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Toning shoes are almost exclusively marketed to women. Makers of toning shoes promise to tighten thighs and firm up buttocks or even melt away cellulite without boring exercises or trips to the gym. They even stop joint and muscle pain - or do they?

Toning Shoes Are Great for Some, But Not for Everyone

Shape-up shoes, also known as toning shoes, are the hottest item in athletic supply stores all over the USA, Canada, and Australia. Made by MBT, New Balance, FitFlops, Reebok, Skechers, and Crocks, toning shoes are basically soft sneakers with a flexible, rocker-shaped sole.

Toning shoes are almost exclusively marketed to women. Makers of toning shoes promise to tighten thighs and firm up buttocks or even melt away cellulite without boring exercises or trips to the gym. They even stop joint and muscle pain—or do they?

Modest and Not-So-Modest Claims from Manufacturers

The claims toning shoe manufacturers make about their products are really quite modest. Reebok, for example, only says that its Runtone Prime Toning Shoe (which retails in North America for about US $60) "combines breathable comfort with enhanced performance." The makers of SmartSoles, which are an insert you put in your shoes to turn them into toning shoes, however, claim that their inserts "stimulate metabolism," "accelerate muscle regeneration," and "tighten legs and butt." This action, the SmartSoles manufacturer claims, "get to the root cause of" varicose veins and cellulite.

What Customers Say About Toning Shoes

Most people love their toning shoes. Some people don't. Here is a sampling of the kinds of comments you might hear from individual wearers of toning shoes and users of toning shoe inserts.

  • I'm on my feet eight hours a day. Since I've been wearing toning shoes to work, my lower back pain has gone away.
  • I thought the claim about dissolving cellulite had to be a joke, but I'd feel a little different in some positive way if I bought the insoles. I still have cellulite, and I don't feel any difference. (This buyer goes on to say she wears the shoes 30 minutes a day four or five days a week.)
  • After I had a broken femur, my legs were different lengths and I started having to buy custom-fitted orthotic shoes. The toning soles are the perfect height for me to use in just one shoe so that I don't have to spend a fortune on custom-made shoes any more!
  • The toning shoes are comfy, but if my legs and butt don't hurt, how do I know they are getting toned?
  • I have constant pain from plantar fascitis (a condition commonly called "heel spurs," although some people have bony spurs without pain and some people have pain without bony spurs). Toning shoes have been the only thing that helped.
  • I wore my toning shoes all day and although they are comfortable, I don't see any changes.
  • My heels hurt! My legs are definitely getting toned, but I can't stand the fiery pain in my heels!

Successful use of toning shoes and toning sole inserts requires a little patience. It is unlikely users would see changes in muscle tone in less than a month, and cellulite will not be improved at all (although thigh circumference may shrink very slightly).

Heel pain and back pain, on the other hand, may be relieved almost immediately. If you are using the inserts, it may be necessary to take out the existing insole and to use a well-worn pair shoes that is wider than most. And toning shoes are not for everyone.

Since users of toning shoes and the inserts that turn ordinary shoes into toning shoes report widely Differing experiences, what can scientists tell us about what to expect?

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