I knew my time was coming. My running shoes were way past the recommended six months of ownership for someone who puts a lot of mileage on them. Teaching two Turbo Kick classes per week was the last straw and they finally cried out for mercy as a hole opened up on the side. Not only did I need new running shoes but clearly separate class shoes as well.
So I tapped the knowledge of our local experts in running and fitness shoes.
Most of us have one pair of running shoes that we pull out not only for running, but any other athletic or fitness activity as well. Many of us have not considered that our running shoes are built for forward motion, meaning they are not a good choice for activity that requires side-to-side motion, quick stops, stability for uneven terrain, or even pivot movement. Whether or not they inhibit your performance, they might be contributing to pain and injury.
Not only was this a search for the shoe that fits the activity, I got the low down on the shoe that fits the foot with an extensive custom fit analysis from the running shoe experts at in Bonney Lake.
As I needed both running shoes and group fitness shoes, I was able to carry what I learned from them about my biomechanics into my group fitness class shoes search as well.
I was fortunate to have Fleet Feet owner Paul Morrison available for my own shoe fitting experience. I asked him about why they provide such an extensive custom fit service.
“A good-fitting shoe helps with overuse injuries," he said. "When you are doing repetitive things like running, walking and fitness activity, it’s important that you get a shoe that fits your biomechanics.”
Many of us don’t realize the potential shoe fit has to cause or contribute to the pain we feel in not only our feet, but other areas of our body up through our knees and spine. I asked physical therapist and marathon runner Dennis Eldridge PT, DPT, CSCS, CCI, at Performance Physical Therapy in Enumclaw about the link between our foot biomechanics and the injuries he treats in his office.
“The majority of running and walking related injuries are due to the repetitive nature of those activities," Eldridge said. "Simple abnormalities in the way a person’s foot hits the ground can contribute to the wear and tear on the tissues of the lower body. For example, if the shoe is broken down along the sole, the foot will likely drop in toward the ground with greater force and possibly stress both the inner ankle and the inner knee. Proper shoe fit is an essential component to minimizing the strain to the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.”
So I asked Morrison about the most common condition they see customers come in with. “Our number one foot problem is planter fasciitis," he said. "We see three or four, sometimes five or six customers a day that suffer from that. A good fitting shoe, with an insert, greatly helps with the healing process, depending on how bad the planter fasciitis is.”
Morrison said other common over-use conditions he sees in his store include shin splints and tendonitis, which can be helped with a good-fitting shoe.
I then spent about 45 minutes going though the Fleet Feet shoe fit process, which begins with an interview of the customer’s activity and injury background, followed by measurements at the fitting stool. While the gait analysis on the treadmill is the most informative part of the experience for the customer, the most important fit information for Morrison is gathered at the fit stool, where my balanced standing foot measurements were taken, as well as while sitting with my foot propped on the incline stool. The contrast between the two measurements provides the critical information used to place your biomechanics in a well-matched running shoe.
After stool measurements were complete, I walked barefoot on the treadmill while my gait was recorded from several angles. As Morrison played it back, he stopped the video in several places to point out the alignment of my foot from the knee down. In my case, it demonstrated that not only had my pre-motherhood Barbie arches collapsed significantly, the left side had fallen further than the right, a condition that can throw off the balance and alignment of your body, up through the knees and spine.
Morrison brought out a selection of shoes and pointed out features to be aware of in comparing fit. I think he was disappointed in his newest student of fit, when I noted a preference for the color and cool-factor of one particular pair, but I was a believer and as I jogged the sidewalk outside of the store to test the shoes, the shoe that gently hugged and supported my foot, while feeling like they propelled me forward, won out. Much to my delight, since I hadn’t asked about the financial “fit,” these shoes were within my criteria for a reasonably-priced shoe.
We then spent a few more minutes in sock consultation as I noted the rub and blisters I had been experiencing. I left the store with moisture-wicking, cushioned, low-profile socks for any of my fitness shoes. I also left with a new appreciation for my biomechanics and the importance of shoe fit.
