Toning Shoes and America's Obsession with Fast Fitness

Americans have a lust for fast fitness, and why not? We love fast. Fast is good. Fast is American. And fast is what we are accustomed to. We are busy and we are fat. Can't someone come up with a quick fix?

Well, there are plenty of companies that would love to cater to this need. So along with the fad diets, the cleanses, and the books on how to get fit in 6 minutes, toning shoes were introduced.

Are they the latest gimmick, designed to feed the American need for quick fixes, or are they the real deal? This week I took a look at MBT shoes, Skechers Shape-Ups, and Reebok EasyTones to find out. MBT shoes and Skechers Shape-Ups are similar: they are designed with a curved sole that mimics walking on sand. The Reebok EasyTones were inspired by the Bosu ball and have mini air pods under the ball and heel of the foot that create an unstable walking surface.

Do they work? Dr. R Amadeus Mason, a sports medicine expert from Emory University, was interviewed on CNN.com. He says that while the shoes are good for orthopedic reasons, they will not get you fit. He recommends hitting the gym if you want to get in shape.

It's no big surprise that the ads for the shoes, which market them as substitutes for the gym and claim wearers will tone their legs, reduce cellulite and lose weight, are exaggerating the benefits. However, informal interviews with friends and colleagues revealed some benefits to the shoes. Virtually everyone I spoke to said the shoes improved their posture. Lower back pain and knee pain were resolved for several people. 39-year-old mom of two, Vivian D'Agostino, conducted a test with her heart rate monitor that clearly demonstrated she burns more calories when wearing her MBT shoes than when wearing her regular sneakers. She wears them while exercising to increase the challenge. She is a convert.

What do I think? If the recession hadn't decimated my finances, I would buy a pair. Moving the highly successful technique of creating instability in order to activate muscles from the gym's stability balls and discs to the shoe is compelling.

No, wearing a shoe that creates instability will not get you fit on its own. But these shoes are one more tool to help people get there.

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