Dear Fun and Fit: Hey, guys, what do you know about shoes for aerobics and Zumba? A lot of people are wearing really lightweight, even Mary Jane-kinds of shoes. Is that enough support?

My friend, Jan, was wearing the new flexible shoes and she got a tendon problem, and the doctor said wear higher-topped shoes.

— Debbie in Goleta


Alexandra: Well, Debbie, you have hit (or kicked) upon a topic that is getting lots of attention lately, mostly because of the five-finger shoes! (And I don’t get why they’re called five “fingers” when they go on your toes. Unless they think calling them “five-toe shoes” makes us comparable to sloths.)

When I first started teaching aerobics, we all wore running shoes (and leg warmers) because that’s all there was. And we all got shinsplints (and bad ‘80s hair). So naturally we blamed them on the running shoes, never realizing that the concrete floors might have been part of the problem.

Now, after many years espousing cardio shoes for cardio, and cross-trainers for cross training, biomechanists and podiatrists are saying it’s more important to match the shoes to your foot style than to the exercise. Some of them also say that our feet have gotten lazy from shoes that do too much for us! Better our feet should be happy.

Do these make my toes look fat?

Do these make my toes look fat? (Creative Commons photo)

Kymberly: The current thought is that most exercise shoes are over-engineered and that people are relying too much on the shoe and not allowing their feet and sensory receptors to do what they are designed to do. Sometimes injuries come when we finally ask our feet to do their own work. If the movement patterns or biomechanics are off, a different, better, worse or no shoe can throw the body into pain.

Personally, I’d look first at Jan’s movement patterns and see if her biomechanics are exacerbating the tendon problem. Then I’d get the footwear and nagging in place to address that.

And, I still suggest a workout shoe for workouts, though with as few bells and whistles as possible. Alexandra wrote an extensive article about choosing the right (or no) shoe, which you’ll find helpful (if you like research and all that).

A: When Jan is all healed up and ready once again to kick it up a notch, have her read this 10-step program for suggestions about easing into her new lightweight shoes. Get it? Ten steps? That’s just how we roll! Or run. OK, walk slowly. More like a mosey or meander really.

Dear Readers: What has been your experience with lightweight, flexible or “barefoot” shoes? And do you have an urge to put on some toe socks?

— Identical twins and fitness pros Kymberly Williams-Evans and Alexandra Williams have been in the fitness industry since the first aerobics studio opened on the European continent. They teach, write, edit, emcee and present their programs worldwide on land, sea and airwaves. They co-write Fun and Fit: Q and A with K and A. You can currently find them in action leading classes in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Kymberly is the former faculty minor adviser at UCSB for its fitness instruction degree offered through the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies; Alexandra serves as an instructor and master teacher for the program. Fun and Fit answers real questions from real people, so please send your comments and questions to info@funandfit.org.