Do Fitness Shoes Actually Work?

Learn the truth about fitness shoes, and whether they actually tone muscle, burn more calories, or eliminate injuries.
Ben Greenfield
Episode #016

Imagine the perfect legs. Tight, curvaceous, symmetrical things of beauty--able to look fantastic in tight jeans or shorts, yet also able to leap, jump, and step with grace and ease. Now, imagine a funky looking piece of footwear with an awkward bump along the bottom. This footwear is called a fitness shoe and it promises to give you those very legs. In addition to bestowing up on the wearer the calves and butt of Greek gods and goddesses, fitness shoes also promise to enhance balance and posture. But do fitness shoes actually work?

Do Fitness Shoes Work?

Fitness shoes go by many different names, including wellness shoes, toning shoes, and shaping shoes. A relatively new phenomenon over the past five years or so, fitness shoes are referred to in the shoe industry as rocker-style shoes, because they have a curved bottom and a heel that is lower than the toe, resulting in a rocking motion from the heel to the toe during the gait motion.

How Do Fitness Shoes Work?

The premise of fitness shoes is that because of the instability they cause, along with a shift of your weight from the back of your feet to the front of your feet, your body will be forced to use different muscles while walking--specifically the buttocks, thighs and calves. In addition, because your weight is shifted forward, you may be less likely to slouch and you might even learn better balance because of the instability of the shoe.

Let’s examine whether these claims are true.

Fitness Shoe Research

Fitness shoes may help motivate you to exercise, because if you have a pair of shoes devoted to walking, you may be more likely to walk when you put on that special pair.

Although shoe companies have sponsored and conducted in-house research on their particular brand of fitness shoes, only one independent study exists that examines whether fitness shoes actually work.

This study, conducted by the American Council on Exercise, enlisted a group of female treadmill walkers, and measured the metabolic rate and muscle activity of the calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abs while the walkers a variety of the fitness shoes out on the market. The researchers also measured muscle activity in these same individuals performing the same activity while wearing a regular pair of sneakers.

All the fitness shoes showed no significant increase in metabolism or muscle use, and no enhanced fitness benefit over the average running shoe.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield
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