By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
You know the type of athletic footwear. While they go by a lot of different names, they all claim that the curved rocker bottom and cutting edge support system will leave you fitter, healthier, and more toned by summer, all just by wearing them for your regular activities. I've had a lot of questions lately about whether or not these shaping and toning shoes are really effective. Truthfully, like so many things, it really depends.
Weight lifters have used wedges when squatting for years and walkers and runners have always seen the benefit of including hills in their training. This new generation of toning shoes works on the same kinetic principles by lowering the heels to bring greater awareness to the core and gluteal muscles and lessening stress to the vulnerable knees and low back.
So far, so good. If you're using these shoes to work in a fairly controlled environment, such as walking on a treadmill, simple weight lifting, and daily activities, they may actually help you to tone your legs and strengthen your core. If you add greater stress than that, these shoes come with challenges. Lowering your heels puts a greater pull on your Achilles tendon and calf muscles, an area that (from wearing high heels) may already be tight for the women that these shoes are targeting. Additionally, activities that challenge your stability, such as aerobics or running, could become unsafe when the added challenge of these shoes comes into the mix. On top of that, the rocker bottom and thick soles could add some stabilization challenges in unexpected activities throughout your day, such as a rough sidewalk or slippery surface.
While the shoes probably won't hurt you if used wisely, my recommendation is to train smarter. Add some core work and maybe a few good squats to your workout routine, rather than hoping some fancy shoes will do the work for you. In the long run, this will leave you stronger and with fewer risks for injuries. For more on the risks and benefits of fitness shoes, check out this link.