For a backside like Kim Kardashian’s, you can become a gym devotee or hire a personal trainer to come to you. Of course, we’re always looking for short-cuts. But does the adage “too good to be true” still apply to the latest fitness fad?
Athletic shoe companies like Reebok, Skechers and MBT(Masai-based technology), have capitalized on our laziness and developed what they claim to be a more time-efficient way to get a stronger lower half and improve posture and circulation: toning shoes.
Similar to shoes podiatrists and orthopedists have long recommended to clients for arthritis, foot pronation and supination, and other foot ailments, toning shoes claim to support overall health from the feet on up. Ranging between $55 and $280, toning shoes are often made for both men and women at nearly any stage of physical fitness.
It is usually recommended to begin with a walking program, and then add running or cross-training once you become accustomed to the shoes. And when you're not working out, they’re sometimes even offered as sandals, Mary Jane's and snow boots. Their purpose is to give your daily life and/or your normal exercise routine an unstable surface to tread off of, thus engaging additional muscles that wouldn’t normally be activated with the average athletic shoe.
The sole technology often uses one or more basic formats: rocker, curved sole and/or collapsible heel. MBT shoes use all three technologies while the Reebok Easytone uses a separate air pod technology. MBT, Reebok and New Balance, among other companies, claim that because of the added instability, not only will your calves, thighs and back get stronger, but you’ll burn more calories wearing toning shoes versus the average athletic shoe.
Too good to be true? Toning shoes are fairly new to the mainstream fitness industry, so scientific and statistical data is limited. However, some shoe companies have commissioned their own studies.
In November 2009, Skechers commissioned an 8-week study on how Shape-Ups compared to average athletic shoes on weight loss, body composition, lower body strength and low back endurance. There was an average weight loss of 2.78 pounds, a decreased body composition of 1.31 percent, improved lower body strength by 114 percent, and improved low back endurance by 23 percent, according to their Web site. Participants in this study were told only to maintain their current walking program and daily activities; resulting percentages exceeded that of those who wore normal athletic shoes.
In looking at Skechers, MBT and Reebok toning shoes versus regular New Balance running shoe, they measured the body’s physical response (i.e. heart rate, calories burned, et cetera) and evaluated through electromyography how and which muscles were activated. Their result? Participants, whose ages ranged 19-27, had a spike in heart rate, calorie expenditure, oxygen intake and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) as the workload increased, but while wearing both the toning shoes and the New Balance running shoe. There was no overpowering benefit of wearing toning shoes over the New Balance running shoe.
Even so, toning shoes are making an impression on the average consumer in more ways than one.
Rachel Lynch, a Chicago senior business analyst, notes, “I have weak knees and exercising in the Shape-Ups doesn’t aggravate my knees at all. In fact, my knees actually feel better.”
Bucktown resident Jaime Frederick wore the MBT shoe five times a week to help prevent weight gain during her second pregnancy and gained 8 pounds less than what she gained in her first pregnancy.
On the flip side, Robin Farrell, a Chicago business consultant, observes, “When you first wear the MBT's, they are a bit hard to get use to.” In addition, Farrell says that she didn’t notice a change in her body and that the shoes were a little dangerous.
It will be some time until the full positive and potentially negative long-term effects of toning shoes will be known. Until then, the take-away seems to be to incorporate these shoes into your routine carefully and cautiously.