Toning shoes are all the rage these days as they represent the fastest-growing segment of the shoe industry. Promising to burn more calories, tone leg muscles, improve posture, and reduce joint stress, the question remains if this fad is worth the hype. Retailers of toning shoes stand by the scientific research backing the claims of their shoes and these studies are corroborated by the hundreds of consumer testimonials touting the benefits of toning shoes.
Now strengthening the "these shoes are bogus" side of the argument, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently released two studies comparing the benefits of toning shoes from three brands- Skechers, Reebok and MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) with ordinary running shoes. This research concludes there is "simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone." ACE also calls into question the research used to substantiate claims made by the shoe companies, challenging whether or not these studies are published in peer-reviewed journals-the scientific benchmark of a good study versus a less trusted one.
The shoes themselves are said to alter the wearer's normal walking gait through uniquely shaped (read_ not fashionable) soles and extra cushioning. This design is thought to strengthen stability muscles in the ankle and lower leg as users work harder to achieve balance. Research published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association in 2007 explains these negative-heeled shoes were designed to mimic uphill walking to exercise the muscles of the mid-section and legs. While in normal sports shoes the heel is about 1.5 centimeters higher than the toe, in negative-heeled shoes (toning shoes) it is the opposite. This tilts the foot into a subtle flexed position at the ankle.
So what's the bottom line? It seems research remains inconclusive as it often does, but here are things you should consider:
- Will purchasing a fancy new pair of shoes motivate you to walk more? Perhaps the toning shoes do have a placebo effect, but if it means you'll exercise more then I say embrace it!
- Do you have problems with your ankles, knees, or lower back? If so, then talk to your doctor. These shoes may not be recommended for you.
- How will you wear these shoes? As your sole pair (pun intended) of athletic shoes or cleaning around the house? The safety and efficacy of these shoes may be very different depending on how you intend to use them.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.