Are toning shoes right for you?
Toning shoes have become the latest fitness trend, but do they really work? We put five popular brands to the test to see if they live up to the hype
The truth about toning shoes
If you've been anywhere near a TV lately, chances are you've seen a commercial or two for toning shoes. The fancy footwear promises to tone your legs, firm your butt and-according to the ads-make you look great while walking the dog or carrying groceries in a pair of hot pants. But do they live up to their own hype? And perhaps the more important question: are they actually good for you?
"I think there are two sides [to toning shoes]," says Craig Hunt, a London, Ont.-based chiropodist and former president of the Ontario Society of Chiropodists. "Their sales component promises increased activity in the gluteal muscles and lower extremity muscles, and in some people that's good because it promotes walking. So the concept is good, but one has to be careful."
Are toning shoes right for you?
Toning shoes may not be appropriate for you if you suffer from low back problems, ankle fusions, tight hamstrings or Achilles tendon issues, says Hunt. "You want to be cautious, because they can exacerbate [these conditions]," he says. Older individuals and those with balance issues should also think twice before purchasing a pair of these shoes. And like any new fitness routine, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin.
When it comes to shopping for toning shoes, remember that like any shoe, proper fit is key. Once you've found the right pair, don't head straight to the treadmill or try to break them in with a long walk-you're more likely to sustain an injury that way. "You want to build up wearing time," says Hunt. "It's like going to the gym and lifting weights; too much too soon can result in injuries such as tears and strains." Initially, he recommends wearing toning shoes no longer than an hour, "just to see how they feel."
Wondering which pair of toning shoes is right for you? We put five popular brands to the test. Read on for our reviews.
If you are a runner, even a lightweight like me (I'm not a marathoner by any means!), you understand that there are some mornings when you step out your front door to go for a run and you just know you're not going to have a great one. It figures I would have this feeling on the first day I'm testing some new toning running shoes. I assumed with dread that, like toning shoes made for walking, they'd keep me a little bit off balance, and make it tougher with each stride-working the muscles harder, of course. But what do you know, after one kilometre, I actually got into it the more I ran, and ended up doing 4k.
These shoes didn't keep me off balance; rather, they made me feel like I was pushing off with each leg a little more deliberately. In other words, I wasn't "bouncing" along the street as much as with my regular shoes. I didn't feel like the run was hard at all-but the next day, my legs were definitely more sore than they normally would be for 4k. I guess that means they did indeed work my legs harder, and differently, than my regular shoes. And they were very comfortable. I like them! -Bonnie Munday, Editor-in-Chief
At first I was skeptical. To me toning shoes were a gimmick, not unlike an electronic ab belt or a dumbbell phone. They promise the benefits of exercise without any effort or actually exercising. But without the increased heart rate and sweat, what's the point?
I used my toning shoes, a pair of FitFlop Mukluk boots that look like Uggs, as slippers for around the house. After a day in heels, I found the unstable sole, trademarked as the Microwobbleboard midsole, to be very soothing, actually. I was surprised, but it stretched out the balls of my feet with each step.
Did it tone my bum? FitFlop says that the sole increases leg muscle activation by 16 percent. I did wear them for an entire day on a weekend and woke up the next day with mildly sore glutes. For more bang for my buck, I'd rather do 100 squats and wear nice heels. -Lisa Hannam, Associate Editor
New Balance Truebalance
I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the Truebalance shoes‚ most toning shoes look like they're mounted on top of all-terrain tires, but these are sleek, thanks to their "hidden toning technology." I even quite liked the little accents of bright pink (and I am not one to wear pink shoes).
Unfortunately, I wasn't as impressed by the functionality of the shoes. New Balance claims that, because the Truebalances force you to walk on an unstable surface, wearing the shoes will tone your legs, glutes and core muscles and will help you burn calories. The brand does boast scientific research to back up their claims, but, after wearing the shoes on walks and while running errands, I can't say I felt that any of those muscles were particularly engaged. In fact, the only difference that I noticed between the Truebalances and my regular New Balance trainers was that the toning shoes were slightly uncomfortable on my feet, so I was concerned about wearing them for long-distance walks.
I'm usually a big fan of New Balance shoes, but I couldn't justify spending $120 to add these to my shoe collection. I think I'll stick to walking in my regular trainers. -Jennifer Goldberg, Web Editor
Skechers Kinetix Response SRT
I love a good fitness trend as much as the next girl, but when it comes to toning shoes, I have to admit that I was a non-believer. And while the verdict is still out on whether my Skechers will actually help me achieve toned legs and a firmer bum-I simply haven't had enough time with them to really see results-they do have some definite benefits.
Odd shape aside, these kicks come in a wide range of colours, so you can choose a pair to suit your personal taste. And as a bonus, any pair of Skechers with Shape-Up technology comes with an instructional booklet and DVD that includes two workouts and essential stretches, to help you avoid injury and get the most out of your shoes.
The downside? They definitely take some time to get used to and they fit a bit small-I could've gone up half a size for more comfort and this particular style is not available in a wider width. I also don't feel comfortable running in them, so I'd be more inclined to stick to my regular workout shoes and throw in a few extra squats and lunges. However, if walking is your main form of exercise and you're looking to add more of a challenge to your routine, these might be just the right fit. -Alicia McAuley, Associate Web Editor
MBT Baridi Dove
I gave the Baridi Dove MBT toning shoes a try over the course of a month. I thought the Mary Jane-style strap would be a nice change from a traditional lace-up, but I wasn't crazy about how they looked on me. I didn't know whether I was supposed to wear socks with them or not, but I think they would look better without. (I wore mine with white running socks and it reminded me something I used to wear back in the 80s-not a pretty look.)
They definitely feel strange the first few times you wear them. I found the most difference when I was standing still-I was literally swaying a bit to keep my balance. Once I was walking, I didn't notice that I was trying to balance as much and the extra-thick sole made for a softer landing with each stride. I walked in them for an hour a few times, but didn't notice any extra aches or soreness in my legs or butt as a result of using different muscles, or trying to stay balanced. But I figure that if I feel like I have to work at staying balanced when I am standing still there must be something to these.
The shoes also came with a booklet with exercises you can do in them while standing (squats, core strengthening movements), which I thought was a nice added bonus. I'll keep wearing them in the warmer months (when I can do so without socks). -Jennifer Walker, Senior Content Editor
The bottom line on toning shoes
"Above all, we want people to be walking and be active," says Hunt. And whether you opt for toning shoes or a regular pair of sneakers, the best thing you can do for your health is to get out there and keep moving. Aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking every day, and it won't be long before you start noticing the results.