Jury is out on whether toning shoes actually work

Close-up of a woman's feet as she wears sandals that are marketed as toning shoes that help improve muscle tone in the calves, thighs and gluteal muscles.

These sandals operate on the same – some would say uncomfortable – principle as athletic toning shoes. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Michelle Sherwood/Michelle Sherwood blog)

Toning shoes have existed for a number of years, and recently they have become a mass market product. The common manufacturer sales pitch (sometimes accompanied by a celebrity endorsement) is that when worn during normal daily activities, their shoes will help improve muscle tone in the calves, thighs and buttocks. According to NPR, however, health claims made for shoes like Skechers Shape-Ups and Reebok Easy Tones may be more hype than truth.

Toning shoes – get healthy for $100 to $245 a pair

Toning shoes are more expensive than standard athletic shoes, costing anywhere from $100 to $245 per pair. Some consumers claim that they help improve back pain, which is likely because they force the consumer to either adopt proper posture or fall over. However, unlike a pair of stiletto heels, toning shoes aren’t fashion-forward. Plus there’s significant doubt that it is the toning shoes themselves that have made muscle toning possible.

Studies doubt the exercise aid claims

Numerous studies of toning shoes suggest that they may deserve the moniker “exercise aids” just as much as any other pair of standard athletic shoes. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) and other non-profit groups studied Skechers, Reebok and MBT brands of toning shoes and compared them to ordinary running shoes. The common finding is that there is not enough evidence to suggest that toning shoes “help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.” Studies sponsored by the shoe manufacturers beg to differ, of course.

Skechers challenges the findings

Leonard Armato, the president of Skechers Fitness Group, told NPR that the ACE study is “contradicted by more than a dozen larger and more rigorous studies,” as well as customer feedback. However, ACE maintains that the independent researchers from the University of Wisconsin who conducted the study used legitimate scientific techniques and had no vested corporate interest – or perhaps no coupons being waved under their noses by a major shoe manufacturer. Perhaps the one claim the shoe manufacturers could hang their hats on is that toning shoes may be encouraging consumers to exercise more. Increased activity definitely shows results.


American Council On Exercise Study

Kalin Study

Li Study


Romkes Study


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