Toning shoes, good exercise? Or a pain in the back?

Skechers Shape-Ups™, MBT™ (Masai Barefoot Technology) and Reebok EasyTone™ are the latest rage in exercise shoes. The shoemakers all tout health claims for these shoes ranging from increasing calorie burn to helping relieve knee and back pain.


Your physical therapist can tell you if toning shoes like these Skechers Shape-Ups™ will help you, or not.



The common feature of all of them is an essentially unstable sole design using a curved, heavily cushioned sole. The theory is that by forcing wearers to continually adjust the foot and ankle to maintain balance, you work calve and quadriceps muscles causing you to burn more calories and strengthen the muscles.

At prices ranging from $100 to $245 you naturally want to know, do they work? Rick Jusko, PT, OCS, owner/director of Seattle Hill Physical Therapy says that a scan of popular blogs, and Google searches yield mixed results. Some people swear by them, while other complain of back pain and ankle and other injuries resulting from falling.

“Unfortunately, there are no credible studies that prove or disprove the shoemakers’ claims,” Jusko says. “However the American Council on Exercise conducted a small study that may shed some unbiased light on at least the exercise claims.”

Led by exercise experts John Porcari, Ph.D., John Greany, Ph.D., Stephanie Tepper, M.S., Brian Edmonson, Carl Foster, Ph.D., Meghan Sandve With Mark Anders the researchers designed a small exercise test comparing the toner brands to a pair of generic conventional running shoes.

The study involved 12 young women ages 21-27 who wore the shoes in random order in a series of five-minute treadmill tests. Researchers used electromyography (EMG) to record muscle activity in six muscle areas: the calf, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back, and abs, as subjects walked in each of the four pairs of shoes. The result: None of the shoes produced a statistically significant increase in either exercise response or muscle activation.

“We tested Rate Perceived Exertion (RPE), which is basically how hard one is working, and oxygen consumption,” says researcher Stephanie Tepper, “how much oxygen you take in versus being at rest, and caloric expenditure and we found no significant difference between any of the shoes. So the toning shoes definitely don’t do more than the regular running shoe.”

As for increasing back pain and ankle injuries, Jusko says it is likely that changing the wearer’s gait causes the use of formerly unused muscles, which can result in aching. Such pain will usually go away as the muscles are strengthened with continued use. The balance issue, however, can cause people to twist ankles and sometimes fall.

“More studies will be needed to determine the benefits and risks of these toner shoes,” Jusko says. “Until then, if you are young and want to increase daily exercise, and these shoes motivate you to get out and walk, then that is probably a good thing. For older people, the balance issues and the risk of falling might outweigh any benefits you could gain. You probably are better off with conventional walking shoes,” said Jusko.

If you think that you would like to try these new shoe types, make an appointment with Rick Jusko at Seattle Hill Physical Therapy to determine if they are right for you.

SOURCE: American Council on Exercise,

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