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New Research: Toning Shoes, Instability Exercises Don't Work

Posted Aug 18 2010 7:50pm
Shoe pants. (Shpants? Poos?) Brilliant. If you keep the laces going up, you could use them like suspenders thereby completing the trifecta of cool.

You knew they were too good to be true. We all did. And yet "Officials from Reebok, a unit of Adidas , say the EasyTone is the company’s most successful new product in at least five years." I blame the word "easy." Here's how it went down in my brain
Um, I have to wear shoes. (And a shirt or I won't get any service.) Minnesota weather precludes me from going barefoot 9 months out of the year so they're an evil necessity. So if I must wear shoes, I might as well get a little bit of toning action in at the same time, right? How hard can it be - they're actually called EASY.

Unfortunately I discovered very quickly that wearing "toning shoes" not only didn't do anything noticeable for my legs or butt, but they were also painful and nearly injurious. I picked the MBTs for my 30-day Experiment as they are generally considered to be the best (and science-iest), if not the prettiest, of the toning shoes. I didn't last 30 days. I barely lasted two weeks. There's a reason you never see a Weeble Wobble lifting weights (besides the fact they have no arms or legs). Turbo Jennie wanted to give them a spin as well so I gave them to her with the instructions to wear them as long as she liked. She gave them back to me the very next day. If a physical education teacher and group fitness instructor doesn't think they work, then the shoes have a serious credibility issue.

Recent research has back up my experience.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE), America’s leading authority on fitness and the largest non-profit fitness certification, education and training organization in the world, today released the findings from an independent research study on the effectiveness of popular toning shoes including Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) and Reebok EasyTone. The study, one of the first from an independent organization, enlisted a team of researchers from the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, and found no evidence to suggest that the shoes help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone. "Our findings demonstrate that toning shoes are not the magic solution consumers were hoping they would be, and simply do not offer any benefits that people cannot reap through walking, running or exercising in traditional athletic shoes.” [ ACE Fitness ]

Jen Sinkler, editor of Experience Life , explains the fundamental problem with these shoes (and any unstable training surface, including BOSUs and exercise balls) on her blog Survival of the Fittest saying , "The idea that training on unstable surfaces is a good thing is flawed in and of itself -- check out " Build Your Balance " for a glimpse into Eric Cressey's research on the topic (the gist: unstable-surface training makes you slower and less powerful) -- and aside from that, the muscle-activation research these shoe companies are producing is flimsy at best ( tiny studies, questionable results )."

The shoe failure did not surprise me. (After all, what do you expect from a company that uses talking boobs to sell shoes ?) The BOSU failure, however, did. For years I've seen people doing all kinds of different activities on the BOSU (both sides up) ball : everything from weight lifting to jogging to push-ups to abs. Gym Buddy Allison and I used to take a twice-weekly BOSU class. And we really liked it! We were told that doing regular moves on an unstable surface would "activate our cores" and "work our small supporting muscles" as well as improve our balance. Not so, says the research. And not only do unstable surfaces, whether they be BOSU or shoe, not have a fitness benefit they also up your risk for injury.

What's your opinion on unstable surface training? Have you ever tried any of the toning shoes? Do you love the BOSU/Swiss ball/balance board? Does this research change your mind about any of it? Anyone else think that stupid talking boobs ad is one of the lamest ads of all time?

Shoe fish. Not brilliant.

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