Do Toning Shoes Work?

by Marisa Amorasak

Electronic ab belts, 24-hour Hollywood diet, slimming body wraps, and the cookie diet. There’s no doubt that Americans go crazy over quick fixes to their weight loss problems. The recent toning shoe fad is evidence, as mall moms clamor over designs like Sketchers Shape-Ups, Reebok EasyTones, and MBTs. These brands make big claims regarding their footwear, promising a more toned lower body just by walking around. Signature Forum set out to break down the logistics of toning shoes to find out whether they really work, or if they’re just another weight loss gimmick.

Curved Soles Create Imbalance

The specifications of toning shoes, or fitness shoes, vary across brands. But the basics are always the same: it’s essentially a walking shoe with a curved sole. Such shoes were originally designed for people with diabetes, joint problems, or ankle issues because it can take the pressure off of the muscles and joints traditionally used when walking or standing. The curved sole also promotes instability—it’s hard to balance on a sloped surface. In theory, when Kim Kardashian sports her Shape-Ups for the latest Sketchers commercial, she’s being forced to utilize new muscles in her legs and thighs in order to stay balanced.

There are plenty of critics of the toning shoe industry. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that these shoes don’t provide any fitness benefits, and that the makers of the shoes should stop short-changing their customers.

"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 release. "Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim."

Study Concludes That Toning Shoes are Ineffective

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse put the toning shoes to the test. They used 12 physically active women between the ages of 19 and 24 to complete a series of 5-minute intervals on a treadmill. The women alternated between Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT, Reebok's EasyTone Reeinspire shoes, or traditional New Balance running shoes while researchers gauged how hard they were working. Another set of women aged 21 to 27 performed the tests while researchers measured the usage of their calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back, and abs.

The researchers found that there was no significant difference between the toning shoes and regular running shoes. But what about that soreness that some people feel after walking around in their new Shape-Ups for a day? Dr. Bryant says that is indeed the feeling of new muscles going to work. Unfortunately, these muscles will quickly adapt to the shoe and there won’t be any real workout to be had. At the very best, Dr. Bryant says that the shoes simply encourage people to lose weight and get fit.

Toning Shoe Creators Speak Out

Of course Dr. Bryant knocks the potentially fat-busting shoes—because it may keep people from pursuing traditional workout routes. That’s what Leonardo Armato, president of Sketcher’s fitness division, thinks. "I have not a doubt that the Shape-Up technology requires you to make a little more effort with each step, burn more calories, and activate more muscles," he says.

Bill McInnis, the head of advanced innovation for Reebok, is responsible for the technology used in Reebok’s EasyTone line. “We looked at stability balls from the gym and incorporated that same thinking into a shoe," he says. "The idea was that introducing soft, micro-instability in the shoe would cause you to have to rebalance a bit with every single step and cause your muscles to work a little harder all day long," he says.

Both Arnato and McInnis say that the ACE study has little ground to stand on—pun intended—and is moreso a dig at toning shoes than accurate medical research. Toning shoes are less likely to show a short-term difference on women that are already in good shape.

Effective Forms of Toning and Weight Loss

The healthiest way to get in shape is through hard work: a dedicated fitness plan and a nutritious diet. If you’re looking to jump-start your weight loss, you may be interested in a tummy tuck, liposuction, or other weight loss procedure. Contact our representatives now to book a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area.

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