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While the thought of “aerobics class” may bring to mind jazzercise routines, the term now encompasses a wide range of class styles. You’ll find tons of aerobics exercises for people of all fitness levels through at-home workouts provided by the Peloton and Apple Fitness apps, or the interactive home gym product Mirror. Studio classes using minimal equipment, like Zumba and kickboxing without a bag, have also become popular in recent years.
What is aerobics exercise, really? The American College of Sports Medicine defines it as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature,” according to a study published in the World Journal of Cardiology. The term aerobic translates to “with oxygen,” meaning your breathing controls the amount of oxygen that your muscles can use as fuel. (Conversely, anaerobic exercise is defined “as intense physical activity of very short duration, fueled by the energy sources within the contracting muscles and independent of the use of inhaled oxygen as an energy source.”)
Activities like dance cardio or kickboxing typically fall into the category of high-impact aerobics exercises, while swimming, cycling and walking are aerobics exercises that tend to have a lower impact on the body. No matter which style you choose, each can offer important health benefits such as helping to improve your cardiovascular conditioning, as well as lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
Of course, getting the most out of your aerobics workout comes down to wearing the right gear — especially when it comes to footwear.
“You can’t maximize your workout in shoes that don’t flex when you need flex, don’t cushion you enough to keep you motivated to finish the workout, slide when you need grip or inhibit turning when you want to pivot,” said Jean Bonkowski, designer at Ryka, a California-based brand that specializes in aerobic and other athletic shoes for women. “You need the security and confidence to max out your moves that each class requires.”
As a general rule of thumb, Bonkowski suggests looking for styles with ample cushioning, ventilation and flexibility for enhanced movement. Other specific shoe features can help boost your aerobics workout, based on the type of class you choose.
Ahead, she shares her expert tips on how to select the proper shoe for all kinds of aerobics classes — from dance cardio to water Zumba. We also included a range of great styles to shop, based on her advice.
Shoes for Dance Cardio
Dance cardio often focuses on movements like pivots, lateral movements, steps and jumps. Given all the footwork you’ll be doing, Bonkowski suggests choosing a shoe with shock absorption, low-profile soles for enhanced floor feel and pivot points (or a circular patch of rubber on sole) to promote smooth turns.
Ryka Influence Training Shoe
Bonkowski specifically recommends this style from Ryka, which includes low-profile soles, balanced cushioning, flexibility in the forefoot and pivot points underfoot.
Nike Sideline IV
Although this leather and mesh style is technically designed for cheerleading, its low-profile outsole, cushioned midsole and internal flex grooves make it a great option for nailing moves during Zumba or dance cardio class. (Even reviewers agree with this sentiment.)
Asics Women’s Gel-Fit Sana 3 Cross-Trainer Shoe
Built with the brand’s rearfoot Gel technology, this Asics cross-trainer helps absorb shock where you need it most and allows for smooth transitions.
Shoes for Cardio Kickboxing
With this high-impact style of aerobics exercise, you’ll want to opt for shoes with low-to medium-profile soles for floor feel, enhanced cushioning and tightening ability across the top of the instep to account for kicks, punches and strength movements.
Nike MC Trainer
Reebok Nano X1 Women’s Training Shoes
For a supremely flexible fit, look no further than Reebok’s Nano X1. It features a breathable knit upper and Floatride Energy Foam cushioning in the forefoot for lightweight responsiveness. While it doesn’t have a tightening system up top, it does include a heel clip that helps keep feet locked in. Plus, integrated support is designed to enhance multidirectional movement during quick position changes.
Puma Rose Plus Untamed Sneakers
Equally functional and stylish, this trendy cross-trainer boasts touches of snakeskin print throughout as well as a cushioned midsole and a thick elastic strap at the vamp for security. Its sleek neoprene-like upper is also made to feel like a second-skin.
Shoes for Cycling
If you’re someone who takes the occasional class and wants something more versatile than a clip-in, Bonkowski suggests choosing a clipless style for your next cycling session. These allow you to comfortably walk when you’re not on the bike, plus can often be used for a range of other workouts, too. “When choosing this type of footwear, it’s important to find a shoe that’s breathable and comfortable, has a sleek and fitted design with minimal closures and proper arch support for hip/knee/foot alignment,” she said.
Tiem Slipstream Cycling Sneaker
Perfect for taking you from spin class to coffee meetups, this sleek cycling shoe includes a breathable mesh upper, hook-and-loop strap design for easy adjustments and EVA footbed with arch support for comfort both on and off your bike. A sturdy rubber sole also offers walking stability and is compatible with SPD cleats.
Shimano CT500W Cycling Shoe
Not only does this inconspicuous cycling feature an inner shank that helps transfer power to the pedals, but it also includes a shock-absorbing EVA midsole for comfort while waking. It’s compatible with SPD cleats and Shimano CLICK’R pedal systems.
Giro Petra VR Cycling Shoe
With this more traditional look from Giro, you also get the support of an EVA midsole, plus a molded shank that’s designed to offer stiffness without sacrificing walkability. To top it all off, a mesh and synthetic upper create breathability and structure, while the special lace-up closure system is made to offer a snug fit and minimize pressure points so you can focus more on your ride.
Shoes for Water Zumba
It may not be your first instinct to wear shoes for water Zumba class, however Bonkowski notes that sporting water-friendly footwear can help protect feet from rough pool floors. Look for styles that allow liquid to flow freely away from the shoe and offer cushioning and quick-drying materials.
Ryka Hydro Sport
Also from Ryka, the Hydro Sport includes drainage ports that enable water to flow through the shoe, as well as cushioning and rubber soles with grip and texture. As an added bonus, the fast-drying fabrics are designed to stand up to chlorine, so the colors shouldn’t fade easily.
Zhuanglin Aqua Water Shoes
Customers can’t seem to get enough of this style on Amazon, which has over 10,000 four and five star ratings. The sneaker-like design boasts a mesh upper, perforated outsole and quick-drying liner for enhanced comfort.
Aleader Mesh Water Shoes
Another top-rated water shoe on Amazon, this slip-on version also boasts a breathable mesh upper and ComforDry sockliner for a plush feel underfoot and drier foot environment. The Water Grain outsole allows water to move away from the shoe and provides traction.