The Truth About Toning Shoes

Every athlete knows what an important difference the right shoes can make in their performance.  But can certain shoes get you in shape just by wearing them?  That's the claim manufacturers of toning shoes like Skecher's Shape-ups®, Reeboks' Easy Tones®, and MBT® (Masai Barefoot Technology) are making.  But is the claim true?  We've separated fact from fiction about the latest trend in footwear.

What are toning shoes?  Toning shoes are athletic shoes that have a rounded sole or extra cushioning to create an unstable walking surface that alters the wearer's normal walking gait.  This instability is what manufacturers claim is the key to their success.

The ads say that compared to regular athletic footwear, toning shoes will help wearers to increase muscle activity and energy consumption, burn more calories, solve knee and back problems, relieve tension in the neck, ease joint pains, tone, shape and firm buttocks and thighs. These benefits are supposed to be gained even when wearer's aren't working out.  Simply wearing them while standing is supposed to do the trick. Manufacturers say their claims are backed by clinical studies.  They don't mention however, that these "clinical studies" were designed and conducted by their own companies and were not peer-reviewed, which means they could prove any claims they wanted. 

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) suspected these shoes were too good to be true so they conducted their own studies. ACE researchers had 12 physically active women walk for five minutes on a treadmill a dozen times wearing regular athletic shoes and three popular brands of toning shoes.  They randomized the shoe order and tested each subject's oxygen consumption, heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion and caloric expenditure.  Then they recruited another group of 12 physically active women and performed a similar battery of treadmill tests using the same four brands of shoes.  This time they used electromyography to record muscle activity in the women's calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abs.

What were their results?  The ACE researchers found no significant difference between exercise response or muscle activation and no evidence to support the claims that toning shoes help people who wear them exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.

But what about all those happy customers who swear they "feel the burn" when they wear toning shoes?  There's no doubt that toning shoes feel different than regular athletic shoes.  The extra padding and unstable walking surface do require wearers to use muscles they might not ordinarily use in order to maintain their balance.  This may cause muscle soreness until the muscles become accustomed to this new activity.  

ACE experts say toning shoes are just a gimmick, but they could be beneficial if they encourage sedentary people to start walking.  It's important to note however, it's the walking, not the shoe that leads to fitness.



American Council on Exercise

Will Toning Shoes Really Give You A Better Body?

By Mark Anders