As the American Council on Exercise, or ACE, notes, buying a pair of athletic shoes has become increasingly complicated. The array of choices in various price ranges might be confusing, but there are some fundamental guidelines for athletic shoe purchases that can steer you toward the appropriate shoes for fitness classes, which include basic aerobics, step, dance classes such as Jazzercise and Zumba and even cardio-kickboxing.
If your feet have high arches, you need shoes with extra cushioning to absorb shock. People with high arches also are prone to ankle sprains because their feet lack lateral stability, according to the ACE, so you should buy shoes with excellent stability. A shoe that is mid-cut (extending further up the ankle) instead of low-cut will provide extra protection for your ankles. If you have low arches, often called flat feet, you don't have to worry about extra cushioning, but you'll need lots of mid-foot support and efficient heel control.
Foot Type Test
To determine your foot type, you can take the test suggested by the "Women's Health Magazine." Wet your foot and step on a paper bag. If you see a big dry space from the inside of your mid-foot almost to the outside of your foot, you have high arches. This causes you to underpronate and strike the ground on the outside of your foot, thereby creating an excess amount of shock on your feet and legs. If their is no dry spot, you have flat feet, which causes you to overpronate and strike the ground on the inside of your foot.
Fitness Class Shoes
If you participate in fitness classes at least two or three days per week, ACE suggests you wear shoes that are designed specifically for that activity. At "Shape" magazine, 275 testers evaluated athletic shoes used in a wide variety of activities. The shoes selected as the best for fitness classes had features that included extremely flexible outer soles to enable your feet to move fluidly without slipping, and extremely comfortable heel conditioning to absorb impact in a step or kickboxing classes. Testers also praised brands with ankle padding that support your heel "even during quick Zumba steps."
To test shoes for basic stability, ACE suggests grabbing the shoe at its ball and heel and bending it from front to back. It should bend near the ball of the foot, which is the natural hinge point, but it shouldn't be too flexible. Test the heel counter, which is a stiff cup sewn into the back of the shoe to provide support. When you squeeze the cup, it should be very stiff and not collapse inward. To test the cushioning of a shoe, put your thumb inside the heel of the shoe and your other hand on the corresponding spot on the sole. Squeeze your hands together to determine the amount of cushioning. The more compression, the better the shock absorption. Softer shoes tend to have more compression.
Your feet can expand by half a shoe size during the day, so typically you should get your feet measured late in the day. However, if your fitness class meets at the same time each day, measure your feet at that time for the proper fit for the class. You should be able to wiggle your toes easily, with a space the width of your index finger between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Your heel should not slip, and the shoes should not pinch or grab at the feet or ankles. Your shoes should be able to endure three to six months of regular exercise before they begin to lose their cushioning. Replacing worn shoes in a timely manner helps prevent ankle, shin and foot injuries.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.