Toning shoes: Walking on the ‘balls’ of your feet!

Genie Leung
23 January 2012

"Toning shoes", the new craze, claim to tone your muscles by keeping you unbalanced and in a continual state of (almost!) falling. So how do they work?

In the 90s, Swiss Masai designed their MBT toning shoe with a rounded sole and a unique interior padding under the heel. Now, industry giants including Skechers and Reebok have come out with their own versions. The buzz? Walk in these shoes for your everyday activities and your leg and back muscles will get stronger, your posture will get better, your knees and back won’t hurt, and you’ll be fitter.

The key is its design, and how it makes your muscles work.

Did You Know?
MBT stands for Masai — the African tribe that Swiss Masai engineers believe have ideal posture — Barefoot — the shoes claim to mimic barefoot walking (Read on to find out why!) — Technology.

Your muscles:

Skeletal muscles move your legs, arms, and body. Sets of opposing muscles cooperate so you move in different directions. For example, look at your left hand from the side (thumb toward you). Bend your hand forward; you contract the muscle running from the palm of your hand down the front of your wrist, and relax the muscle running from the back of your hand down to your elbow. Bend your hand backwards; the opposite happens. Now think about walking: hundreds of muscles contract and relax in synchrony to move your body and simultaneously keep you balanced.

Fast Fact: You have three types of muscle in your body: skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, and cardiac (heart) muscle. Smooth muscle is found in the lining of your blood vessels, your digestive system, and your lungs (just to name a few), while cardiac muscle is found in your heart. Skeletal muscle is voluntary (you can consciously control its activity) while smooth and cardiac muscle are involuntary. Learn more about how muscles work on a cellular and molecular level.

Ever walk barefoot at the beach? Your leg muscles tire more easily because they work extra hard to keep your balance on the constantly shifting sand. And no exercise equipment takes better advantage of imbalance to tone your muscles than the exercise ball. Fast Fact: Exercise balls were invented in Italy more than 40 years ago. They’ve been adapted for physiotherapy, gymnastics, and even as jumping toys for children!

The design:

The toning shoes’ rounded sole serves dual purposes. It lessens impact to reduce knee and back pain and throws off your balance (think walking on exercise balls) so your muscles need to constantly compensate. To complete your wobbly walking experience, special padding is even designed to mimic sand.

Whether the shoes actually work is under debate. Some people love them, while others find new pains because they have to adopt a new way of walking. It seems the benefits are person specific, and you just might have to try them out to see if they work for you.

Learn more!

MBT shoes: Watch the Video

Global News: Fitness shoes may not be the right step for consumers

CNN: Shoes' toning claims draw experts' doubt

The Guardian: Sole searching

The Mayo Clinic: Finding a good pair of shoes

Article first published on June 22, 2010.


Genie Leung

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