Toning shoes are considered to be shoes that are deliberately made unstable with design features like a rocker bottom shoe. The purpose of this instability is to create a balance problem so that the muscles have to work harder to compensate. As a result it is claimed that this gives an extra workout or ‘tone up’ when wearing the shoes. That is how the name ‘toning’ was applied to this class of exercise footwear. The sector of the market was originally made popular by the MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) shoes and then later by the Skechers Shape Ups and The Reebok Easy Tone shoes.
What characterized the toning shoes sector initially were the extremely exaggerated and over-hyped claims that were made for the benefits of those muscles working harder due to the design of the shoes. There were advertisements that the shoes could give you a better ‘butt’ as a result of the tone up. There were claims that the extra work could help you lose more weight when you exercise and there were even claims that these shoes could help contribute to a solution to the global obesity epidemic if everyone started using them! There were claims about how they could improve the circulation and varicose veins. Endorsements by several celebrities also helped hype up the benefit of these shoes.
Eventually the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the American Council of Fitness (ACE) took a closer look at the claims. Firstly the ACE sponsored a study to test the claims and they found none of them to be true. They found there was no increased muscle activity while wearing the shoes and also no increased expenditure of calories when wearing them compared to a conventional training shoe. Other studies have found minor changes in muscle activity while some others have not found any differences. So effectively, the evidence did not support what the marketing hype was claiming. Both Skechers and Reebok were taken to task by the FTC for the claims and both companies agrees to settle for multi-million dollar amounts.
It is not clear exactly where the toning shoe sector will head now. The shoes do possibly have some uses in some clinical conditions. For example a number of clinicians are using them for thing like painful hallux rigidus. Others are trialling them in people with chronic postural problems due to the slight change that they induce in the gait. Some athlete may also benefit from them with periodic use in order to use the lower limb muscles in a different way for short periods of time.