Toning shoes are the latest trend (craze – fad?) in fitness footwear. They promise wearers a lower body workout without visiting a gym. There are a variety of these shoes on offer from a range of different manufacturers – but the common theme is the use of a specially designed sole which makes the lower body muscles work a little harder when walking.
This is achieved by introducing a small element of instability whilst walking. The muscles in the lower body naturally try to regain balance and this causes them to do extra work, which in turn tones up your legs and trims your buttocks.
Different brands introduce this instability in different ways. Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) Shoes use a curved sole with no heel. This is intended to replicate the mechanics of walking barefoot on soft sand. It promotes a gentle rolling motion when your foot comes into contact with the ground which reduces impact shock.
In fact, MBTs weren’t originally intended as “toning shoes” at all. They were the brainchild of Swiss engineer Karl Muller who was walking barefoot across a rice field in Korea when he noticed that his back pain was a lot better than normal. He did some research and found that Masai tribesmen were famed for their good posture and had a very low incidence of lower back pain.
He concluded that walking barefoot on soft ground was both more natural and better for your back and joints. MBTs were designed to mimic barefoot walking to help back pain sufferers – the toning element was a later discovery.
Skechers Shape Ups also use a thick curved sole to achieve the barefoot walking sensation.
Fitflops started life in the UK when ex-personal fitness trainer Marcia Kilgore found that she didn’t have enough time to visit the gym. She worked with London South Bank University (LSBU) to develop a range of exercise sandals – which later expanded to include slippers, clogs and boots – which would create instability using special “microwobbleboard” technology.
Of the various toning shoes on the market, Fitflops look least like fitness footwear. It makes sense in a way. After all, the whole idea of these shoes seems to be that you get “a workout while you walk” (Fitflops) and that you can “get in shape without setting foot in the gym” (Skechers) – so why would you want to look as if you were just about to run a half marathon?
The majority of sales will come from women who, perhaps like Marcia Kilgore, struggle to find the time to exercise. They will want to wear their toning shoes as they go about their daily business – and they will want something that is colorful and trendy.
Reebok Easy Tones are a fairly recent entrant to the toning shoes market. They vary slightly from many of the other toning shoes insofar as they use special air pods built into the sole of the shoe to introduce the instability. Obviously Reebok have a strong association with fitness footwear, so it’s perfectly natural that the Easy Tones range look very much like high tech exercise shoes.
Do They Work?
All of the above manufacturers have detailed independent clinical trial results which back up their claims. There are also reams of testimonials from satisfied customers – both on the various company websites and in other, more independent, locations.
It goes without saying that there are many who doubt the long term benefits of these shoes. Some health advisers and doctors have queried whether the promised results will be achieved or not.
However, there is no indication that wearing such toning shoes will cause any harm – in fact Fitflops have received a seal of approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association. Whilst this is, of course, a very positive thing, it should not be interpreted as “proof” that Fitflops do everything they say. It is confirmation that Fitflops are good for your feet (very much better than normal flip flop sandals for example) – it does not imply that they will tone your legs or give you a cute derrière (they might do that – but that’s not what the APMA are saying).
Whether toning shoes work or not is a debate that will probably continue for some time. At the end of the day, if these shoes do nothing more than encourage wearers to walk further and more often than they normally would then that’s a very positive thing in its own right.
The You Tube video below is from Skechers Shape Ups – so it is partial. Nevertheless, it’s a fairly good summary of what benefits you might be able to derive from wearing Skechers in particular and toning shoes in general.