Toning Shoes… A Good Idea Gone Bad?

August 29, 2011

I have to admit… I own and absolutely heart my Skechers Shape-ups. I was definitely a bit skeptical at first but after I waited until they came out with a pair that looked a little less like nursing home shoes:-) I decided it was time to try out the new technology. While I’d never give up my workouts, which are usually 6 days/week, I have found that when I don’t have time to get to the gym, just wearing these shoes around for a few hours make my legs burn and tire out nicely! That said, just the mere muscle soreness I feel in my thighs and honestly my butt makes me think there really must be something to these claims after all. 

That said, it seems that a little instability is creating a whole lot of cash for sneaker makers. Toning shoes — which are sneakers designed with an unstable sole so leg muscles have to work harder to maintain balance during everyday activities — are the fastest-growing segment in the footwear industry, with sales expected to jump fivefold to $1.5 billion this year.  (source)

Some of the most popular brands are as follows:

New Balance True Balance

Skechers Shape-ups

Trimsole toning sandals

Puma Bodytrain



Reebok Easytone


Crocs Tone

Ryn toning shoes

According to a USA Today report, shoe analyst Matt Powell of SportsOneSource predicts that sales will explode 400% this year, to more than $1.5 billion. This sudden growth is not surprising considering heavy promotion including Super Bowl ads featuring Kim Kardashian throwing over her personal trainer for her Skecher shoes and targeting men through endorsements by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. Couple great marketing with our natural desire to want to get in shape without the work and the appeal of toner shoes is understandable.

According to Skechers.com, Shape-ups are designed to improve posture, improve circulation, increase muscle tone, reduce joint strain, strengthen the back and firm calves, thighs and buttocks. This product is able to do this with a dynamic rounded bottom and kinetic flexible insert to mimic walking.

However, these popular shoes aren’t without their critics.  “There’s major risks, especially for adults,” said David M. Davidson, national president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. He has treated patients who developed Achilles tendonitis and stress fractures that he suspects were caused by wearing toning shoes. “Creating instability, on adults especially, is not a good thing.”     (Kansas City Injury Board)

In Ohio, a lawsuit by Holly Ward claims that Skechers Shape-Ups have caused serious injury to her hips.  

Though previously active, Ms. Ward was interested in the added toning claimed by Skechers and wore the “Shape-Up” shoes for five months, both for walking and during her job as a waitress. At the end of that time something was seriously wrong. A doctor’s visit and MRI showed that both hips, specifically the femoral necks, were fractured.

“The extensive use of these shoes has injured me catastrophically,” Ward said. She ended up with surgery to insert six pins to hold her hips together. Ward’s life now consists of physical rehab and moving about with a walker.

While the jury is still out on how damaging these shoes might actually be to our joints, I remain a believer in their claims and plan to continue wandering (because I’d never dare run in them) the streets of Chicago wearing my Shape-ups.  

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