Toning shoes are a relatively modern invention. They are essentially athletic shoes with rounded soles designed to change a person’s walking gait. Big name athletic shoe companies such as Reebok, MBT, and Sketchers claim a range of benefits from their toning shoes, including firming your legs and butt through increased muscle activity, easing joint pain, and relieving knee and back problems.
The question, however, is do these shoes live up to their claims?
Forcing your muscles to work
“Rocker” style shoes were initially marketed towards people with ankle problems or circulation issues due to diabetes. However, athletic shoe manufacturers quickly saw the benefits of rebranding the shoes and having them appeal to a broader market.
Although each manufacturer has a proprietary design, all toning shoes have a curved sole, forcing wearers to spend extra energy maintaining balance and equilibrium. Advocates claim that this instability forces you to use muscles in your feet, abs, legs, and butt in a way that ordinary running shoes do not, leading to firmer muscles and extra calories burned.
Several of the big name manufacturers cite in-house studies as a back up to these claims.
What the studies found
Until a few years ago, there was a lack of independent research on the value of toning shoes. This changed when the American Council on Exercise (ACE) funded two controlled studies in the University of Wisconsin. In one study, researchers had volunteers perform treadmill exercises in both regular and toning shoes, and recorded the muscle activity and maximum muscle contraction for each type of exercise. The other study looked at the participants’ heart rate, caloric expenditure, and oxygen consumption to determine if toning shoes made a difference to exercise intensity.
The conclusion of these two studies was that toning shoes don’t really live up to their claims. The curvature of the soles and extra cushioning did change the walking mechanics for the participants, in some cases making their muscles feel more sore than usual. None of the toning shoes that were tested showed results of any statistically significant increase of muscle response during the treadmill exercise.
The toning shoes also had little or no effect on how hard the study participants were exercising. Measurements of oxygen consumption and calorie usage found no statistically significant difference between toning shoes and regular running shoes.
ACE’s research shows that the claims made by toning shoe companies are largely unsubstantiated. The shoes will not burn extra calories or help you tone your butt faster, as Dr. John Porcari of the Wisconsin research team pointed out. While Dr. Porcari does believe that toning shoes may help improve a wearer’s balance if worn long term, there is also concern that this may force changes to a person’s walking gait and lead to other problems. Long term studies are needed to address these questions.
Shoe companies reacted to the ACE study by pointing out that the sample size of 12 participants was too small and that the study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, meaning it avoided additional scrutiny. Bill McInnis, head of Reebok’s advanced innovation division, claimed that the study makes “bold statements” without backing them up.
In the meantime, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has collected complaints of foot, hip, and leg pain from wearers of toning shoes. The Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint with Reebok to the tune of $25 million, on account of the fact that Reebok made unsupported claims about the muscle benefits of its toning shoe line.
While toning shoes may seem like a good idea that offers an easy fitness solution, be wary of investing in them. As Dr. Cedric Bryant of ACE notes, if toning shoes serve as a motivator to get people moving more and walking further, this is a good thing. However, he warns consumers not to be fooled. You can get the same benefits by tightly lacing up the shoes you already own.
Tanner Basol is a motivator, doer and aspiring futurist revolutionizing the health and fitness industry. He is the Founding Director of Activate Bootcamps which has the fastest growing reputation for creating rapid, lasting results. Activate Bootcamps employs advanced software to track progress and constant support from expert trainers to help clients achieve goals.