Do Toning Shoes Actually Work?

At the moment, toning shoes are the latest and greatest development in the fitness footwear market. These shoes promise to improve your posture, reduce impact shock during walking and to tone and trim your lower body whilst you walk around as normal when wearing them. Slogans like “A Workout while you walk” (Fitflops) and “Get in shape without setting foot in the gym” (Skechers) abound. It’s hardly surprising that these toning shoes are now one of the fastest growing market segments. After all, who wouldn’t want to get in shape just by walking about as normal? But do they actually work?

The exact mechanism varies across the different brands on the market – but the common theme seems to be a specially designed sole. This introduces an element of instability whilst walking which activates muscles which might otherwise be unused in an attempt to regain balance. The upshot of this is that the wearers of toning shoes use more energy whilst walking than they would do if they were wearing standard fitness footwear. This higher level of muscle activity, according to the various manufacturers, has numerous benefits including improved posture, muscle toning, burning more calories and helping with weight loss.

There are now a variety of different manufacturers who produce toning shoes. Fitflops sandals, Skechers Shape Ups Shoes, Reebok Easy Tones and Masai Barefoot Technology are probably the best known and most popular.

Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) shoes could, with some justification, claim to have been first on the market. They are based on replicating the barefoot walking gait of Africa’s Masai tribesmen (hence the name) who are known for their good posture and who have a low incidence of back pain. They achieve this barefoot walking sensation by using a chunky, curved sole which creates an uneven walking platform. According to MBT, the curved sole promotes a gentle rolling motion when your heel hits the ground and reduces jarring impacts whilst walking. It also encourages walkers to engage leg muscles for longer than when walking in standard exercise shoes.

Skechers Shape Ups are based upon similar technology to MBT shoes. They use a chunky, thick, curved sole which incorporates a special kinetic foam wedge, to mimic the sensation of walking barefoot over soft sand. Skechers claim to have introduced the first “stylish” toning shoes. Whether that’s true or not is probably very much a matter of personal taste – but there’s no denying that Skechers offer a huge selection of different styles of toning shoes.

Fit Flops sandals were developed in the UK by Marcia Kilgore – an ex-personal fitness trainer who didn’t have time to visit the gym due to her busy schedule. Fitflops launched as a range of brightly coloured sandals but – due to customer demand – clogs, slippers and boots were subsequently introduced. Fitflops feature a specially designed thick sole – albeit not quite as thick and chunky as MBTs and Skechers – which uses material of different densities in different areas of the sole. The end result is what Fitflops term the “microwobbleboard” effect. Small imbalance means that extra work is performed and the lower body gets a free workout.

The latest addition to the toning shoes market is Reebok Easy Tones. These are a little different to the shoes discussed so far as they use special air pods in the sole of the shoe instead of a curved sole. Once again, the muscles in the lower body carry out extra work as they try to regain balance. Wearers will, according to Reebok, perform 11% extra work with their calves hamstrings and 28% more work with their buttock muscles than they would do whilst walking in normal fitness shoes.

So, do toning shoes actually work or is it just a smart piece of marketing? It goes without saying that all of the manufacturers have had independent clinical trials performed on their toning shoes – and these appear to support their claims. Some sceptics do query the validity of many of these trials, citing small sample sizes as a potential source of inaccuracy. Whilst the trials may have been conducted by independent bodies, the fact that they were financed by the shoe manufacturers also raises questions for some analysts.

However, the fact that toning shoes have some benefits seems clear. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) have, for example, granted their seal of approval to the Fitflops range of shoes. This shouldn’t be misinterpreted as being an endorsement of Fitflops toning and trimming claims – but rather as confirmation that such shoes can reduce jarring and reduce the stress on joints whilst walking. It’s noteworthy that, of the numerous positive user testimonials to be found online, a high proportion of them refer to improved posture and reduced joint pain.

One very significant benefit which toning shoes definitely deliver is to encourage their wearers to increase the amount of walking that they do. Even if that was all they did, it would still be a very positive thing in itself.

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