Fad - a thing that becomes very popular in a short amount of time, and then is forgotten at about the same speed. (Urban Dictionary.com)
According to this definition, toning shoes should be disappearing off retail shelves any time in the next 10 seconds. I realize I'm coming into this topic a little late in the game, but with no end in sight to production or gimmicks, I'm throwing in my two cents.
The American Council on Exercise partnered with the University of WI, La Crosse, to assess shoe-maker claims of increased caloric burn and improved muscle tone. The study compared the effect of shoe type on various physiological and muscle responsiveness to treadmill walking. Researchers increased the speed and incline 3 times during each treadmill trial. Four shoe types were used by each participant: Running Shoes, Skechers toning shoe, MBT and EasyTone. There were absolutely no differences in Heart Rate, caloric burn, intensity (VO2) or Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE – the participants rating of how hard they felt they were working at each speed and incline). The usage of specific muscles in the leg (expressed as a percent of maximum contraction force) recruited during normal walking did not differ either.
So much for claims of burning more calories and improving muscle tone (presumably by forcing muscles to work harder) relative to ‘normal’ shoes. Shocker. I completely agree with the one of the quotes published in the article that testers likely feel the shoes are different because of the ridiculously (my word) thick padding on the sole. Guess what? Tape a one-inch thick piece of soft rubber on the bottom of your shoes and then go walk for a mile. Feel different? You bet. Will you get in better shape walking in these relative to “normal” shoes? No. At 14-17 oz per shoe and a cost ranging between $100 - $265, get ready to add about 33% more weight to each foot and double your workout shoe budget.
The next question that comes up for me is that of the shoes as a source of injury or exposing weak spots in your gait. Let’s face it. Even if science shows us evidence a product does not live up to the manufacturers claim, if that claim gets a couch potato to walk 15 minutes a day for a few days a week and that leads to more walking and less ‘couching’…. Hooray!!! This is similar to my views on “fat burning” pills…. Let’s say I gave you a pill and told you to take 1 every day, along with sticking to a low-fat, low calorie diet and exercise to a sweat for 30 minutes 5 days a week. Raise your hand if you think the pill would have anything to do with weight loss at the end of a trial period. This stuff makes me CRAZY!!!
So if the primary muscles engaged while walking aren’t responding to the toning shoe differently, but you like them and want to wear them, are they safe to wear as an every-day or workout shoe? I did some web-surfing to look for potential relationships between the use of toning shoes and injuries. One of the most well-rounded articles I read quoted a physician confirming shoe-maker claims that most of these types of shoes are intended to cause instability (a point disputed by ACE), however, in her opinion, they are safe for those who do not have a gait/balance problem or an existing injury. Word to the wise - they also stretch your Achilles tendon through a wider range of motion than regular tennis shoes. Sounds like unnecessary stress, strain and some serious fatigue to me! I have to wonder how this large and important tendon would react to being stretched all day followed by some hard mile repeats or strides that same night or the next day. *SNAP* comes to mind (followed by months of physical therapy for a ruptured Achilles tendon). The physician’s recommendation is to start out by wearing these shoes for only 15 minutes at a time; “Eventually, you may be able to wear them as you would a regular pair of tennis shoes”. No thanks. I’ve got enough to think about from an injury prevention perspective. Why would I want to introduce another variable into that equation? As with almost any product or service that claims to provide some added benefit or advantage, several lawsuits have been filed for false advertising and causing injuries.
Fellow blogger Danica, at Chicrunner, did a great (and fair) review of the effect of a New Balance brand toning shoe during the month of November 2010. She wore the shoes for 23 out of 30 days, wearing them every time she went to the gym, walked and did household activities. After a month of detailed note and picture-taking, and measurement-tracking, she found no change in her lower extremities what-so-ever. Granted, Danica is in excellent physical condition, but a promise from the shoe companies to increase caloric burn and improve muscle tone surely applies to fit individuals too, doesn't it? I guess the good news is that she didn't feel sore or get injured after wearing them.
Thankfully, these shoes are not marketed as running shoes. In fact, the MBT website specifically states that this shoe type is not to be worn while running. That's about all I'll say about that link. My back and ankles hurt just looking at the page. UGH. ".....even just standing in MBTs can make you a better runner." Riiiiiiiight.
I've got a better idea - RUN to be a better runner.