The Truth About Toning Shoes
Do these shoes help you shape up? Health and fitness experts size up toning shoes.
Larry Zonis, DPM
Can a pair of shoes help you burn more calories, tone your butt, banish cottage cheese thighs, and curb joint pain?
The answer depends largely on who you ask.
Rocker sole shoes started as more of a specialty shoe for people with diabetes or ankle problems, but they are increasingly marketed as toning shoes, and many shoe companies are now in on the game. There are some technical and design differences between shoe brands, but the basic principles remain the same.
These shoes have an unstable, strongly curved sole. Walking in them is akin to exercising on a balance or wobble board in the gym or barefoot along a sandy beach. Advocates say that this instability forces you to use muscles that you otherwise would not -- namely those in your feet, legs, butt, and abs -- which could lead to weight loss. The shoes can also change your posture and gait and take pressure off of achy, overused joints.
But don't stop paying your gym dues just yet.
A new study, released by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), shows that toning shoes including Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology), and Reebok EasyTone don't help you exercise more intensely, burn more calories, or improve your muscle strength and tone.
"Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realize people are always looking for," ACE chief science officer Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, says in a written release. "Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim."
In the new study performed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 12 active women aged 19-24 completed a dozen five-minute intervals on a treadmill while wearing Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT, Reebok's EasyTone Reeinspire shoes, or traditional New Balance running shoes as researchers monitored how hard they worked -- technically called exercise response. A second group of 12 women aged 21-27 performed a similar battery of five-minute treadmill tests in the various shoes while researchers measured muscle usage in their calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back, and abs.
The results? There was no significant difference in calories burned or muscle usage between the four types of shoes, the researchers reported.
Many people do feel that these shoes work because of soreness in different muscles. Don't be fooled, Bryant says. The shoe's unstable sole design does cause wearers to use slightly different muscles to maintain balance, resulting in temporary soreness that will subside as the body adjusts to the shoe, he says.
That said, "If these shoes are serving as a motivator for individuals to walk or get moving more often, that is a good thing, even if they don't produce the dramatic toning and calorie-burning results people think they are getting," Bryant says.
Additional studies looking at how toning shoes affect balance over time are under way, he says.