make sure to be aware of your foot shape, and understand that not ALL shoes will be for you no matter what methods you use to attempt to make it for you.
Reading detailed shoe reviews before a purchase is definitely the smart thing to do as reviewers like myself always describe the fit of the shoe, so you roughly know what to expect. You should also know your regular size for each brand.
Here are the main things to remember on how to break in basketball shoes:
- there’s no need to come to immediate conclusions if a shoe doesn’t feel quite right out of the box
- basketball shoes these days are much easier to break in as some of them already offer a broken-in feel due to modern materials
- there are several factors that affect the duration and intensity of the break-in period. Your foot type; the materials of the shoe and the number of features implemented; the level of abrasion the court you play on has, and even your play style
- depending on the severity of your situation, there are a bunch of things you can do to make the adjusting period easier & quicker. They include wearing double socks, using the shoes outside of basketball, applying shoe stretcher sprays, and visiting a shoe cobbler if all else fails
- to avoid an ugly break-in process, I gave you a few shoe examples that don’t require any hassle right out of the box. They are the Kobe A.D. NXT 360, the UA Curry Flow 9, the adidas Harden Vol. 4, and the Nike Cosmic Unity
LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS!
As always, I’d absolutely LOVE hearing what you have to say on this one. What are your thoughts on breaking shoes in? Do you think it’s still relevant in 2022 & beyond? Perhaps you’ve got a question I haven’t answered in the guide?
I’ll also leave you with complimentary guides that should help you deal with issues that are related to uncomfortable break-in periods. You should find some good stuff in there.
I usually reply within a few hours on weekdays and within the same day on weekends, so I’m looking forward to your takes!