New Research Indicates That Claims About Toning Shoes May Not Toe the Fitness Line

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  •       I’ve been pretty religious about walking my dogs in the morning. And I’m also starting to park at the edge of the parking lot of the grocery store so I can do a little more walking. So since I’ve embraced walking as one of my most used workouts, I keep thinking that I should check into those sneakers with a rocker bottom that are being advertised as promoting toning and calorie-burning.

        However, a new study by the American Council on Exercise has caused me to reevaluate this potential purchase. ACE is dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective health and fitness products, programs and trends. ACE accomplishes this through ongoing extensive research and studies in all areas of health and fitness, as well as public education regarding scientifically sound health and fitness practices.

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    Dubbed the "workout watchdog" by The Wall Street Journal in 1997, ACE has established a reputation as a consumer advocate. Since 1995, ACE has enlisted the expertise of top researchers at major universities across the country to conduct studies on fitness products and trends. In some cases, these studies have prompted the Federal Trade Commission to take action against several companies making false claims.

        So what has ACE’s research found? The council worked with a team of exercise scientists from the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, to research Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) and Reebok Easy Tone. The researchers designed a pair of studies. The first study evaluated exercise responses to talking in a traditional pair of New Balance running shoes and the toning shoes. The study’s subjects were 12 physically active female volunteers, ages 19-24, who completed a dozen five-minute exercise trials in which they walked on a treadmill at various speeds and elevations for five minutes wearing each type of shoe. The researchers monitored each subject’s oxygen consumption, heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and caloric expenditure.

    The second study was focused on muscle activation when walking in the toning shoes and the regular athletic shoes. Researchers recruited a second group of 12 physically active female volunteers, ages 21-27, who performed a similar battery of treadmill trials while randomly wearing the shoes. Researchers measured muscle activity in the calf, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abs as the subjects walked on the treadmill in each of the four pairs of shoes.

        What were the results of the research? “Across the board, none of the toning shoes showed statistically significant increases in either exercise response or muscle activation during any of the treadmill trials. There is simply no evidence that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone,” stated Mark Anders, who wrote ACE’s publication about the study.

  •     The researchers also suggested a reason for anecdotal evidence found on blogs about people who wear the shoes and claim that their muscles get sore. “Do you feel different when you’re wearing these shoes: Of course you do because you’re walking on probably an inch worth of cushioning,” Dr. John Porcari, one of the researchers, said. “They feel different and that’s why when people first wear them they’re probably going to be sore because you’re using different muscles. But if you wear any sort of abnormal shoes that you’re not used to wearing, your muscles are going to get sore. Is that going to translated into toning your butt, hamstrings and calves? Nope. Your body is just going to get used to it.”

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        As for the claims by Skechers, MBT and Reebok that they’ve done studies that validate the toning effect of the shoes, ACE notes that these studies were not peer-reviewed and most were not well-designed research efforts.

        ACE suggests that instead of investing in these shoes (which can cost from $100-$245, depending on brand), you should consider carrying light hand weights or wearing a weighted vest while walking.

        This research has made me rethink my next shopping trip. Instead of purchasing this type of exercise shoe, I'll consider a good cross-trainer that lets me do whatever type of exercise I want and will cost less than these shoes.

Published On: August 12, 2010