Their promises are alluring: a toned tush, defined hamstrings and taut calves acquired by doing nothing more than strapping on a pair of funky-looking kicks and going about your daily activities. Toning shoes feature thick, rounded soles that rock as you walk, creating more instability in your lower body and, according to manufacturers, resulting in a greater calorie burn and muscle activation. Whether or not toning shoes fulfill these promises is up for debate, but what is certain is that their design changes the way you walk -- potentially resulting in pain in your calves as well as other areas.
The padding and instability of toning shoe soles may feel like they are working your muscles, and in a way, they are. You have to alter the way in which you walk or run when wearing them, because they are different than being barefoot or wearing typical athletic shoes. You are using different muscles and activating the same ones in a new way, so some soreness is possible, especially in the calves, knees, hips and back.
Pain in your calves could be an indication of a strain, pull or tear. Patrice Winter, a physical therapist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told "Redbook" that running in toning shoes could cause you to overstretch the calf. If you feel pain when wearing the shoes, go back to shoes that do not hurt; if the pain persists, seek a doctor's advice.
If you think tolerating sore or painful calves while wearing your toning shoes will eventually lead to the glamorous gams for which you yearn, think again. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise in August 2011 showed no statistical difference in the level of muscle activation in participants wearing toning shoes or regular running shoes. They may make your legs feel achy or sore, but ACE found the shoes were the nearly the same as regular athletic shoes when it comes to calorie burn and muscle engagement, including in the gastrocnemius -- the largest of the two calf muscles.
For ladies set on wearing toning shoes, experts such as Winter recommend easing into wearing the shoes. Go for an hour or two at a time, rather than an all-day, on-your-feet marathon. Taking your time gives your body a chance to become accustomed to the changes in muscle recruitment. Also weigh the risks of toning shoes against the benefits before investing in a pair. In May 2011, "Consumer Reports" made note of dozens of injuries attributed to the shoes that included leg pain, broken bones and tendinitis. Your calves are not the only part of your body vulnerable to injury when you wear the shoes.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.