Toning shoes: A workout in a shoe or a waste of money?
Published Saturday, July 17, 2010 7:39AM EDT
"Make your bottom half your better half."
"Better legs and a better bum with every step."
With ad taglines like that, it's no wonder that "toning shoes" have become the trendiest footwear since Crocs.
But do the shoes with names like Easytones, ShapeUps and Rock and Tone really work? That probably depends on what you're looking for.
While the manufacturers suggest that simply walking around in the shoes for a few minutes a day can tighten up sagging tushies, Toronto-based sports medicine physician Dr. Grant Lum isn't convinced.
"The jury's out about whether there really is any benefit from these shoes," the founder of Athletic Edge Sports Medicine told CTV.ca. "For me, I'd give them the thumbs down."
According to the sporting goods market researchers at SportsOneSource, toning shoes represent the fastest-growing segment of the athletic footwear industry. It seems women everywhere are scooping up the arc-shaped, rocker-bottom shoes, wooed by promises they can "get in shape without setting foot in a gym."
The rounded-off soles of toning shoes force the foot and lower leg to "rock" forward with each step. As weight is transferred from heel to toe, the forces acting on joints are changed so small leg muscles have to kick in to control the instability. The shoes are purposely unstable, so it's not surprising users say they can feel their leg muscles aching after a few minutes in the shoes.
But Lum says while shoe manufacturers may brag that the shoes will help to increase strength and calorie-burning by such-and-such per cent, most of that research is weak. Moreover, most of the published studies that he could find looked only at muscle activation.
"But they didn't look at other outcomes, like strength or weight loss," he notes.
So while the shoes might indeed activate more muscles, that doesn't mean they will result in shapelier legs, toned glutes, or weight loss.
"I'm just not sure there are any lasting effects from these shoes," he said.
Toning shoes may not be safe
What concerns Lum more, though, is the safety of the shoes.
"It's funny: we've been telling women for years to avoid high heel shoes because they're unstable. And yet, here are athletic shoes being marketed as deliberately unstable," he notes.
He says wearing shoes that can throw off your balance can result in any number of injuries, from twisted ankles, to injuries from falls.
He also notes there are a number of people who should not wear these shoes -- primarily among them: those who are quite overweight. He says people who are carrying a lot of extra weight are already more prone to falls and balance issues.
Others like those with back troubles should stay away from these shoes, even with their promised of improved posture. Lum say while the shoes indeed force one to stand up straighter, for some people with back issues, standing up dead straight is the last thing they should do.
Others with knee or ankle problems or with a history of Achilles tendon injuries would also be wise to avoid the shoes.
Lum says people are always looking for easy, fast ways to get in shape. But he says if people really want to work their legs, save the $100 to $150 that toning shoes typically cost and lace up a regular pair of athletic shoes and walk up a hill.
"Or squats, step-ups, heel drops are all other good ways to work your legs," Lum says. "But as always, check with your health professional before starting any new exercise routine."