Shape-Ups Letting People Down

November 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Nicholas Cains
ncains@smu.edu

Allie Jean Thompson, an SMU senior, was feeling a little overweight last year and decided to do something about it.

Walking through North Park Center one day, she saw a pair of shoes in a store window advertising a way for her to shed the pounds simply by walking. Those shoes were Sketcher’s Shape-Ups.

The ads claimed to help wearers burn more calories, work their legs 11 percent more, and tone their butts 28 percent more than your average athletic shoe. But Thompson wasn’t sure she was falling for it.

“To lose weight and get results you have to sweat and diet,” said Thompson, who had shed nearly 70 pounds in high school. “I’d seen them before and knew I wouldn’t be caught dead in them.”

She bought the shoes anyway, which range in price from $80 to $$120, but quickly realized that her new footwear probably wouldn’t live up to the hype. After a few months, she wasn’t seeing the results that dazzled her in the first place, and she knew exactly who to blame.

“That was my fault,” said Thompson. “Those shoes weren’t meant for that.”

Thompson then set out to lose weight like she did her freshman year in high school: By working out and eating right.

“I knew I could do it on my own,” she said.

Advertisements about the latest toning shoes, from Sketcher’s Shape-Ups to Reebok’s Easy Tone line, have recently come under fire for allegedly misleading their consumers. Holly Ward, a waitress in Ohio, sued Sketchers in February for fracturing her hip bones after five months of wear. Reebok settled a $25 million lawsuit in September for claims that Easy Tones ads were advertising false results. So the question for consumers is, “can these shoes deliver what they promise?”

“It depends on what you want the shoes to do,” says Martha Phillips, a personal trainer in Dallas who holds a Masters of Science in Human Movement.

Philips said the original “rocker shoe”, made by Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT), was introduced to her four years ago as a way to help people correct their posture. The shoe’s rounded soles kept walkers off-balance, which caused them to work harder to stand upright.

“If nobody else will teach you how to stand up straight, the shoes are a perfect fit,” said Phillips.

Phillips said the problem came when Sketchers and Reebok released their versions of the MBT, with fresh promises to match. To Phillips, ads claiming to increase weight loss and muscle tone, making you look like Kim Kardashian with no extra work, are appealing, but unrealistic.

The ads for these shoes, which were still running on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon in May of this year, are being criticized for the specific promises they make. According to one commercial, the wearer can “burn more calories, tone muscles, improve posture and reduce stress,” more than a regular sneaker just by walking.

“People don’t feel good, so they buy into the hype,” said Phillips.

The hype in the ads are also backed up by clinical studies that were discredited last year.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the first studies on the shoes were internally funded, non-peer reviewed and had questionable analyses. The A.C.E. study that followed found that walking in toning shoes made participants burn about the same amount of fat and use as much muscle as wearing regular athletic shoes.

Kenneth Clark, a doctoral student in Applied Physiology and Biomechanics at SMU, said there is not enough scientific evidence to support a claim that any athletic shoe performs better than another. To make any fair comparison, Clark said that many different types of runners in multiple shoes would need to be observed; but he has not seen a test like that yet.

“You should be skeptical of evidence given by the manufacturer,” said Clark. “Don’t be blinded by statistics.”

Despite this information, some people still want to believe their toning shoes work. Savannah Stephens, a sophomore communications major at SMU, has been wearing her Shape-Ups for two years and said they are not only comfortable, but they also make her feel athletic.

“Since I don’t work out, they make me feel like I’m doing something right,” said Stephens.

Others think that Shape-Ups keep people from actually working out. Amanda Owen, a junior dance major at SMU, said any product that claims to help you lose more weight while you keep the same routine is a rip-off.

“You could do all of those workouts on your own and save your money,” said Owen.

Phillips encourages anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle to avoid fitness fads. If you want an “itty bitty waist” like you see in the commercials, Phillips suggests dieting, exercising, and avoiding “get skinny quick” schemes.

“If it sounds too good to be true,” said Phillips “It probably is.”

