Do Toning Shoes Really Work?Posted on Aug 10th 2010 12:00PM by Liz Neporent
Do toning shoes really work? – Sally, New York, N.Y.
Toning shoes, which are all the rage these days, are a style of shoe with a curvy-convex sole reminiscent of your granny's orthopedic footwear. Sketchers was the first mainstream shoe company to come out with a shoe in this category and to claim walking in them helps improve posture, ease back pain, sculpt the thighs and build a booty that Beyonce would envy, all without entering a gym or brushing past a dumbbell.
MBT was the first unstable shoe on the market and there has been a range of studies on their effects on body mechanics, although much of the research does not focus on muscle strengthening. Other companies (Reebok Easy Tone, Fit Flop, etc.) have followed along in MBT's footsteps to cash in the trend. Now New Balance has entered the ring with The Rock & Tone and True Balance.
Although a lot of complex data has been tossed around about this type of footwear, there's actually little research either proving or disproving the claims about toning. New Balance, like other brands, announced it had performed extensive testing on its models and declared it had evidence to back up the assertions made in its advertisements and press releases.
New Balance says it performed extensive consumer wear testing on The Rock & Tone and that consumers noted the toning effects in as little as one week. Furthermore, these results were supposedly substantiated in the lab by Dr. Joseph Hamill, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts and one of the world's experts on lower-extremity biomechanics, along with the scientists at the New Balance Sports Research Laboratory. The combined team did a variety of tests including electromyography (muscle activity), VO2 (oxygen consumption) and "blind" human perception testing. The True Balance press release pretty much echoes the same.
The problem with all of this? When asked repeatedly, New Balance would not -- or could not -- provide any real supporting data. Those of you who read this column on a regular basis know that when I discuss a topic, I often cite studies and nearly always link to abstracts or published investigations so you can see for yourself what sort of scientific evidence I am using to back up my arguments.
Whether we are talking about shoes, calories or fossils, I would never pass off a press release as a source unless I specifically say so, and then explain why I am falling back on such a shallow snippet of information.
When pushed, New Balance ultimately produced a three-slide PowerPoint presentation summarizing the investigation. It showed the shoes increased the activity in the muscles of the rear and back of the thighs by 16 percent, the front of the thighs by 29 percent and the lower legs by 14 percent; calorie burn was bumped up 10 percent.
Of course, there is no way to verify the truth of these statements, so I take them with a grain of salt. And even if they are true, the presentation says that the tests were performed on a mere 12 subjects. There is some subjective information gleaned from questioning an additional 48 volunteers. Not exactly enough to fill a stadium or even a local road race.
All of this comes on the heels of a newly released American Council on Exercise-commissioned study that looked at the toning shoe category, though not the New Balance models specifically. The investigation was performed by team of researchers from the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.
Using what appear to be similar tests as the New Balance team (though again, it's hard to know), the researchers found that toning shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle toning benefits they claim and that they simply do not offer any benefits that people cannot reap through walking, running or exercising in traditional athletic shoes. Granted, this study also had only 12 subjects, so it's difficult to draw any sweeping conclusions. But at least they've made their methods and conclusions readily available for all to see and evaluate.
That's Fit asked four women who are experienced toning shoe wearers to evaluate the New Balance shoes for themselves. All four gave both models high marks for comfort, though all said that any extra work, toning and calorie burn was "subtle at best." Interestingly, New Balance is pushing both shoes for their "aesthetic superiority," which is a fancy way of saying they look less orthopedic than the other toning brands, but all of our testers commented on how aesthetically inferior they felt the sneakers were. In other words, they thought the shoes were ugly. So there you go.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Has anyone had success developing a bodacious butt from wearing these kicks? Lost some inches? Dropped a few pounds? Have you tried numerous brands and done your own comparison? Have you tried either type of the New Balance? I tried them both and thought they were comfy, but I, too, didn't feel much extra work by wearing them. And I also thought they were kinda ugly, like all the other entries in this category.
I'd just like to say that I am a big fan of New Balance shoes in general. As you can see from my previous review on minimalist shoe brands, they are one of my favorites in that category, and I continue to run in the New Balance 100s. Additionally, here is some more information on toning shoes. Post your comments here or tweet me.