Health Gimmick of the Month: Toning Shoes


Normally, we at least have to dig down to infomercial-level obscurity before finding a gimmick worthy of a good roasting, but toning shoes made it way farther into the mainstream than they should have.

If you’re somehow not familiar with this particular attempt at losing weight and/or getting in shape with zero additional effort, it’s been a thing for a while now.

skechers toning shoes

In fact, Skechers, Dr. Scholl’s, New Balance, and other major brands have all joined the toning shoe craze.

Well-intentioned mall walkers everywhere have been duped into dubious toning-shoe purchases by the promises of decreased pain, improved circulation, and of course, a muscle toning effect. 

It’s been more than a decade since toning shoes blew up, but they’re still going.

Alright, so, what exactly are toning shoes, how are they purported to work, and what does the evidence say?

Real Versus Ideal: What Toning Shoes Actually Do

The spinoffs are continuing to spin-off, as strategically placed pads, inserts, and other features are added to the mix, but “rocker bottoms” are the archetype.

As it sounds, this refers to a rounded, convex protrusion extending from the bottom of the shoe, forcing a more dramatic heel-to-toe roll while preventing clomping.

Claims associated with toning shoes vary a bit per brand, but here’s a rapid-fire list that mashes some of the most common claims together:

  • “Sculpting” or “toning” the lower legs, glutes, thighs, etc.
  • Reducing ankle/foot/knee pain
  • Reducing spinal issues; back and neck pain
  • Improving circulation 
  • Increased exercise response/calories burned
  • Restoring a normal gait cycle

The foundational idea (at least with the rounded sole) isn’t actually crazy on paper—a rounded sole makes each step less stable, meaning you have to compensate by recruiting more stabilizing muscle groups than you normally would with a flatter shoe.

But boy, have these brands taken the idea and power-walked with it. 

Research Refutes Most Toning Shoe Claims

As this thorough debunking by ACE Fitness attests, the only peer-reviewed studies of toning shoes out there (some toning shoe brands offer crappy, non-peer-reviewed trials as evidence of benefits) are repeatedly concluding that toning shoes provide literally zero advantages over running shoes.

toning shoes

This is most likely because the body can quickly compensate for changes in the gait cycle; learning in a short period of time the easiest and most calorie-efficient way to recruit the strongest muscle groups in order to get around the new hitch in your giddyup. 

And by the way, these bad boys range from like $100-$250. Good on you for the thought, but save the money, take an extra 10 minutes on each walk, and there you have it. 


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