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Shoe Revolution or Footwear Fantasy?
Shoes that Shape and Tone

Unstable Shoes
Knockoffs are everywhere with names like
Therashoe (shown above), Stepmaster and Rock-N-Shoe.

Shoes are designed to do a lot of things. They can make you taller, correct your gait, provide cushioning and protect against injuries. So when I started hearing about shoes that promised to help tone your body, I was excited. After all, I'd much rather get in shape by changing my footwear than working out.

The big three shoe companies making these claims have eliminated the traditional flat sole. Instead, MBT and Skechers have a rounded sole, while Reebok Easytone shoes have a pod in the heel and forefoot. The design is called "unstable sole" and the idea behind them is the wearer must continuously work to maintain balance. All those constant adjustments are supposed to work your muscles while "shaping and toning."

The theory makes sense to a lot of people and they're flying off store shelves. In fact, sales are expected to top $1.5 billion in 2010. With so many people buying them, I thought it would be a good idea to see how well they work. Let's start with what the manufacturer's say.

Skechers Shape-Ups claim they are, "Designed to help burn calories and turn everyday activities into a workout." It's a bold statement, but then they step back a little when you get deeper into the benefits and they say, "Shape-ups XW Work footwear may help strengthen your back, firm legs and buttocks, and tighten your abdomen."

Notice how they insert the word MAY into the claim? That theme is continued through the rest of the text. "Shape-ups XW Work may help reduce joint pressure by providing a more natural walking surface. Shape-ups XW Work may help burn calories and improve cardiovascular health."

Reebok Easytone shoes claim they can, "...increase muscle activation" and "strengthen key leg muscles with every step."

MBT makes the boldest statements. They claim they can help "...solve knee and back problems, relieve tension in the neck, ease joint pains - and more or less in passing help to tone and shape firm buttocks and thighs." Plus they burn, "...more calories when standing and slow running compared to ordinary shoes."

MBT posted several research papers to make evaluating their claims easier. Amazingly their own research does NOT back up the claims. For example; one study looked at people with, "non-specific, chronic recurrent neck pain." They divided the participants into three groups that began "continuous training." At the end of the study, "continuous training in groups shows significant improvements in all three programs." There was no benefit specifically related to using the MBT shoes.

In another study, MBT put 16 people in an intervention group where they, "attended an hour of gait and postural training." The control subjects did nothing.

At the end of the study, those that were instructed in "gait and postural training" felt better than those who didn't get any instructions. Funny, but I can almost guarantee that someone who gets instruction will do better than someone who does not, regardless of the type of shoe they're wearing.

 

To really see if there's a benefit, what needs to happen is a study comparing traditional athletic shoes head to head against the "unstable" ones. Fortunately the American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted just such a test.

ACE evaluated exercise response and muscle activation. In both trials the same subjects were randomly put through tests wearing one type of shoe first, then the other. What did they discover?

"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 to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone." All those promises that shoes alone MAY "shape and tone" your body aren't true.

More than likely what's happening is simple. People who wouldn't normally go out and walk, buy a pair of these unstable shoes because of their belief in a super toning effect. It's not the shoes. It's when people get off their butt and walk that's making a difference.

When you're ready to shape and tone your body, the only things guaranteed to work are the old standards. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep. Leave unstable shoes on the store shelf where they belong.

UPDATES:

On September 28, 2011, the Federal Trade Commission announced, "Reebok to Pay $25 Million in Customer Refunds To Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising of EasyTone and RunTone Shoes"

The settlement, "Prohibits Reebok from Making Unsupported Claims that "Toning Shoes' Strengthen, Tone Muscles"

"The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

On May 16, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission announced, "Skechers Will Pay $40 Million to Settle FTC Charges That It Deceived Consumers with Ads for "Toning Shoes"Consumers Who Bought Shape-ups, Other Toning Shoes Will Be Eligible for Refunds"

Visit the FTC website to file for a refund: http://www.ftc.gov/

We told you there was no basis for the claims made about unstable shoes eight months before the FTC announcement! We'll continue our in-depth coverage to bring you the most accurate information as soon as it's available.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

2/6/2011
Updated 10/9/2011
Updated 5/17/2012