June 25, 2018
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‘Toning shoes’ fail to fast-track fitness goals

Reebok EasyTone sneakers are among a number of “toning shoe” brands recently determined to offer no advantage over conventional models.
By Wendy Watkins, Special to the BDN

Those magical “toning” shoes that lift your butt and sculpt your thighs? They aren’t magical, and they don’t reshape those muscles any more than any other sneakers do. And now Reebok, the company that manufactured EasyTone sneakers and advertised the shoes as having muscle-toning qualities that aren’t backed up by science, is facing a whopping fine and likely will be forced to pay customers refunds totaling more than $25 million.

Reebok isn’t the only company that manufactures toning shoes, which are among the latest fitness fads. In fact, last year the American Council on Exercise published a study analyzing three different “toning” brands, Reebok, Sketchers and MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology), to see whether wearers burned more calories, worked more muscles or achieved any additional fitness benefits compared to wearing conventional running or walking shoes.

They didn’t. There were no statistically significant differences in muscle activation during the study, and there was no significant difference in calorie burn, heart rate, oxygen uptake or rate of perceived exertion among the study participants.

The idea behind all of the shoes, which range in price from just under $100 to $245, is that they have an unstable sole design, which supposedly makes the body work harder to stay in balance than conventional shoes do.

These shoes have irked me for years. I’ve actually yelled at clients for wearing them. I’m not proud of this fact, but there are witnesses. As a background issue, it’s the “quick-fix” mentality that this shoe feeds into that, as a personal trainer, I want to nip in the bud. There are no shortcuts. Getting in shape takes time and effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s tedious or can’t be fun.

But most important, often the clients who wear these shoes are the ones who least need an unstable shoe: people with muscle imbalances, weak ankles, gait issues, balance problems or who are very overweight. They wobble all over the place if I have them do anything except walk in a straight line or sit down. It’s downright scary.

Chief Science Officer Cedric Bryant of the American Council on Exercise said in his organization’s study that he also had concerns about the shoes potentially causing difficulty for people at risk for lower-extremity problems, but that longer-term studies are needed.

It has been said over and over again: There is no shortcut to achieving fitness or weight-loss goals. The only magic fitness and weight-loss “potion” includes three ingredients: exercise, a moderate diet and consistent effort. Add a smidgen of patience to the mix and you’ve got something that will produce real results. No one product or contraption is going to make the results come any easier.

Bryant did say that there might be one positive outcome of the toning-shoe trend: motivation.

“These shoes may be motivating a fair number of people who probably wouldn’t put on a normal pair of walking shoes to go out and walk, to do because they think they’re getting some supertoning effect,” he said.

Wendy Watkins is a personal trainer and group exercise instructor at the Bangor-Brewer Athletic Club in Brewer.

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