With product claims including weight loss, increased muscle tone, a reduction in lower back pain, and overall improvement in posture and balance it is no wonder that millions of pairs of so called “toning” shoes with an unstable construction have been sold worldwide. This type of footwear was introduced in the mid 90’s and has continued to grow in popularity since its introduction. It seems every time you turn around another manufacturer has released their own modelToning or unstable shoes have been developed to simulate an effect similar to the wobble board, with the primary purpose of activating and strengthening muscles that may be relatively inactive and underutilized while wearing a more stable shoe.
With a surprisingly large amount of available research on this type of footwear it is a daunting task for a Certified Pedorthist to slog through all that information no less the average consumer. Interestingly, while doing research, I came across several journal articles coming from the Human Performance Laboratory located at The University of Calgary. The research seemed to support many of the claims made by one of the leading “toning” shoe manufacturers… and then I saw why. This manufacturer has sponsored several research projects conducted by the authors of these articles. Unfortunately, this puts a large amount of the research into question along with the claimed benefits of the footwear.
Despite the misleading product claims and questionable research, this type of footwear has numerous beneficial features. Some models have a significant heel to toe rocker (those shoes that you see in stores that look like the bottom of a rocking chair), a cushioned heel that can work to dampen and attenuate forces at heel strike and many will actually accommodate foot orthotics. I have found that these characteristics make them an effective footwear option for people with a reduced range of ankle/forefoot motion, and for people who require some additional shock absorption at the rearfoot. In addition, while I don’t think the shoes are going to help ‘tone’ more than any others, they are a great alternative for someone who may have limited range of motion in the ankle and therefore would benefit from a custom rocker modification but are looking for something a little more aesthetically pleasing.
Here are a few things to think about when selecting one of the many options:

  • Do a little research prior to purchasing any one model and try more than one model to make a more informed decision.
  • If you wear foot orthotics, take them with you when you go shopping to make certain they fit into the shoes.
  • Ensure that the heel to toe rocker on the footwear has a smooth curvature and is stiff enough that the shoe does not bend when walking.
  • Avoid models that have a significant medial/lateral or side to side rocker; unless the goal is to strengthen specific muscle groups and is being utilized as a rehabilitation or training tool.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in this type of footwear to discuss the idea with a Canadian Certified Pedorthist and see if it’s right for them.
Ian Morgan,  BA, C. Ped Tech (C), C. Ped  (C) St. John’s, Newfoundland