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The Shoes!

Posted by bmagnus On July - 23 - 2010

Picking a pair of shoes has become an interesting problem. Simple issues of fit, style, and durability haven’t gone anywhere, but they are buried under technological innovations that are designed to help you — or at least designed to sell you an expensive new pair of shoes.

One of the strangest looking things out there are the latest “toning shoes.” You may recognize these as the shoes with the funny, rounded soles. Ad copy boasts that just by wearing these shoes to do your daily business, you can increase muscle activity, burn more calories (it is implied that you can lose weight, but it’s never said), tone your calves, thighs, and butt, and even ease joint pain. Those are some pretty hefty claims, and the shoes are pretty pricey. Do they work?

Well, manufacturers say they have studies that prove they do work, but those studies are all in-house — they aren’t “peer reviewed” like the studies we normally bring you from reputable medical journals. Recently, a group of scientists got a small test group together to test the claims of these toning shoes against a standard running shoe. They concluded that “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.”

Users of these shoes who claim good results can trace it back to two things: they do absolutely feel different from a traditional, flat shoe; and they may in fact be encouraged to walk more. One member of the research team is “concerned that extended wear of these toning shoes may alter the walking gait mechanics of wearers and, in some cases, potentially cause problems for those who may already be at risk for lower-extremity issues.” He would like to see more long term study of these shoes, both to determine whether users are at risk for injury, and to see whether these shoes might have a positive impact on balance. Her take: I’d also like to see a bigger study of the issues and claims surrounding “toning shoes” involving more than 12 people.

Of course, traditional athletic shoes may have issues as well, particularly if you do nothing more than take the shoe salesman’s advice about what to buy! Recent research by the United States Military and published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine shows that there was “no correlation at all between wearing the proper running shoes and avoiding injury. Injury rates were high among all the runners, but they were highest among the soldiers who had received shoes designed specifically for their foot types. If anything, wearing the “right” shoes for their particular foot shape had increased trainees’ chances of being hurt.”

An unrelated story also recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that “our current approach of prescribing in-shoe pronation control systems on the basis of foot type is overly simplistic and potentially injurious.” Pronation is nothing more than the tendency of your foot to roll from side to side while walking or running; it is thought that your arch type determines your pronation type. How much your foot rolls and in what direction had been thought to indicate what sort of running shoe you should be wearing. Unfortunately, according to a study from last year, nobody has ever determined whether that is actually so.

So what is a fitness conscious shoe buyer to do? For one thing, try on a bunch of shoes before buying anything! Go ahead and walk up and down the aisle of the shoe store. If there is room to sprint or jump, take advantage of it. Don’t buy shoes that aren’t comfortable, or that make you walk funny; you might be increasing your risk of strain or injury. Simply put, use your head as well as your feet.

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