Adeena Babbitt, a 33-year old public relations executive, sports her FitFlops day in and day out. An avid walker like most Manhattanites, she is hoping that these new shoes -- the very ones that TV host Oprah Winfrey gave a "thumbs up" to on a recent show -- will tone her butt and legs as she carries on business as usual.
Developed by a personal trainer with input from a biomechanical engineer, FitFlops have a thick midsole, which encourages wearers like Babbitt to use feet and leg muscles more efficiently while walking. Research conducted by the manufacturer has shown that this thick midsole works the gluteals, hamstrings, thighs, and calf muscles more.
They are not cheap. FitFlops cost close to $50, much more than standard flip-flops.
But are they worth it? It all depends on who you ask.
"They are really comfortable, so I definitely walk more, but I am not sure I am seeing any discernable results in my thighs, butt, or calf," says Babbitt, who started wearing FitFlop shoes about a month ago. She's still optimistic that she will start seeing a change in her physique. "I love them and everywhere I go people ask about them."
FitFlops: Shoes Made for Walking?
One thing is clear: FitFlops, which come in a host of colors and are available at many retailers such as Macy’s and Lady Footlocker, are flying off store shelves.
In addition to sandals, the company also makes a clog and an ankle-length shearling-lined boot.
FitFlops are "the multitasking ideal," says Katie Neiman, a spokeswoman and research coordinator for FitFlop Ltd. in London. "They give people the opportunity to add exercise into their increasingly hectic schedule."
The company also reports receiving letters and testimonials from individuals who experienced relief from back pain, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, heel spurs, and more when they started walking in FitFlops.
But even she admits they are no magic bullet. "You will tone -- provided you walk and don't just stand around," she says. "We strongly advise combining FitFlops with a healthy diet and a more active lifestyle."
FitFlops: What the Experts Say
While FitFlops certainly have their fans, not everyone is sold on their perks.
"The intentions are good, but these shoes are not all they are cracked up to be," says Fabio Comana, MA, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.
"It has a nice thick shock-absorbing heel that tends to prevent overpronating, which in theory is a good thing," he says. In people who overpronate, the foot continues to roll in when it should be pushing off, twisting the foot, shin, and knee -- and causing pain.
But, he says, "I would rather take someone who is overpronating and train or teach them how to position their foot or recommend orthotics," he says. "FitFlops are a temporary solution. What happens when you take them off?"
Comana's bottom line? "FitFlops are a comfortable shoe to stand or walk in, so go ahead and use them," he says. "If you feel that when you stand in the shoe, the glutes and calf muscles are firing more, wear the shoe but don't overuse them."
Cary M. Golub, DPM, a podiatrist in private practice in Long Beach, N.Y., thinks FitFlop shoes have their proper place in certain people's shoe collections. But "they are not meant for everybody, especially the person with flat feet," says Golub. "For these people, it's like sticking a rock in the arch, which pushes the arch up, creating calf pain," he says, adding that he has seen several patients reporting such complaints.
For people who can wear FitFlops, "I recommend breaking them in by wearing them for an hour a day and increasing it by an hour each day," he says.