Do Toning Sneakers Really Work?

Experts say these hot new sneakers can give you a great workout-if you use them the right way.
- Kathryn H. Cusimano,
Even the biggest shoe addicts don't believe that a new pair will change your life (unless you're talking about Jimmy Choos…) But the life-changing claim is exactly what many footwear brands are saying these days. The supposed miracle-workers: "toning shoes" incorporating a new design that will help you slim down and firm up just by taking a walk. But can a pair of shoes really help you reduce your bum and thighs? We asked the experts whether the sneakers, which cost anywhere from $70 to $400, are worth it.

Read: The Gym Free Workout

What they claim: An innovative design gives you an automatic workout while you wear them, without having to do any exercise - other than walk, of course. Among the much-touted benefits: Compared to your regular sneakers, you will use three times as much energy while walking, tone your buttocks and thighs, and even (according to some manufacturers) relieve joint pain.

How they work: These shoes are built with an unstable sole that rocks back and forth and forces the wearer to use her muscles in a different way. "They are incorporating what they refer to as 'wobble board technology,'" explains Dr. Emily Splichal, a New York Sports Club trainer and podiatrist. "They claim that because you are on this sort of rocking chair, you have to engage your abdominals at all times…[they work] the legs and the glutes and the entire body as you're walking or standing because you're on this unstable shoe or rocker."

When to wear them: These shoes are made for walking - no running or weight lifting allowed. "I would not run in them," Splichal says. "They have a higher heel, you're kind of elevated and if you were to step wrong…I wouldn't want to see an injury based on them." John Rowley, Director of Fitness & Wellness at The American Institute of Healthcare & Fitness in North Carolina and author of Climb Your Ladder of Success Without Running out of Gas, says to avoid wearing them during weight-bearing exercises. (This type of exercise includes low-impact aerobics and using stair-step machines.) "Adding weight just accentuates everything, and if the shoes are throwing you off balance, the weight will become much more dangerous."

Are they effective? Some users have experienced positive results while wearing the shoes. "I am down another pant size," says Mary Pitman, a 54-year-old nurse from Vero Beach, Florida. The change occurred when she started wearing "wobble-board" shoes to work less than eight weeks ago. Though the scale hasn't budged, Mary is constantly complimented on her new shape. "The…difference was in the hips and thighs… I never expected this level of results." Other users also noticed their legs becoming more toned, and have seen improvements in their agility since they began wearing the shoes.

While experts say the shoes won't do any harm when used correctly, they probably won't automatically help you burn calories, lose weight or tone up, unless you increase the amount of time you spend wearing them. "These shoes can help tone a person only if the person wearing the shoes moves more than they ordinarily do," says Rowley.

Splichal agrees: "If people do feel that they tone, it's more because they're walking more or they're walking the right way, so they're actually recruiting the muscles they should be recruiting."

Rowley also cites the motivation factor: "The key advantage of these types of shoes is that they make the consumer more excited to exercise. Oftentimes people need and want a certain outfit, gloves, or pair of shoes to motivate them and get them into [gear]. If that is the case, then go out and get them."

What if I want to buy them? There are three major companies currently marketing toning shoes, so if you're interested, you're bound to find a pair that will get you moving.

MBT, makers of the original rocker-soled shoes, has applied their technology to everything from athletic shoes to boots, though their bulky look and earthy color palette aren't exactly fashion-forward. The athletic shoes are about $250, but their boots can cost as much as $400.

Skechers Shape-Ups mimic the thick rocker sole and bulky appearance of MBT shoes, but come with a more modest tag, averaging about $110 a pair. Skechers added pink and metallic lavender accents to their black, white and brown sneakers, but it isn't enough to distract from the shoes' girth.

Reebok's EasyTone sneakers use "balance ball" technology to achieve the same results, but look more streamlined - no one would know you were wearing unstable shoes unless they examined the soles. Reebok makes several EasyTone models, which cost around $100 a pair. They come in black and white with pink, blue, yellow and coral accents, but our favorites are the $124.95 gold Reeinspire sneakers.

Kathryn H. Cusimano is an assistant editor at BettyConfidential.

To read more from BettyConfidential | 7 Celeb Diet & Fitness Tips