Regular exercise, combined with a healthy diet, is undoubtedly the best way to get into shape and maintain a high level of fitness. However, looking for short cuts and “multi-tasking” is only human nature - and it’s even more understandable when you consider that, despite all of our labor saving devices and gadgets, most people are time starved these days.
So, the appearance of "toning shoes", which claim to help you to tone and trim your legs and bottom just by wearing them as you walk about during the course of your daily routine, will be very welcome news for a lot of people. It's a tantalising prospect - but how do they work? In fact, given that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is, do they really work?
There is a wide variety of different styles and brands for consumers to choose from. However, a specially designed sole seems to be a common factor of all the major brands of toning shoes. The design of the sole varies from one brand to another, but most of them seem to operate on the principle of generating a small element of instability in the walking process. This makes the muscles in the lower body respond by trying to re-establish the body’s natural equilibrium. That means that they do a little more work than during normal walking, and that’s how the toning effect is achieved. Some shoes also claim to modify posture and/or gait - but it’s the introduction of imbalance that seems to be most important.
Skechers Shape Ups are the current best selling toning shoes. They have a thick, rocker type sole, which includes a special kinetic insert. This is intended to reproduce the sensation of walking barefoot over soft, yielding sand and to produce a gentle rolling motion in addition to producing the required amount of instability.
Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) Shoes also use a curved sole which is similar to the Skechers approach. MBT shoes were conceived by a Swiss engineer, Karl Muller, who was walking barefoot across a rice field in Korea when he noticed that his back pain, a recurring problem for him, was considerably better than normal. After some further research, he discovered that Masai tribesmen of Africa, who mainly walk barefoot, are well known for their excellent posture and, unlike Americans and Europeans, almost never suffer from lower back pain. He went on to develop MBTs, mainly to help alleviate back pain, but the toning benefits are now also being recognised.
Reebok EasyTones are a fairly recent entrant to the market and they have quite a different design. Easytone soles incorporate special air pads - known as balance pods - which generate the desired instability. An ex-NASA engineer designed this system - so there is clearly some science at the back of it. They are proving to be extremely popular and are currently in second place in the toning shoe market despite their relatively late appearance.
FitFlops might be thought of as the joker in the toning shoes pack. They are certainly very bright, colorful, funky and fashionable. They started life in the UK as a range of flip flop type sandals with a specially designed sole which has different densities of material in different areas. This generates instability thanks to what FitFlops call the “microwobbleboard” effect. The FitFlops range has now expanded to include sneakers, slippers, clogs and boots in order to meet customer demand.
Unlike many other toning shoes, FitFlops look nothing like fitness footwear - which means that they can be worn in situations, and with outfits, where athletic style shoes might be unsuitable. FitFlop wearers can therefore make use of them more often and obtain excellent value for money from their funky toning shoes. It's probably worth mentioning that, in addition to their toning abilities, FitFlops are well known for their high level of comfort. The unique microwobble board toning sole also gives extra support, especially in the area of the arch, which reduces the average pressure on the sole of the foot, making FitFlops very comfortable to wear and to walk in.
A variety of tests and trials have been performed or commissioned by the footwear manufacturers in order to prove that their products do what they claim. There is also a host of user feedback from satisfied customers happy to testify that toning shoes are the real deal. Needless to say, there are those - including the American Council for Exercise (ACE) who query the results and doubt whether toning shoes do what the makers claim.
Nevertheless, toning shoes are becoming ever more popular and are a big hit with their target audience - time starved professional women and soccer moms, who want to stay in shape but struggle to fit visits to the gym into their schedule or their budget. Even if toning shoes really do live up to the hype, they shouldn't be looked on as a substitute for a healthy, well balanced diet and regular exercise. However, they could very well prove to be a useful way of boosting the effectiveness of an existing exercise routine - and, if they encourage people to walk a little more often than normal, then that’s a good result in itself.