“Fitness” Shoes Start Exercise Craze

April 20, 2010 by · Comments Off 

by Katherine Bruce
kbruce@smu.edu

Drenched in perspiration, a woman reaches for ten-pound weights with a fresh look of determination. Across from her at the Equinox Fitness Club on Oak Lawn Ave., another walks on the treadmill. Next to her, a woman finishes her treadmill run with a sigh and embarks on a cool-down walk.

One thing these women have in common?

Their shoes.

Since the first pair of muscle-activating “fitness” shoes hit the market six or seven years ago, they have become must-haves for exercisers. Eager for instant gratification, customers are flocking to shoe stores all over the country in search of them.

“I had a hard time tracking them down,” said SMU senior Kelly Curtis.

Swedish scientist Karl Muller developed the original fitness shoes: MBT shoes, which stand for Masai Balance Technology. Muller developed the shoe after studying the Masai tribe in Africa. The members of the tribe run barefoot. Muller observed the tribe for long periods of time noting how their bare feet gives them superior posture and toned muscles.

He developed the shoe using a rounded midsole with what he called a “Masai pivot,” which is a wedge material in the heel designed to engage more muscles than regular walking shoes. The shoes force the wearer to use core and lower-back muscles, which firm up abdominal, leg and buttock muscles while burning more calories, say shoe experts.

Carter Latham, a senior sales worker at the Dallas shoe store Luke’s Locker, says the MBT shoes are geared towards a market dominated by women. Similar to the diet pill craze, women eat up any idea that promises results without the work, he said.

“They want to do things to help their physiology without really thinking about it,” Latham said.

While the shoes appear to be an easy solution for improving some muscles, fitness trainer Phillip Grau at Equinox gym still stresses the importance of good, old-fashion diet and exercise. Grau says the best way to improve your figure is through resistance training. He puts his clients on a three-day-a-week resistance program with cardiovascular exercise on two other days.

“If you’re looking to tone legs and build lean muscle mass it’s going to give you that,” Grau said.

Grau also advises clients to focus on nutrition in addition to their gym workouts. Diet alone can affect 50 to 80 percent of your results. He says clients should see real physical improvement and toning in just six to eight weeks.

The MBT shoes run about $200-250. Other shoe companies have been quick to capitalize on the success of the MBT brand, making products that are less expensive.

This past October, Sketchers came out with Shape-Ups, a shoe designed similar to the MBT’s and promising to target the same areas. Shape-Ups run about $110 and come with a DVD explaining how to use the shoes for the best results.

In November, Reebok came out with the Easytones, which run about $100 and come with a manual explaining how to get the most out of the walking shoes. The shoes are designed with “balance pods” to force the wearer to engage more muscles.

Harry Gibson, store manager at Finish Line in North Park, said the Reebok Easytones are more popular than the Sketcher Shape-Ups. Finish Line was completely out of the Easytones during the holiday season because the demand for the shoe was so high.

“Reebok couldn’t keep us stocked,” Gibson said.

A recent study by the University of Delaware claimed the Reebok Easytones provide 28 percent more gluteus maximus muscle activation and 11 percent more calf and hamstring activation. However, only five people were included in the study.

There are definite downsides to the fitness shoes. MBT’s, Shape-Ups and Easytones are designed for walking, and because of the instability of the design, wearers are discouraged from running, jumping or engaging in other athletic activities while wearing them. The real effect of the shoe may come from the simple fact that they are a muscle-activating shoe.

Like many buyers around the country, SMU students were eager to see what all the hype was about. SMU senior Cassie Gill purchased a pair of Easytones to help her get in better shape while she went on walks. Just wearing them twice a week or on the way to class Gill has already noticed a difference.

“They make me feel sorer than regular running shoes,” she said.

Curtis hasn’t seen any results, though she would still recommend the shoes to girlfriends.

“They at least make you feel like you’re helping yourself,” she said.

While it remains unproven whether the shoes are delivering results, the idea of the shoes is promoting overall health. Wearers are likely increasing their daily activity in the shoes, thus increasing their levels of exercise and physical fitness.

MBT has already begun to make improvements on the shoe by coming out with a lighter and more stylish design. Reebok also keeps coming out with different colors of Easytones, even adding flip-flops to the Easytone brand.