Shape up or tone out

— image credit:
Sequim Gazette

Toning shoes, or rocker soles, are popular in Sequim, around the peninsula and throughout the U.S.
Brands like Reebok, New Balance, Avia, Champion and L.A. Gear are capitalizing on Americans’ desire to shape up their lower bodies through everyday activities.  Advertising campaigns, like the one for Skechers’ Shape-ups, promise immediate benefits — enhanced fitness, improved posture, a toned lower body and weight-loss — without going to the gym.  Dr. Harold Huff, a Sequim podiatrist, said each toning shoe has a similar basic design. “The idea is that you stress body parts differently than in regular shoes,” Huff said. Kristin LaMoure, owner of Sequim Gym and a certified trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine, said she sees some people wearing the toning shoes around town and in the gym.  “My experience is that most of the people who get them want a quick fix and believe it’ll do that because of what the commercials say, but it’s not true,” LaMoure said. Skechers commercials, for example, claim the shoes propel the wearer into each step and promote a more natural way to walk.  “This only works a certain group of muscles,” LaMoure said. “I have never known anyone to lose weight or build muscle with those shoes.”  LaMoure finds her physically active friends don’t wear toning shoes but regular walking and running shoes instead.

Possible red flags

Huff agrees that people might get better results with walking and running shoes because a number of things could go wrong with toning shoes. “They potentially could cause lower back issues and some Achilles (tendon) issues in people, based on the design and the way we walk,” he said.  “The only situation where I might recommend the shoe is if there is arthritis in part of the feet. It doesn’t mean some people can’t wear them and be fine. But for most people, if they think they are going to get some life-altering results, it’s not going to make a bit of difference.”

Recent study
A 2010 study by the American Council of Exercise examined Skechers Shape-ups, Reebok Easy Tone, Masai Barefoot Technology and a regular New Balance running shoe. In two studies, 24 physically active women ages 19-27 tested exercise responses and muscle activation while wearing the shoes.  All subjects completed 12 exercise trials, walking a treadmill for five minutes wearing each brand of shoe in random order. They walked at 3 mph with no incline; 3.5 mph with no incline; and at 3.5 mph with a 5-percent incline.

Researchers monitored oxygen consumption, heart rate, perceived exertion and caloric expenditure.

For muscle activation, researchers used electromyography to record muscle activity in six muscles: the calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abdominals.  They found no significant difference between the toning and running shoes for oxygen consumption, how much oxygen people took in versus being at rest, and caloric expenditure.  The second muscle activation study revealed subtle differences, sometimes favoring each shoe, but ultimately no significant differences among the shoes.

  Shoe manufacturers back their claims with studies, but the American Council of Exercise said those studies are not peer-reviewed.  To read the study, visit

Shoe fads

Toning shoes join a long list of fad shoes and marketing ploys — not all necessarily fitness-related. A few popular concepts and brands are Reebok’s Pumps, Moon boots/shoes, L.A. Lights, Wheelies, flip-flops, Crocs and Nike Shox.


Huff said one brand similar to toning shoes is Earth Footwear, which have a 3.7-degree incline from heel to toe. The company states on its website that the negative heel helps people strengthen and tone their bodies with every step and naturally redistributes body weight.


Huff disagrees with those claims and said that the incline doesn’t promote better posture either.

LaMoure said some of her runner friends are trying the barefoot shoes like those by Masai, which separate the toes.


“They protect the bottom of your feet from the elements, but it’s like a very expensive sock,” LaMoure said. “People are supposed to build up slowly (their tolerance) with miles but (friends) say they are getting great results.”


Overall, LaMoure said she wouldn’t recommend the toning shoes for people who do a lot of activity.


“If they say they can’t run, I ask them how they can increase their heart rate on a walk. Do you incorporate a hill on your walk, wear weighted vests or backpacks by putting weight closer to your body?” she said.


LaMoure recommends people talk to a trainer or a doctor before wearing the shoes.


Huff said he has patients who enjoy toning shoes.


“A lot of people are bulletproof and they could wear anything without lower extremity problems,” Huff said. “People like fads and (toning shoes) are making their manufacturers a lot of money.”


He said those without leg, foot or ankle troubles need not consult a doctor about the shoes unless there are existing or developing problems in the lower extremities.


Toning shoes are available at most shoe dealers in the county and online and cost about $100.

Reach Matthew Nash at


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates