August 1, 2010

ACE Study on Toning Shoes

“Toning shoes” are the new big thing in the sneaker business. Sketchers, the manufacturer of Shape-ups, call them “…a great way to exercise while you go about your busy day!” and profess that “…walking in Shape-ups can help burn more calories, tone muscles and more.” Sounds like a great concept, right? Reebok (Easy Tone), New Balance (TrueBalance) , and other sneaker companies have jumped into the market with similar products that claim to help you get into shape without ever setting foot in a gym.

I was recently provided with a pair of toning sneakers to test out. On the surface, the theory behind toning shoes seems reasonable. The shoes are designed with a curved sole. This creates somewhat of an unstable environment, which should theoretically require users to increase muscle activation to facilitate balance. Question is, do these sneakers really live up to the hype? Sadly, the answer is not much, if at all.

While toning shoes do provide a measure of instability during walking, the overall effect is very slight–certainly not enough to have a meaningful impact on muscle development, posture, balance, and other fitness parameters. Other than those who are rehabbing a lower ankle sprain or are very unfit, I can’t imagine they would provide any additional fitness benefits at all. A recent study conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) backs up this view. The study compared the exercise responses and muscle activation between walking in traditional athletic shoes versus toning shoes. The results? Neither exercise response (as measured by ratings of perceived exertion, oxygen consumption, and caloric expenditure) nor muscle activation (as measured by EMG) showed significant differences between the two groups.

Moreover, given their unusual design, it is possible that toning shoes may alter normal gait patterns. This could potentially increase the possibility of injury to soft tissue structures, particularly in those who have existing joint problems in their lower extremities. Thus, someone rehabbing from a lower ankle sprain (seemingly a target consumer for the product), should think twice before purchasing a pair.

That said, injury associated with wearing toning shoes should be of little concern to otherwise healthy individuals. I actually found the shoes to be quite comfortable once you get used to them. The additional cushioning produces an airy feel, and absorbs ground reaction forces nicely. Thus, while they might not provide any additional fitness benefits, they can be considered a viable alternative to traditional sneakers if you’re simply looking for walking comfort.

Bottom line: Don’t expect to get fit simply by walking around in a pair of toning shoes. When something sounds to be too good to be true, it usually is. That’s the case here. If you want to shape up, you’re going to have to work out. There are no shortcuts.

Stay Fit!



  1. Nice summation Brad. Now if someone would tell Joe Montana so he’d stop pimping them for Sketchers…

    Comment by Dave Soucy — August 4, 2010 @ 6:57 am

  2. Thanks Dave. Unfortunately, many celebrities will say almost anything if you pay them enough money.


    Comment by Brad — August 4, 2010 @ 7:15 am

  3. Please look at for scientific studies on the effectiveness of toning shoes and rocker bottom shoes. The site includes peer-reviewed studies published in journals.

    Comment by Toning Shoes — August 12, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  4. Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, these studies do little to change the facts. While simply looking at the abstracts of the studies might lead one to conclude that toning shoes are superior than non-toning shoes, this isn’t the case when examining the specifics of the research. For example:

    In the study by Gatreau et al., it was stated that “both men and women in the Shape-ups group reported a higher amount of walking than corresponding subjects in the control group.” Thus, the improvements in body composition can be attributed to a greater amount of exercise, not because the sneakers had a bigger impact on fat burning.

    The study by Kalin et al. was performed on patients with ankle instability. As I mentioned in my post, toning shoes might have applicability in a rehabilitation population. It should be noted, however, that this study was not published as far as I can tell, and also was funded by an orthotics company. Thus, the findings should be taken with caution.

    The study by Romkes was perhaps the most interesting of the lot. But although a “statistically significant” increase in EMG activity was noted in several muscles in those wearing the toning shoes, the actual increase was slight. Remember that the term statistically significant simply means that results are likely not due to chance, not that they are meaningful. I can’t see these increased muscle levels having much if any effect on a healthy individual. What’s more, subjects wearing the toning shoes walked with smaller steps, so it’s difficult to know whether this was the cause of any muscle differences rather than the shoes themselves.

    In sum, the data provided does little to change my initial view on the topic. As I stated in my post, I do think there may be some potential benefit of the shoes to those rehabbing an injury. And if the toning shoes do encourage a person to become more active, as was the case in the study by Gatreau et al., then that’s great. But based on all available evidence, simply walking around in a pair of toning shoes will not help a person get into shape, as stated in ads by some of the sneaker manufacturers.


    Comment by Brad — August 16, 2010 @ 6:43 am

  5. I weigh 300 lbs. I’ve lost 60+ pounds over the past 2 years. I’ve been walking a lot. Regular shoes give me blisters on my feet, so I use these type of shoes because of the comfort. They make walking long distances easy for a big guy like me! No other reason. When standing still, because the rear of the shoe is cut out at about a 45 degree angle, you can actually lose you balance a little if your body weight leans back a bit.

    Comment by Natdiamond — May 22, 2012 @ 11:51 am

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