Shoes are prone to experience fads, the more far out, the better for retailers. Every few years, a "revolutionary" casual shoe comes out, making all previous everyday shoes seem old fashioned, outmoded, out of step with the times.
There's a lot you can do with a shoe. We've seen remarkable advancements, for example, in the sneaker, what used to be called a tennis shoe or gym shoe. It's fun to watch how they've become specialized for all the different sports and outdoor activities in which people engage.
I'm always amazed at the multiple ways one can view the feet and what we use them for.
There are special shoes for hikers, mountain climbers, joggers, long-distance walkers, factory workers, bicycle racers, nurses, waitresses, bowlers, construction laborers, ballerinas, firemen, football players, acrobats, -- you name it, there's probably a shoe designed for it.
Today we want to consider the therapeutic shoe, in particular, a recent trend in foot gear, the so-called Toning Shoe, also known as Wellness Shoes or Fitness Shoes.
These specialized variations of foot gear are promoted as tools to help people become slim and trim, ease back pain, and put the entire body into a better alignment.
Toning Shoes have what they call a rocker sole, meaning the bottoms are curved to throw you off balance, making you rock rather than proceed normally in your shoes. In effect, your body learns a new way to coordinate the muscles used in walking.
Whether this muscular disorientation-reformation is a good or a bad thing depends on who you talk to. To some doctors, it's a gimmick that could cause problems. To others, it's a breakthrough in dealing with obesity and strength training.
As usual, there are extreme claims being made. Like "makes the gym obsolete" or "lose weight without dieting" or "get a perfect figure by just walking". The truth may be in a toned-down version of extravagant ad messages, as there does seem to be some real benefit, and also some precautions to keep in mind.
Some of the major players in this field are MBT by Swiss Masai, who pioneered the concept in 1996 with their "anti-shoe", Skechers Shape Ups, FitFlops, Sano by Mephisto, New Balance Rock & Tone, New Balance True Balance, Reebok Easytones, Orthaheel, and Earth Shoes.
The basic idea is the construction of a shoe that does not accommodate your normal muscular patterns, but introduces a new configuration of forces. This altering of your gait could be beneficial -- but it could also be dangerous and might even cause new problems, instead of solving old ones.
Muscle toning shoes work against your ingrained walking muscle routines, by reshaping the sole to change the balance, thus forcing other muscles to work harder as you walk.
You thereby are training your ankles and calves to adjust to a different set of strains, with the hopeful outcome of losing weight, improving overall posture, and enhancing your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, while strengthening under-utilized leg, foot, and back muscles.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) was critical of the claims put forth for muscle toning shoes. Their study was in turn subjected to scrutiny, and some say it was extremely limited and poorly conceived. In addition, ACE is sponsored by a fitness equipment company, so they had an ax to grind.
CNN states that "...these oddly shaped shoes have their share of medical skeptics who say there have not been legitimate, independent studies proving the benefits of these types of shoes over traditional pairs."
As an interesting twist, Nike is calling toning shoe technology bogus.
"Nike doesn’t usually respond to what other companies do. They don’t get into a back and forth because they don’t have to.
The toning shoe category has blown up so quickly and blindsided them that now they have to go on the offensive by publicly telling their brand fans that it’s not that they’re late to the game – it’s that they didn’t want to play in that game because they don’t believe in it.
As the market leader, they can afford to say that. The jury is still out on whether anyone will listen."
So there's a wide spectrum of opinion on the subject of Toning Shoes. What does common sense tell you? For myself, I'm a bit conflicted. It would seem self-evident that barefoot walking is the most natural, but impractical in most cases. Walking around without any shoes at all would seem to be the best strength training for one's foot and leg muscles.
Buddhist monks, missionaries, and activists like Gandhi have been known to walk extreme distances every day, usually barefoot, or in simple flat sandals, with good results both mentally and physically. They accomplish much, without the benefit of advanced technology shoes.
WebMD offers this advice.
Cary M. Golub, DPM, a podiatrist in Long Beach, N.Y, says toning or rocker-bottom shoes have a place in certain people's shoe collection.
For starters, these shoes may help relieve pain among people with heel pain, he says. "They take the pressure off of the heel and give more support to the ankle," he says.
"These shoes put the strain on your hamstrings and glutes, so if you are not athletic or a seasoned walker, they may hurt the muscles that they are supposed to help," Golub says. "If you are not used to firing these muscles, the shoes may hurt."
Golub's advice: "Break them in slowly for an hour or so. Don't start walking 2 or 3 miles in them."[END QUOTE]
American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine makes these cautionary statements.
...the unstable design while showing benefits in terms of balance in some users may increase the risk of falls in others. Those with a history of falls, chronic ankle instability, vertigo or poor balance may not be candidates for toning shoes.
Other considerations include; because of the increased ankle dorsiflexion in early stance, those with history of Achilles tendonopathy may not tolerate this type of footwear.
Also, manufacturers assume a normal limb alignment for those who may wear these shoes, therefore those with transverse plane deformities such as in-toeing or out-toeing will not have normal heel-to-toe transition in these shoes and could potentially be more prone to tripping or falling.
NPR "Research Calls into Question Toning Shoe Benefits"
Huffington Post "Nike Mocks Butt-toning Shoes That Drive Market-Share Loss"
New York Magazine "Toning Shoes May Actually Not Tone Your Legs"
Toning Shoe Studies (list of PDF file documents)
CNN "Shoe's toning claims draw experts' doubts"
That's Fit "Do Toning Shoes Really Work?"
That's Fit "Reebok Easytone: Shoes With a Workout?"
WebMD "The Truth About Toning Shoes"
USA Today "Revolutionary Sneaker or Overhyped Gimmick?"
Skechers Shape Ups web page
CNBC "Nike Fights Back Against Toning Shoes"
MSNBC "Toning Shoes Gain Traction"
American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine "Toning Shoes"
Sports Business Journal "Toning Craze Helping Shape Up Shoe Market"
Columbus Dispatch "Toning Shoes a Stretch for Some"
BusinessWeek "Toning Shoe May Find Untapped Market in Men"
National Post "Unlacing the Toning Shoe Hype"
State of the Brand "Toning Shoes: a Triumph of Marketing Over Science"