What then is needed from a group fitness class shoe? Most kickboxing, boot camp and step classes require stability for side-to-side motion, release for pivot movement and impact cushioning for jumping. Check out any of the popular local Zumba classes, however, and you'll find they're full of women shaking and pumping it with running shoes, despite the need to pivot, jump and move laterally as well.
I asked Corinne Geodecke, co-founder of in Sumner and an instructor who teaches more than 10 hours of Zumba per week while suffering from planter fasciitis what the drawbacks were to using a running shoe in a Zumba class.
“Running shoes tend to have too much tread on the sole of the shoe," she said. "Too much tread prohibits your body from being able to pivot on the floor, which can lead to painful knees and shin splints. They also do not provide enough overall foot support and cushion for jumping."
So what shoe does Geodecke recommend?
“When I began Zumba, I purchased a budget-friendly studio shoe, made by a popular company," she said. "Unfortunately, not all studio shoes are created equal and the bad support led to me acquiring plantar fasciitis in both feet. After
much research, I came across Ryka, a company that specializes in fitness shoes for women. I purchased a pair of their studio shoes and have been wearing them ever since.“
One problem Geodecke ran into is that the Ryka studio shoe is not carried locally. C&C Studio has now become a retailer of the Ryka studio shoe, worn by their Zumba instructors and many of their clientele. Inspired by her passionate shoe search, I decided to see what I could find for my class that would address side-to-side motion stability, pivot release and impact cushioning from jumping, all in one shoe.
While a cross-trainer is the obvious place to begin a search for a non-running fitness shoe, since it is lower to the ground and designed for stability, cross-trainers generally are built heavier and lack shock-absorbing cushioning needed for the impact the body experiences in group fitness activity. My next stop was to consider sports with similar movement. Large online shoe retailers like Shoes.com and Zappos.com allow customers to search shoes by many variables, including by individual sport, as well as a general fitness category.
Both basketball and tennis sport shoes are built to support side-to-side motion, as well as speed and cushion impact. Considering only shoes under $100, the two best finds from the sport and fitness group were the Adidas C.Y.D. Reflex, a highly-rated tennis sport shoe, and the New Balance WX 871 from the extremely limited fitness category offerings. While I was not looking specifically for ankle support, those who are might find a good choice in a basketball shoe, or mid-height tennis or fitness shoe.
The Adidas option stood out for the adjustable lateral support strap. The strap covered the entire shoe width at the ball of the foot, including the area where my running shoes fell apart. They are reviewed as light and fast. My experience giving them a test run is that the shoe has excellent stability and felt great on my foot. Besides that, admit it -- we weigh the appearance of the shoe -- and it is a good-looking shoe.
I then tried on the New Balance WX 871. Out of the gate, it had the advantage of the pivot circle on the sole at the ball of the foot. The gripping sole of the basketball or tennis shoe resists the pivot, causing torque in your knees and spine. The pivot circle releases some of that tension. The New Balance had a reinforced support across the width at the ball of the foot, as well as much greater overall flexibility. The New Balance allowed enough bend to leave the ground for a plyometric jump – a movement used often in both boot camp classes and Turbo Kick classes, while the Adidas seemed to resist any flexion of the foot.
The verdict: while I would highly recommend the Adidas for someone who wants solid support in a light shoe for quick stop-and-go (well-suited for a dodgeball game or for tennis), this pair went back with the free return shipping offered by most online shoe retailers, and the New Balance are now my go-to class shoe.
For your own group fitness shoe search, take into account your class of choice, as well as your needs and preferences related to stability, cushioning and flexibility. Online shoe retailers provide detailed descriptions, customer reviews, and even tutorials on shoe terms and topics.
If you are in need of running shoes as well, start with a custom shoe fit at Fleet Feet Sports, and carry the knowledge gained about your biomechanics into your class shoe search.
Local fitness enthusiast Courtney Black’s athletic and fitness background includes in-line speed skating and triathlons, as well as college cheerleading, dance and choreography. This mother of two little dudes currently teaches Turbo Kick classes and is preparing for summer triathlons. She enjoys applying her day job analyst skills to the fitness industry to bring you the latest and greatest in experience, trend and tools.