Science says we’re tying our shoes all wrong. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley have found that the tying methods and knots used by most people are responsible for what they term “catastrophic knot failure.” In fact, you’ve probably experienced catastrophic knot failure on a regular basis—leading to trips, falls or just annoying pauses in your run or walk.
Researchers behind the study observed a runner on a treadmill and then used a pendulum to mimic human movement. They found that the most common methods of shoelace-tying tended to come undone pretty quickly. Researcher Oliver O’Reilly told USA Today: “What was remarkable to us was how fast it happened. It took two strides for the shoelace to untie. … It explains why when you’re walking along and everything seems completely fine, all of a sudden, boom!”
So how should you be tying your shoes? Not by using the “bunny ears” method, which many of us learned as kids, or the “granny knot,” which is made when the left end of a piece of string is crossed over the right, pulling the left end through the resulting loop, and repeating. While those methods are easy and common, they are likely to come undone quickly, especially when running or doing other vigorous exercise.
Researchers found that the “strong knot” held up better in performance trials. This type of knot is made when you cross the left lace over the right and then pull it through the loop that results. Then, you make both the left and right ends into loops and wrap the bottom of the right loop around the bottom of the left. This knot is also called the “square knot” and has apparently been used for centuries by sailors and soldiers. Here’s a tutorial:
In 2015, researchers at MIT studied the mechanics of knots and determined that a knot’s construction is the main factor in its stiffness. Basically, the configuration of twists and turns in a knot can create weaker or stronger forces in it. The configurations in a granny knot, for example, make it more prone to slippage.
If you’re interested in going even deeper into the world of shoelace tying, look up Ian Fieggen, a worldwide shoelace expert known on the internet as “Professor Shoelace.” He’s come up with his own knot, the Ian Knot, which is a tight symmetrical knot that’s useful for both adults and kids. Check it out here:
Mom Kirstin Johnson also developed an easy way to teach your kids to tie their shoes (especially helpful for kids with autism) back in 2016. Her method went viral and has helped thousands of families.
And no worries if it takes you a while to get into the habit of tying your (or your kids’) laces in a new way. Study author Christopher Daily-Diamond says even he has found it hard to retrain his shoe-tying instincts: “Even with all the work I’ve done with this…I still, most of the time, tie the weak knot.”