Toning shoes are a fairly recent innovation in the footwear world and they seem to be one of those products that you either love or hate. The general theory is that – by the use of a specially designed sole – they encourage the muscles in your lower body to do a little more work than normal when you walk around whilst wearing them.
There are a variety of different designs, but the common theme seems to be that they introduce a small amount of imbalance when you’re walking. The muscles in your legs and butt try to re-establish the body’s balance, and they do a little bit of extra work in the process.
Curved soles – like Skechers Shape Ups and MBT shoes are supposed to mimic the sensation of walking on soft sand. Reebok use air pods in their Easy Tones range. The Easy Tones sole is supposed to work a bit like a balance ball – it was designed by an ex-NASA scientist believe it or not. FitFlop shoes are somewhere in between. They are curved, but not quite as thick and chunky as the Skechers/MBT type of shoe. FitFlops use something called “microwobbleboard” technology – again, the theory is that a small element of imbalance is introduced.
A further design variation is the use of a “negative heel”. This just means that the heel of your foot is actually lower than the toe. The idea behind this is to lengthen your calf muscle and change your posture and gait a little.
Many of the footwear manufacturers have commissioned tests at medical institutes and universities to prove the theory behind their “magic shoes”. These have generally borne out the claims of the manufacturers – however, the fact that these studies were funded by the toning shoe makers is enough to raise doubts about the independent nature of the tests.
The American Council for Exercise (ACE) conducted tests of its own which, in their opinion at least, seemed to show that toning shows were not effective. However, even the validity of those tests was queried by many due to a very small sample size and the age range of the participants.
So, the scientific evidence is unclear and likely to remain so. However, the fact that there is a huge demand for toning shoes is indisputable. Sales have rocketed from just $ 17 million in 2008 to $ 252 million for the first four months of 2010. Sales figures for the whole of 2010 are yet to be finalised – but a figure in excess of $ 1 billion is predicted for the full year.
Skechers and Reebok are the main beneficiaries. They have both increased their market share – largely at the expense of market leader Nike, who has steadfastly refused to enter the toning shoes market. The market is now maturing somewhat and there are a number of copycat shoes being offered, which will probably result in a general reduction in prices during 2011.
That should be good news for consumers. Customer feedback is, in general, extremely positive. Attempting to separate a woman from her Shape Ups or FitFlops could well turn out to be a life threatening decision. That may well be what Nike, ACE and a variety of scientists are overlooking.
There’s not a lot of point in trying to be too scientific about shoes – especially in the women’s sector. Everybody knows that high heels are dangerous. Apart from the fact that they can lead to falls, twists and sprains, they promote a posture which is far from good for the body. But women everywhere still want their “killer heels”.
Toning shoes must, for many busy modern women, seem like the answer to their prayers. Workout while you walk – get in shape without setting foot in the gym – better legs and a better butt with every step. Just a selection of a few advertising slogans – and you can see why they might be appealing.
If they do what they claim then that is fantastic. If not, then you still have a nice looking new pair of shoes. What have you got to lose? And – on a more practical level – if toning shoes encourage people to walk a little further and more often than normal, then that’s a very positive thing in itself.