EXERCISE
December 3, 2012

Shoes and Glutes

Shoes that tone your butt as you walk would seem to be the perfect antidote to days spent sitting in a chair. But do they work?

We all hope to find a way to exercise while we do something else. Whether you catch up on news by watching at the gym or listen to books as you jog, the idea is to make exercise more enjoyable by doing something else at the same time. But what about finding a way to exercise while you go about your day-to-day chores? That's the idea behind the shoes with rocker-like soles that are designed to slightly destabilize your walk, forcing your muscles to work harder and, the idea goes, tighten your gluteus maximus, also known as your butt, bum or buns.

There is nothing that can't be studied scientifically, so it is no surprise that a recent Scottish study tested whether these shoes actually did produce a muscular benefit.

Whether or not this is a placebo effect is absolutely immaterial. If the shoes work, wear them. Just don't expect them to do your exercising for you.

According to the manufacturers of the brand tested, FitFlops™, the shoes make you work your bum muscles more, and this has a significant effect on toning the muscles of your thigh and butt and helps reduce joint strain and absorb shock.

Originally available only in a flip-flop style, 18,000 pairs were sold in just three days. The company has since incorporated the soles into a variety of shoe types suitable for cold weather as well as warm and has sold 15 million pairs of them.

Researchers at the School of Health Sciences at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen measured the muscle activity of 23 young women, average age 21, during treadmill walking, stair climbing and zigzag walking around cones. Using surface electromyography, muscular activity was compared when the women were barefoot, wearing conventional flip-flops and wearing FitFlops™.

There was no significant difference in muscle activity found when the women were wearing FitFlops™. This was as true for the gluteus maximus, the major muscle of the rear end, as it was for other less well-known muscles--the medial gastrocnemius, biceps femoris and rectus femoris.

In other words, they found no evidence of any muscle toning from wearing the shoes.

This doesn't mean that people should throw out the shoes. The study found no reason that people who like the shoes because of comfort or even because of their looks should stop wearing them. If the shoes ease discomfort and allow you to walk more, they are actually making an improvement in your health. Whether or not this is a Placebo is absolutely immaterial. If the shoes work, wear them. This was also a small study; who knows what further research may find?

Just don't expect them to do your exercising for you.

An article on the study appears in the journal, Clinical Biomechanics.

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