June 2011

Out on a limb: Rear views

by, Jordana Bieze Foster, Editor

Let’s face it: The words “toning shoes” have the same evocative effect as “Kim Kardashian” or “Jennifer Lopez.” They’re all about the butt.

And that may be fine for Kim and J-Lo.  But it’s too bad about the shoes, because they could be about so much more.

In the media and the blogosphere, all the buzz is about whether or not toning shoes do or don’t tone the tush. That’s probably not surprising, given that advertising for the shoes has had the same shapely, singular focus.

Frankly, I’m not particularly convinced by the arguments on either side. Most studies of toning shoes have included small numbers of active young adults, who undoubtedly had less room for improvement than the average person might. This includes the oft-cited American Council on Exercise study that found no significant effect of toning shoes on muscle activation or rate of perceived exertion—a study that seems to have only been published on ACE’s website.

So it’s no shock that these underpowered studies have not reported dramatic effects of toning shoes in the gluteus maximus or anywhere else. But some of those small studies have actually demonstrated statistically significant kinetic and kinematic changes that suggest wearers do have to make an effort to overcome the shoes’ instability (see “Testing toning shoes”).

Not all researchers who study training shoes want to talk about how well their patients fill out their Daisy Dukes. Some of them want to talk about the shoes’ potential for improving balance and reducing stress on the knee. They want to talk about how toning shoes make sedentary patients more active. They want to talk about making people healthier, not just more bootylicious.

When pressed, the shoe manufacturers will acknowledge some of these potential health benefits. But apparently appealing to people’s desire to be healthier doesn’t sell shoes nearly as well as appealing to their desire for a better badonkadonk.

I get that. I can remember as an underdeveloped pre-teen enviously taking note of my curvier classmates and asking my mother what one could do to get a bigger butt. (You’ll notice that I used the term “bigger,” not “better,” so it probably shouldn’t be surprising that my mother’s innocently unhelpful answer was that such people “do a lot of sitting.”)

And truth be told, advertisers have committed far worse sins than capitalizing on these types of body image issues. At least the toning shoe ads are promoting exercise, if indirectly, rather than implying that wearing the shoes while lounging in front of the TV will have the same effect.

But why not take that next step and promote toning shoes as a means to a healthier lifestyle as well as a provocative posterior? For that matter, why not invest in research to explore some of these other benefits in more detail?

We know why: It isn’t just about the butt. It’s also about money.

It seems unlikely that toning shoes are good for only one thing, which may be more than one can say for Kim Kardashian. But we may never know for sure.

4 Responses to Out on a limb: Rear views

  1. I would be very interested if anyone, including the American Council on Exercise, looked at the effects “toning shoes” have on muscle DEACTIVATION, which I haven’t seen discussed at all by pedorthists, PT’s, exercise physiologists, trainers or shoe manufacturers.
    Some type of rocker soles have a place for diabetics, folks with knee problems, certain structural dysfunctions. But for the general population, we have added another shoe that takes the intrinsic muscles of the leg and foot completely out of the picture.
    What I gain in “improved balance” (not demonstrated by solid research) or “butt definition” I lose in the foot’s built in ability to provide balance and stability thru hundreds of ongoing adjustments to the terrain.
    I see all kinds of foot, knee and hip problems (that translate into the back, shoulders and neck, eventually) from people wearing stupid shoes. From 4+ inch heels to rocker soles, we have no understanding of anatomical structure and function. Only the latest trend.
    This was addressed most recently in McDougal’s book Born to Run.

  2. For over 30yrs. I’ve watched kinesiotherapists use what I’ve called “instability training” (creating proprioceptive imbalance to incorporate all stabilizer small muscle groups for either rehab or sports performance. In a similar context, these so called “fitness, toning shoes can have a similar POSITIVE role if used properly. ( occasional use with the goal of strengthening all these stabilizer areas surrounding the jts. of the ankles, knees hips & back). The problem is the overhype & the TOO AGGRESSIVE use. If used a’s part of an overall program for enhanced stability & balance they can be helpful for a wide variety of people. And YES, orthotics can work well with these shoes

  3. Patrick Royce Simpson LO COA says:

    These types of shoes that I have seen aren’t a true rocker sole. The heel section of the sole seems to be much softer than the rest which makes a sort of negative heel at heel strike and forces the patient to fire their calves to get over the rocker.

  4. A closet full of dust-laden splints, walking boots and “miracle shoes” is the only evidence I can offer other foot patients – in other words, caveat emptor. To follow up on Jennifer’s point, relying on the latest trend, versus widely proven results, is_especially_ unsatisfying to anyone simply desperate for a better quality of life. Case in point. Two months ago, my surgeon suggested I wear Skechers Shape Ups to relieve chronic fasciatis pain and, being the compliant patient, I ended up at Kohl’s to do the deed. I stood and stared at the display signs of an airbrushed Kim Kardashian, shook my head and almost shouted out to every passerby “I’m buying these because my doctor told me to! I’m not delusional enough to think she and I will be sharing leggings now or ever!!” I felt I’d stooped to a new low and with no noticeable difference – either stepping forward without pain or my “backward area”, I know, unfortunately, it won’t be my last.

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