Have you noticed “toning shoes” such as Shape Ups, MBT’s, and Easy Tones? They are easily recognized because the sole is extra thick, rounded, and the heel is missing.  This forces the wearer to adopt a rolling motion when walking.  This would, in theory, also force the wearer to expend more calories per stride.  The overall effect is the same as if you had unstable ankles.  I doubt anyone could sell you a shoe if they told you it was the Unstable Ankle Shoe.  But the lure of a stronger back, firmer legs and a tighter abdomen is enticing, not to mention the Internet buzz about shapely calves and a tighter butt. Since walking is a great low-intensity exercise that can suppress appetite, I felt obligated to research these so-called toning shoes to see if they had a positive impact over regular sneakers. At anywhere from $100-$245, one could purchase several pairs of high quality sneakers for the same price.

The Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, Wisconsin did extensive testing on the shoes.  The manufacturers are correct in that walking on unstable ankles forces one to shorten stride and walk more upright. The Wisconsin team measured the difference in energy consumption by recording oxygen consumption using VO2 equipment similar to what we use at Age Management Boston, and they found that the amount of extra energy consumed was miniscule. Similarly, the contention that something you wear on your foot will change the muscle tone of your rear was also refuted.  The researchers measured electrical discharge from leg muscles up to the lower back during exercise with both normal sneakers and toning sneakers – there was no difference.  In practice, the best way to develop the gluteus maximus (the butt) is with sprinting motions, of which bicycle sprints with the weight over the handlebars, or running uphill, are typical.  Deep squats also develop the gluteus maximus, but create excessive strain on the back, hips and knees, and are not recommended. Lastly, since the toning sneakers create ankle instability, they should be avoided by anyone with ankle, knee, or hip arthritis. My conclusion is they tone the wallet more than the body.

James Katz MD

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