Tennis Shoes Too Tight? 5 Easy Ways to Stretch Them

When I was a kid, I always wore my shoes way too tight. In fact, the reason I even learned how to tie my shoes is that my mom wouldn’t tie them as tight as I wanted them. I just didn’t feel right wandering around with shoes that had any flap in them at all. You just never know when you might have to run away from a lion after all. Or after a cannonball.

When I started playing high school sports (mostly badminton) nothing changed. I cinched my shoes down until they became one with my feet. However, it all came crashing down on me when I decided that I’d take it to the next step (pun intended) and order my next pair of tennis shoes a half size down.

The day after they were delivered I learned the meaning of pain. Man is not meant to wear shoes that are too small. This left me with two choices, try and return the shoes that I had been sweating and running around it, or try and stretch them. Luckily, learning how to stretch tennis shoes was not all that much different than stretching any other kind of shoes and I was able to figure it out without too many issues.

Now, if you want to know how to stretch your tennis shoes a full size or two, I probably can’t help. However, it you just need a little more width (to protect your bunions) or length (to protect that ingrown toenail) then we’re in business. Here’s what we’re going to do:

5 Ways To Stretch Tennis Shoes That Are Too Tight

Method 1- How To Stretch Your Tennis Shoes in the Freezer

Stretching shoes that are too tight is easy…if you have the tools to do it. However, I didn’t have any tools. So I had to make do with the amount of money I had (very little) and resources available (about the same).

Luckily, I had successfully used the freezer technique to stretch out a pair of rock climbing shoes a few years earlier and knew how it is done:

  • Get two plastic bags and insert one into each shoe. Make sure the opening is outside the shoe and able to be closed.
  • Add water to the bags. Make sure they are as full as possible before sealing them.
  • Place the shoes into your freezer (sitting on the soles as if they were being worn).
  • Wait until the bags of ice are frozen solid (I wait overnight)
  • Remove the shoes from the freezer, wait for the ice to melt slightly, and remove the bags
  • Wear your new not-too-tight shoes!

Tip: It’s important to get as much water into the bags as possible so every crevice is filled, especially the toe area which is usually quite tight. Water expands around 9% when it freezes so if you don’t have enough water it won’t exert enough pressure inside the shoe to stretch it.

Method 2- Stretching Your Shoes Using a Shoe Stretcher

This method is the simplest and most obvious but probably is used by the fewest people. Buy a pair of shoe stretchers whose sizes are equivalent to the size of your feet (just look on Amazon). Squeeze the stretchers in the shoes and allow them to remain in this position overnight. In the morning, remove the stretchers from the shoes and then try them out.

The stretchers will extend the materials of the tennis shoes causing them to stretch a bit. One of the main advantages of this method is that it expands the shoes uniformly and does not have the risk of popping seams or causing distensions that other methods have.

Method 3- Stretching Shoes Using a Blow-dryer

If there are specific points on your shoe that are causing pressure on your feet, you don’t have to stretch the whole shoe. Maybe you have a bunion, a strange toe, or just a weird lump on the side of your foot? Whatever the cause, heating the area while there is pressure on it can be a good method of giving yourself some extra space.

Here’s the method:

  • Put on two pairs of socks. This will provide extra pressure the push out the tight spot as well as protect your feet from the heat.
  • Put on your tennis shoes (or badminton shoes, whatever)
  • Use a blow-dryer set to medium heat to heat the area. I typically provide about one minute of heat at a time but should adjust as needed.
  • Move your feet and walk around to stretch out the tight areas
  • Repeat until the area is no longer tight

The applied heat allows both rubber and leather to stretch effectively. Care should be taken while using this method to protect the rubber from burning.

Method 4- Stretching Using Alcohol

If you need a fast on-the-go method to stretch out your too-tight-tennish-shoes, a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water just might do the trick. Put alcohol in a spray container and spray the inside of the shoes until they soak in the alcohol. Wear the shoes for approximately 30 minutes or until the alcohol dries out. Alcohol causes the material of the shoes to stretch making it fit you properly. I have not personally tried this method but others report using it with great success.

Method 5- Taking Your Shoes to a Cobbler

If your shoes are more than a half-size too small, you probably shouldn’t waste your time on any of the above methods. Instead, start shopping for new shoes or consider taking your current shoes to the cobbler

A cobbler has a number of tools (such as stretchers) at his disposal and will adjust the fit of the shoes. If you are really into keeping a pair of shoes (maybe you won a championship in them?) then the cobbler may also consider adding a larger sole and adjusting the amount of material present to fit. Once the material has been modified, the feet will fit in the shoes well making them comfortable to wear again.


Learning how to stretch tennis shoes is crucial, especially if you have growing feet (or your kids do) or an unusual foot shape. This is especially true in the days of ordering tennis shoes online when you can’t try them on first. Stretching them slightly may not only save you from a troublesome return, but it can end up gifting you the most comfortable pair of tennis (or badminton!) shoes you’ve ever had. Best of luck out there!