There’s an interesting societal trend toward the path of least resistance, to the “magic solution” that will give maximum results with minimal effort. The modern day equivalent of snake oil salesmen thrive in large part because the idea of losing weight, increasing sexual prowess, whatever in effortless and relatively inexpensive ways make for an easy bandwagon to jump upon.
Those ugly toning sneakers (such as Shape-ups by Skechers), the funny-looking ones with the thick sole that supposedly provides a gym workout while walking, are just the latest in a long line of fads that appear to have been outed as a bunch of hype.
$1.5 billion worth of hype, in fact, as an astoundingly large number of people decide to work out while they walked.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) commissioned a study at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Researchers compared people walking on a treadmill wearing a regular running shoe by New Balance and three brands of toning shoes: Skechers Shape-ups, Rebook EasyTone and MBT shoes from Masai Barefoot …
The test subjects walked for 5 minutes wearing each of the shoes at 3 mph, 3.5 mph and 3.5 mph with a 5 percent grade. While they walked, the researchers monitored their heart rate, oxygen consumption and muscle usage (abdominals, butt, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves).
“Based on our research, we saw absolutely nothing,” says John Porcari, Ph.D, director of the University’s clinical exercise physiology program. “There was not even a hint of something going on.”
The study found there was no difference between the regular running shoe and any of the toning shoes when it came to heart rate, oxygen consumption, calories burned or muscle activity.
“This doesn’t make the shoes bad or a total waste of money,” says Cedric Bryant, ACE’s chief science officer. “But you could achieve the same things with normal running shoes.”
If you think about it, the marketing that went on in this situation is kind of like politics—it’s not exactly a lie, but it’s not the truth, either. Skechers and Reebok were right in that their toning shoes were conducive to exercise—but they’re no more conducive to exercise than any other running sneaker.
The basic concept of these sneakers is that their “rocker-bottom” soles are intentionally unstable, echoes of walking shoeless on the beach.
“It’s very intuitive,” says Leonard Armato, president of the fitness group at Skechers USA. “Walking on sand will be more effortful than walking on a hard surface.”
Armato says this extra effort makes your muscles work harder than when you wear normal athletic shoes, which results in more toning and more calories burned.
Um … well … not if the American Council on Exercise’s research holds any water.
And a look at the ad for Skechers Shape-ups makes it pretty obvious that no sneaks could accomplish all this—I mean, you might as well promise that they’ll chop up your vegetables and wake you up before your alarm clock every morning while you’re at it.
Skechers claims its Shape-ups will do even more:
“Shape-ups are designed to help you strengthen your muscles, including your back, abdomen and calves. Shape-ups will help you lose weight and improve your circulation, creating a healthier you!”
If you believe the ads, Shape-ups will also improve posture, reduce stress on your back and legs, firm your buttocks and tone your thighs – even reduce cellulite.
Not surprisingly, both Skechers and Reebok are questioning the veracity of the ACE study, with Reebok issuing the following statement:
“Reebok has never claimed that by wearing EasyTone a person will burn more calories or that EasyTone is a ‘magic bullet’ that will replace exercise. EasyTone is a great way to get more muscle activity from your daily routine and can be a beneficial part of a healthy fitness lifestyle. Reebok is a fitness company with a long heritage and history and our goal is to help people have fun while staying in shape. EasyTone is one way they can do this.”
You might wonder why these rad rocker-bottom kicks are suddenly getting so much attention, although I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that it started with a lawsuit from a pissed off patron that didn’t magically lose weight and gain muscle tone.
Last month, a class action lawsuit was filed against Skechers by a woman in California. Venus Morga says she bought a pair of Shape-ups and did not experience any of the promised benefits.
In her lawsuit, Morga claims the company’s “false and misleading advertising campaign has allowed it to reap millions of dollars of profit at the expense of the consumers it misled.” The complaint also alleges that some people have been injured by wearing Shape-ups
While I agree with the Skechers company that the lawsuit is frivolous, part of me just wonders what took so long for it to happen. I mean, obviously these sneakers aren’t going to show dramatic and drastic results on people that don’t dramatically and drastically change their exercise habits … yet if you look at the dubious promises made in the advertisements, you could have seen it coming a mile away.
Anyway, there are also some legitimate concerns regarding these sneakers, whose unstable soles are an obvious balancing issue.
At Consumer Reports, Dr. Orly Avitzur, MD, is concerned that seniors who wear toning shoes could increase their risk of falling, which could result in hip fractures or other serious injuries.
“They are touted as this big miracle and actually for certain folks, they can be quite dangerous,” she says. “So if there’s no real advantage and some people risk falls, I think it’s actually more risk than reward.”
Eric Heit, DPM, who heads the podiatry section at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, tells me toning shoes “redistribute the forces of walking” which can cause low back or knee pain.
I didn’t get a pair of these shoes when they first came out, mainly because I’m a Nike girl, but also because I thought they looked uglier than hell and I’m kind of a shoe snob. However, it also occurred to me (in a fleeting, no-way-in-heck-would-I-put-something-that-ugly-on-my-feet-but-even-if-I-were-to-consider-it way) that I wouldn’t do well with the rocker-bottom thing because I’m one of the clumsiest people in the world.
I was honestly surprised by how prevalent these sneakers are, though, both because of their heinous appearance and for the obvious (well, to me obvious) scam factor. I’m glad that the ACE outed them in the false advertising category and hope that this will allow them to fade into quiet oblivion.
Have any of you given toning sneakers a shot?