Health-Conscious Holidays: The Skinny on Toning Sneakers

By Laura Heller, dealnews writer

Athletic shoes that promise toning and shaping of the butt and legs (without actual physical exercise) have become a popular trend for the fitness fanatic and fad dieter alike. But do they actually work? Mounting evidence suggests they may be a misleading waste of money. Should you or anyone on your gift list be craving a pair this holiday season, here are some reasons why you should reconsider.

The Toning Shoe Craze
Toning shoes aren't just sneakers: they're available as flip flops, boots, fashion casual shoes, and more. But they all feature a rounded bottom that forces the wearer to adjust the way she (usually) walks, resulting in the usage of different muscle groups of the leg. The ideal results of toning shoes mimic the results of exercising with a balance board. Toning shoe advertisements show models and celebrities with gams and glutes of steel, as a result of just casually wearing the shoes while running errands.

But the Sketchers Shape-Ups claim to help you "Get in Shape Without Setting Foot in a Gym" is highly contested by fitness experts. Independent studies show that there is little improvement in muscle tone, and that wearing these shoes won't burn extra calories or improve balance, according to Edward R. Laskowski, M.D, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. Other studies found that in some cases muscle tone did improve, but only on a short-term basis.

That's because the human body adapts quickly, and while the rounded soles of toning shoes may provide an initial challenge to unused muscle groups, it doesn't take long for the body to become accustomed to the shoes and the new way of walking.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored an independent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin and found that toning shoes don't offer benefits beyond that of traditional running shoes. "Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realize people are always looking for," says ACE's Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, PhD. "Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle toning benefits they claim. Our findings demonstrate that toning shoes ... do not offer any benefits that people cannot reap through walking, running, or exercising in traditional athletic shoes."

Sketchers and Reebok
Sketchers was once the second largest footwear brand in the U.S. thanks to its line of toning sneakers, Shape-Ups. Of course it didn't hurt that Kim Kardashian endorsed the brand with a Kardashian-designed version of the shoes. But like Kim, Sketchers' Shape-Ups brand has been beset with accusations of fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has taken issue with the claims made by toning shoe manufacturers and in September 2011 reached a $25 million settlement with Reebok, barring it from making any claims that its EasyTone shoes strengthen muscles. The brand is offering refunds to anyone who bought its EasyTone shoes or apparel on or after December 5, 2008.

"There may be one positive effect these shoes offer: the motivation factor," said Bryant. "If these shoes are serving as a motivator for individuals to walk or get moving more often, that is a good thing, even if they don't produce the dramatic toning and calorie-burning results people think they are getting." Bryant goes on to add that, based on the results of the American Council on Exercise's study, consumers can achieve the same results wearing everyday running shoes.

Shape-Ups and their multi-brand counterparts may make walking more enjoyable for some, but buying them based on the promise of a better butt make these shoes a bust. Instead, consider these other options which offer proven results.

Other Fitness Alternatives
A study of the Vibram FiveFingers shoes was conducted by the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse on 16 healthy, injury-free female subjects, ages 19 to 25, all of whom were considered recreational joggers. Each participant was fitted with a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Bikila shoes, designed for running, and studied for two weeks. In nearly all cases, the runners changed their form in several ways that could reduce injury. The dealnews staff also conducted their own, non-scientific review of Vibram FiveFinger Men's Shoes.

The StreetStrider, an elliptical cross trainer on wheels, has received outstanding reviews from health and fitness experts. And while it's obviously more expensive than a pair of shoes, it does deliver both convenience and positive fitness results. Throughout December you'll receive free shipping on all StreetStriders, and save an additional 15% off new models via coupon code "HEALTHYHOLIDAYS".

The best fitness gift may well be the simplest. Using a special "fitness" hula hoop can burn as many calories as participating in boot camp fitness routines, according to another study from ACE. The J Fit 3-lb. Weighted Hoola Hoop ($27.98 with free shipping, a low by $2) can burn up to 420 calories per hour!

If you've been wondering whether the popular toning shoe fad was too good to be true, the answer is of course "yes." But if you still know someone hoping that Santa might bring them a pair for Christmas this year, it's a much smarter use of your money to opt for a more sound athletic alternative.

Front page photo credit: Delightful Shrinking
Photo credits top to bottom: Crumpylicious, and Inofashion

Laura Heller is a freelance writer based in Chicago who specializes in mass market retail trends and consumer electronics industries. You can follow her on Twitter @lfheller. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


Leave a comment!

or Register
I'm in my 20's and in good health and fit but I thought, hey I'm at a desk all day these shoes will help me get a boost when I walk around. I unknowingly I got injured wearing these types of shoe and now I'm getting physical therapy. 
How did it happen unknowingly? they were comfortable and I didn't know anything was wrong until many months later when my joints started to hurt real bad.
It sucks because now I can't even do a regular exercise program! so in trying to be fit I got screwed.
I never really thought they would tone and shape my legs, however, fit-flops are the most comfortable pair of flip flops I've ever owned! And I think they are cute!