Body Blog: Skip the Gym, Just Wear These Shoes?

It’s strange, considering I write the a column on health and fitness, but I really don’t like exercising.  I like the benefits of exercising, though, so I’ll do just about anything to get those without having to step foot into the stinky, sticky gym. So when a shoe company’s all, “PSH girl, you don’t need to go to the gym! Just wear these shoes instead!” I get a little excited. Okay, REALLY excited. But could a pair of shoes really tone my lower body enough (making me look like the girl in the ad) to make them worth the $50+ they cost? Do these things really work?

Here are the facts:

Fitflops/Shapeups/Easytones work by messing with your balance (an effect similar to walking on sand) to work your muscles more than usual. They claim to tone you up without going to the gym (making “your boobs jealous”) and burn more calories than walking in a standard shoe. And women are totally buying into the claims. These shoes are flying off the shelves faster than the holiday-themed chocolate-covered strawberries in my fridge (and let me tell you, those are disappearing really quickly).

According to studies (by the companies that created the shoes, mind you), these shoes do work. But how much can we really trust the results? They weren’t even thorough! Reebok, for instance, conducted a study with a total of five (count ‘em, FIVE) women, which doesn’t leave much room for accurate results. And it doesn’t really make me jump for joy – not that I could anyway. You’re not even allowed to jump or run while wearing these shoes. (Yet you still somehow get a really awesome workout…)

Even if the studies are legit, none of the companies have done long-term research to see if your muscles actually get more defined over time from wearing them. Plus, research on instability equipment in general (like those Bosu balls) shows that if you’re already in good shape, the unbalanced shoe will not increase your muscle activation. And even if they do work, what happens after your feet get used to them? No one knows if they’ll still be effective. But hey, Reebok’s head research guy says that they collected 15,000 hours of data from shoe users who “feel something in their muscles after they’ve walked in the product.” Great – I like “feeling something” in my muscles as well, but I’m pretty sure that happens in normal shoes, too.

The experts (mostly people who aren’t being paid by sports companies) say that the shoes might work because people will walk faster and with more purpose than they would in a regular shoe. But that’s not really due to the shoe itself. And I know the difference. So if if I’m already in good shape and they won’t be as effective, AND I can’t even run in them, it looks like I’ll just have to suck it up and hit the gym.

At least I’ll have that extra fifty in my wallet for Christmas presents, though.

Result:
There is no “quick fix” to a fit body. Spend your money on a cross trainer/running shoe and hit the gym. Or go for a run. Or just go for a walk. You’ll have a more versatile shoe (you know, one you can actually job and walk in) and you’ll get real results.

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