Heel-toe-glute

Heel-toe-glute

Can your muscles get a better workout just by changing the shoes you wear? That’s the claim being made by athletic shoe manufacturer Reebok. According to its marketing campaign, the company’s new EasyTone walking shoe tones the leg and buttock muscles better than regular walking shoes. And sales indicate the message is catching on with consumers. Reebok officials say EasyTone is the company’s most successful new product in the past five years. And other companies are jumping on the bandwagon, with shoes that promise a benefit to the body. The Swiss manufacturer Masai Group International sells a “rocker” shoe, the “MBT,” that has a curved sole intended to relieve back and arthritis pain. Skechers USA makes Shape-Ups, which are engineered to improve both muscle tone and posture, while promoting weight loss. FitFlops are designed to increase leg, calf and gluteal muscle activity, to give wearers, the company claims “a workout while you walk.” Most athletic shoes provide cushioning and support, but the new brands of muscle-activators are designed with sense of instability. Elements such as curved soles and the “balance pods” of Reebok’s EasyTone force the wearer to use stabilizing muscles, with the result being additional toning for calves, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. To support their claims, the manufacturers produce company-financed studies that suggest the shoes produce elevated levels of muscle engagement. But the studies don’t show if that muscle engagement will lead to long-term, sustained changes in appearance or muscle tone. And it isn’t clear if that engagement continues once the wearer gets used to wearing the shoe. The biggest impact in the muscle-shoe market so far comes from Reebok’s EasyTone, particularly in the way it’s marketed. In one TV ad, the camera moves from the woman’s face and close-ups her backside. Another commercial touts the gluteal and leg-toning benefits of the shoe, claiming it will “make your boobs jealous.” But there’s only a single study to support the claim that the shoes offer muscle toning, and that study involved just five people, and was not published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. The Reebok-financed study, conducted at the University of Delaware, involved five women walking for 500 steps on a treadmill wearing the EasyTone or another Reebok shoe, and also while barefoot. Using sensors to measure muscle activity, the study reported that wearing EasyTone worked the gluteal muscles around 28% more than regular walking shoes. Calf and hamstring muscles worked about 11% harder. The designers of EasyTone wanted to translate the technology used in gym stability balls into a shoe. They were especially intrigued by the ‘Bosu’ ball, a small half-spheroid used by exercisers who stand on it to engage leg and core muscles. The EasyTone designers wanted to mimic that effect, and added “balance pods” to the shoe’s toe and heel. When a person wearing the EasyTone walks, air pushes back and forth between toe and heel. It’s similar to the effect of walking on sand, requiring more balance and muscle engagement than walking on a flat surface. Retailers report brisk sales of EasyTone; one L.A. sporting goods outlet reported that Reebok sales doubled in November. It remains to be seen whether, over time, the effects will make a difference. A 2008 Canadian study of instability boards and balls found that moderate instability balls like the Bosu have little effect on muscle activation among experienced exercisers. The shoes are designed for walking, and because of their design, wearers are discouraged from jumping, running, or engaging in other athletic activities. The real effect may come from the walker’s simple awareness that they are wearing a muscle-activating shoe, which may cause them to walk more briskly and purposefully. – Boomer