Reebok recently came out with the EasyTone walking shoe, which promises to tone leg and butt muscles just by walking. You know the commercials, where they zoom in on a woman's butt and say "make your boobs jealous," which is not only annoying but doesn't even really make sense? The Times reports that the shoes are Reebok's top-selling new product of the last five years. Of course, people will pounce on anything that promises to blast fat or tone muscles without breaking a sweat. In fact, Reebok cautions against doing any activity in the shoes other than walking. But do the shoes actually work? Former NASA engineer Bill McInnis, now Reebok's head of advanced innovation, says the shoe comes with an air pocket that pushes air between toe and heel to make it feel as though you're walking on sand, which engages more muscles than walking on a plain surface.
Reebok is financing studies in an attempt to prove the shoes lead to a more toned physique. “They definitely feel something in their muscles after they’ve walked in the product,” Mr. McInnis said.
One of them is Carol Vanner, 51, an executive assistant in Atlanta who had tried the larger-soled FitFlop shoe and was skeptical she would notice much difference with the EasyTone.
“I thought there was no way they would work, but I tried them and I felt like I had worked out,” she said. “Do I look like I’m 20? No, but I feel like when I wear them for periods of time that I have exercised and worked those muscles.”
Shay Gipson, 31, an apparel product manager in New York City, also heralds the shoes:
“I can definitely feel the muscle groups in my legs working more than I would in regular shoes,” she said. “I feel more toned.”
But just because they feel more toned doesn't mean they look more toned. In July 2008, Canadian researchers found that moderate instability, like the effect created by the EasyTones, had little effect on the muscles of practiced exercisers. Experts who aren't employed by Reebok say the greatest effect of the shoe may be that it encourages people to walk more and with a steelier purpose.
“I think buying them with this in mind is likely to increase mindfulness, which is good for health,” said Ellen J. Langer, a Harvard psychologist who has studied the connections between mindfulness, exercise and health. “It will probably result in even more walking, with the implicit and explicit virtues endemic to exercise.”
So you may as well stick to your regular sneakers. Or better yet, go to the gym and do something more challenging than half-assed Pilates.