Sound too good to be true? It usually is. And when it comes to trendy, pricy toning shoes-which have rounded or unstable soles that are supposed to help the wearer burn more calories by increasing "muscle activation"-studies show that while exercise does plenty to boost calorie consumption and tone your bod, the shoes don't really make a difference.
Last year, a research team from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, sponsored by the American Council of Exercise, tested different types of specialty shoes, including ones that promised to tone your leg muscles and burn calories. The bottom line? "There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone," the researchers concluded. (You can read the entire report here.)
And consumers are taking those results to heart. A lawsuit filed in Boston this week accuses sneaker manufacturer New Balance of deceiving customers by claiming that their True Balance and Rock & Tone shoes increase muscle activation by at least 27 percent and burn as much as 10 percent more calories "with every step." Bistra Pashamova, the California woman behind the lawsuit, says that she and many others have been harmed by New Balance's claims, and that the shoe company's promises are "nothing more than deceptive marketing tools."
Pashamova is asking for more than $5 million in damages and is seeking class-action status. And hers isn't the only lawsuit out there, either. In November, two suits were filed against Reebok over their EasyTone shoes.
Part of the problem may be that consumers simply aren't using the shoes properly (they're not for weight-lifting, running, or strenuous work-outs). And there have been plenty of reports about rolled ankles and other foot problems when wearing the shoes, according to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. But the biggest issue with the shoes -- and with other seemingly miraculous get-in-shape-fast products -- is that consumers expect them to do the hard work for them.
"Instead of spending hundreds on 'toning shoes,' simply carry a pair of hand weights," suggests Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council of Exercise. "You'll boost the intensity of your workout, toning muscles and burning extra calories in the process."
What other workout gear have we bought (and ditched) while searching for that magic fitness bullet? Check 'em out: