Toning shoes the new rage

Call them toners, shapers, or rocker bottoms, those exercise shoes with the distinctive thick, rounded soles are flying off the shelves and onto the feet of even the most clodhopper-averse walkers.

Experts don't agree on whether these shoes are any better than regular running shoes, but they concur that whatever gets you moving is a good thing.

"I tell people to make your bottom half your better half," said Denise Austin, a fitness expert and spokesperson for Skechers Shape-ups. "They make you feel like you're walking on sand. The second you put them on you think 'good posture'. They make you more aware than regular shoes."

Toning shoes use curved soles and extra padding to alter the wearer's walking gait, apparently engaging seldom-used muscles, increasing blood flow and reducing stress to the lower back.

Toner shoes to increase workout

The instability built into toner shoes is purported to increase the workout, much like an exercise ball works the core by keeping it off balance said Dr Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

"Many manufacturers promote these shoes to help tone the muscles of lower extremity, activate the core, as well as burn more calories," said Bryant.

So ACE commissioned a small study at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to compare three brands of toning shoes Skechers Shape-Ups, Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) and Reebok EasyTone to normal running shoes.

"The results were remarkably consistent," Bryant said. "All individuals burned the same number of kilojoules, all activated the same muscles. There was no significant difference between the two groups."

Toning shoes or regular sneakers?

"Based upon our study, if you are looking for shoes to produce kilojoule-burning and muscle-toning, you can choose either toning shoes or regular sneakers," Bryant said.

Dr John Porcari, who led the study team, said any added muscle soreness is likely due to the toner's abundant cushioning.

"Is that going to translate into toning your butt, hamstrings and calves? Nope. Your body is just going to get used to it."

While those expecting the shoe to shape, tone, and burn may be disappointed. Bryant noted that podiatrists have long used one brand, MBT: Masai Barefoot Technology, to treat people with ankle instability.

See results after 10 weeks

Dr Barbara Belyea, clinical associate professor of physical therapy at Ithaca College, in Ithaca, New York, described the case of a healthy 72-year-old man with balance issues who wore the shoes for 10 weeks. At the end of the trial he showed increases in lower extremity muscular strength and improved balance.

"It would be interesting to use MBTs in a large study with patients who are frailer," Belyea said.

Bryant said toner shoes have effectively brought attention to the excellent activity of walking.

"If we can get more people off the couch, that's a wonderful thing," he said. (Reuters Health/ September 2010)

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