Point-Counterpoint: Can Toning Shoes Have A Legitimate Impact?

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David Y.S. Yee, DPM, FACFAOM, and Eric Fuller, DPM

   To measure muscle activation in the second study, Porcari and colleagues evaluated physically active female volunteers, ranging in age from 21 to 27.1 Similar to the first study, these patients performed a battery of five-minute treadmill trials, rotating between traditional and toning shoes at random. Using electromyography (EMG), the researchers measured muscle activity in six areas: the gastrocnemius, the rectus femoris, the biceps femoris, the gluteus maximus, the erector spinae and the rectus abdominis. To determine the baseline for electromyography analysis prior to testing, researchers used manual muscle techniques to study maximum voluntary isometric contractions in all muscles.

   In both studies, researchers found that none of the toning shoes showed statistically significant increases in either exercise response or muscle activation during any of the treadmill trials.1 Although Porcari and co-workers said that at times patients favored the running shoes and at times favored toning shoes, they noted nothing statistically significant. The authors concluded that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that toning shoes will aid shoe wearers in exercising more intensely, burning more calories or improving their muscle strength and tone.

   How do researchers account for the anecdotal evidence (found on blogs and other sources) from those who wear toning shoes and claim their muscles get sore, which must mean the shoes are working?

   Porcari and colleagues explain that since patients are walking on an inch of cushioning, their feet feel different in the toning shoes and they may be sore because they are using different muscles.1 However, the authors note that patients’ muscles would be sore while wearing any shoes they are not used to wearing and that feeling of soreness will not translate into toning glutes, hamstrings or calves.

In Conclusion

There are some legitimate uses for some of these shoes. An anterior rocker shoe can help reduce the load on the Achilles tendon or the forefoot. The sagittally unstable shoes certainly have a lot of testimonials to their success. However, if the studies show there is no increase in muscle activity of the muscles of the thigh and buttocks, then there is no reason to expect that toning shoes will have a legitimate impact on increasing the tone of those muscles. There is also no reason to expect that these shoes will cause people to burn any more calories than if they are out exercising anyway.

   Dr. Fuller is in private practice at Berkeley Foot Specialists in Berkeley and Orina, Calif.


1. Porcari J, Greany J, Tepper S, Edmonson B, Foster C, Anders M. Will toning shoes really give you a better body? American Council on Exercise. 2010; 8:1-4.

   For further reading, see “Study Says Toning Shoes Don’t Live Up To The Hype” in the September 2010 issue of Podiatry Today or the DPM Blog “Are The New Rocker Sole Sneakers Worth The Hype?” at http://bit.ly/bzX7SH .

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