Second thoughts about toning shoes

15 Aug

I recommended these shows a few months ago. Now, I take that back.

August 15, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

It’s not often I feel it necessary to retract a column, but that’s just what I’m doing this week.

In June of 2010, I wrote about the Reebok EasyTones, sneakers that are designed to give your legs and butt a more vigorous workout than regular walking shoes.

The EasyTones have “balance pods” built into the bottom of the shoe, which, according to Reebok, create slight instability that “forces your muscles to work a little harder, toning up as you strut.”

Reebok claims your gluteus maximus muscles will get 28 percent more of a workout, and hamstrings and calves work 11 per cent harder.

The shoes felt different, when I tried them on in the store. “They felt odd, a bit squishy, and slightly wobbly, but not unpleasant,” I wrote back in 2010. “In fact, the ‘pods’ under the heel and ball of the foot are filled with air and make for a soft, comfortable step.”

When I took the shoes out for a long test walk that evening, I immediately became aware of extra stress in my calves, and there was some stiffness in the muscle the next day. There was no question that the shoes were making me work harder, so I gave them a conditional recommendation. “They will add value to your walking exercise,” I wrote, “but will not have a transformative effect.”

And now, I take it all back. A July 13 article in “The New York Times” casts serious doubt about the utility of these toning shoes. It turns out they don’t add much value at all.

The article cites a study Dr. John Mercer, a professor of biomechanics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He conducted an experiment earlier this year, in which he tested the shoes on a group of healthy young women. They walked on a treadmill for 10 minutes at a time while wearing, alternately, a walking shoe or a toning shoe. Sensors were attached to the women’s legs to measure electrical impulses as muscles contracted. As well, oxygen consumption was monitored to see if the test subjects worked harder with the toning shoes.

The result? Muscle exertion and oxygen consumption were almost identical, no matter what shoe the subjects wore.  A 2009 study, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, had similar results.

“There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone,” the Wisconsin study concluded.

Another study did find that muscles behaved somewhat differently, in responding to the slight imbalance of the shoe, but it was not clear if the difference was lasting or significant. “The toning shoes, in other words, had provided benefits, but for a limited time and not to the big, showy muscles in the wearers’ calves and buttocks,” the article stated.

So I stand corrected. I, too, felt the activation of different muscles in my legs, from wearing toning shoes. But my legs adjusted, and, more than a year later, I can’t say I feel or look any better because of them.

My advice? Invest in a standard pair of good quality running or hiking shoes – and use them every day!

iPod Shuffle

While on the topic of walking and working out, I recently acquired a new iPod Shuffle.

Yes, I already have an iPhone crammed full of music, which I’ve used up to now for my exercise soundtrack. But let’s face it – when you are dressed in t-shirt and shorts, the iPhone is bulky, heavy, and something of a nuisance.

The iPod Shuffle is tiny –  measuring just over an inch square, and a quarter-inch thick – and light, weighing less than half an ounce. Yet it has 2 GB of memory and can store hundreds of songs, enough for a full week of walking or working out. You can organize music into different playlists, and set them to play in sequence or shuffle randomly.

It’s everything you need in an MP3 player, without the weight and bulk, and costs just $60. I really should have bought one of these a long time ago.

Now, where are those hiking shoes…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology

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