Putting more workout into your walk

7 Jun

The Reebok EasyTone shoe has two ‘balance pods’ to make walking slightly unstable, supposedly toning muscles in the leg and backside. (Geoff Meeker photo)

June 7, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

Note: After publishing this column, I changed my mind and rescinded my positive review of this product. Please see the August 15, 2011 column for more.

Remember the Ab Belt, that wonderful device – as seen on TV – that supposedly melted pounds by jump-starting your tummy muscles with electrical impulses?

Yes, it was a piece of junk; another way to separate the gullible from their money.

I reacted much the same way recently, when I heard about the Reebok EasyTone shoe. It’s a sneaker that is supposedly designed to tone your legs and butt – that is, more than a regular walking shoe would.

“EasyTone is designed to help give definition to our legs and butt,” says the promotional material, at the Reebok web site. “Simply walk and let the balance pods under your shoe do the rest. The slight instability created by the pods forces your muscles to work a little harder, toning up as you strut.”

The web site claims that, because EasyTones are designed for everyday wear, they can help you get in shape while doing everyday activities.

“The more you walk, the more you’ll tone,” Reebok claims. “Technically speaking your gluteal gluteus maximus muscles will get 28 % more of a workout. And your hamstrings and calves will have to try 11 % harder (compared to the Reebok Expresswalk shoe). Not too bad stats considering all you have to do is hit the shops, walk the dog or simply strut your stuff.”

Aha! It may be a sneaker, but now it qualifies as a ‘gadget’; something worthy of investigation and review.

I have a personal stake in this, because I walk my dog almost every day. And quite often, that cuts into ‘real’ workout time on the elliptical. So if the benefit of a walk can be increased, even marginally, I’m all about it.

A quick online search turned up a lot of discussion about the EasyTone, including, to my surprise, a bunch of positive reviews. Yes, there were cynics too, but most hadn’t tried the product – they were reacting, understandably enough, to the idea of it.

Next, I visited Sportchek in the Village, and tried on a pair. The nines were a bit tight, so, while the clerk was out back getting the next size, I started walking around. They felt odd, a bit squishy, and slightly wobbly, but not unpleasant. In fact, the “pods” under the heel and ball of the foot are filled with air and make for a soft, comfortable step.

The clerk was taking a while, so I kept walking. By the time she returned, perhaps five minutes later, I could feel a slight ache in my calves and butt muscles. I recognized the strain of exertion and was surprised to note that the sneakers were working already. At the checkout, the sales clerk cautioned me to work into them slowly; to take short walks at first to allow my muscles to adjust. With my legs already aching, I knew to take that advice.

The next day, I walked the dog for 15 minutes. I could feel the strain of extra effort, but there was no stiffness. A day later, I walked for an hour, and could definitely feel the muscles working, but there was no tenderness – just a pleasant ache that indicated a good workout. I used them on the elliptical the next day, and the tension in my calves and butt was obvious, during the workout and afterward.

I can grasp how this works. Anyone who has ever pumped iron knows that free weights are necessary for building the best muscle, because stabilizer muscles are used to keep the barbell steady during a lift (machines are less effective because they hold the weight steady for you – you just exert upward force). The EasyTone has a similar benefit for leg muscles.

It is too soon to talk about results, and my legs and butt are already tight from the elliptical and hiking. However, the strain I feel indicates that these sneakers are doing something beneficial. If walking is your chief form of exercise, I do recommend them as a way to augment that.

However, if you are already toned and tight, don’t bother with the EasyTones, as they are not appropriate for anything other than walking. And I do have a problem with Reebok’s claim that the shoes can be used for “everyday” activities. If this includes hiking on uneven trails, tossing Frisbee, or playing baseball – anything that would force your weight to the side of your foot – you should not wear these shoes. A twisted ankle is a likely outcome.

Finally, you should not expect miracles from these shoes. They will add value to your walking exercise, but will not have a transformative effect.

Now, if only they’d invent a device that exercised your arms, while you eat…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com.


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