I’m sure you’ve seen them on the market and in stores… ‘toning shoes’ – those bizarrely shaped sneakers that promise to help tone your leg muscles, improve circulation and posture, burn extra calories, and who knows what else!
Sketchers, Reebok and New Balance all have their own versions of the shoe and sales have skyrocketed over the past year, forecast to hit 1.5 billion this year – a 400% increase on 2009 sales. But now the tide appears to be turning.
Recently Eric Spunk, Nike’s Vice President of Global Marketing finished up a speech to investors by poking fun at the $250 million ‘shape shoe’ (Nike doesn’t make such shoes) and the outlandish claims put forward for the footwear. And now a recent study has reached a similar conclusion – basically reporting that ‘toning shoes’ don’t work.
Toning shoes are based on the premise that wearing them engages more muscles than walking with ordinary shoes. They supposedly make you feel like you are on unstable terrain in an attempt to try and mimic what trainers have done for years in sessions with athletes and clients, which is to enhance stability and balance through the use of challenging exercises that demand high levels of coordination. It increases neural efficiency or your brains ability to focus.
It sounds fancy but it’s really a basic concept, the theory being that if you can maintain stability in an unstable environment (like sand, or on a swiss ball), then once returned to solid ground with less tasks for your brain to concentrate on, your ability to focus and multi task is much stronger. I train clients using a variety of different tools to challenge balance and stability, including BOSU Balls, stability mats, or even exercising with eyes closed to increase the need for concentration – so I understand the basic science.
But here’s the problem: unstable training doesn’t train the muscles individually, but teaches them to work in concert with each other to accomplish a task. Each respective manufacturer cites studies showing the percentage increases of certain leg muscles and claiming that the shoes activate more muscle fibers. While walking in a pair of toning shoes may be slightly challenging, in my opinion it’s nowhere near sufficient enough to warrant any type of physical muscular response, and is certainly not going to bring about any significant change in body composition. Even if the numbers are accurate it doesn’t mean you will see any of the benefits claimed as there’s no proven correlation between better balance and stability and losing weight. Plus your body will adapt extremely quickly to any new challenge, negating any long-term benefits.
Numerous users of toning shoes have complained of injuries, either from rolling their ankles, suffering back or joint pain, or claiming that their feet hurt. I have a set of Chango Paws, which are half tennis ball shaped rubber inserts that I strap under my forefoot and use in my own balance training. I certainly would not be walking around in them all day, and in my opinion it’s unsafe to wear any shoe that challenges stability all day long. Even podiatrists are questioning the validity of these shoes and contemplating if they are good for your feet. I had a person tell me that their legs hurt for days after wearing a pair of these shoes.
I believe some people DO get results from the shoes due to what I call subconscious fitness. Wearing these shoes may motivate some people to get moving, start walking or exercising regularly, or just increase overall awareness of their health and fitness. In that case, results will be noticed, but not because of wearing the shoes, but what is done while you have them on. So in that respect, if wearing these shoes provides direction and a reason to exercise than that’s great. But don’t believe for a second that they are going to change your body – you have to do that! And for what they cost, I would suggest wearing a great cross training sneaker instead, as you’ll get more varied use out of them.
If only it were as easy as putting on a pair of shoes to get in shape. For the millionth time- there is no substitute for a sound exercise and nutrition program, no shoes, no belts, no body suits, nothing!
But what do you think? Have you tried toning shoes – and did you achieve any results? I’d love to hear your stories…