It really was only a matter of time before fantastic claims made by the $1 billion toning-shoe industry came under fire.
On Wednesday, Reebok agreed to a $25 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over deceptive advertising claims regarding its EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes.
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The FTC called the fitness retailer’s claims unsubstantiated that EasyTones improve the strength and tone of your glutes by 28%, your hamstrings by 11%, and your calves by 11% over traditional walking shoes. Consumers might better remember Reebok’s advertisements as those that said the results the shoes deliver to your butt and legs will “make your boobs jealous.”
Reebok says it’s settling, not because the company agrees with the FTC, but to avoid a long legal battle, and that it plans to continue its toning line. “We fully stand behind our EasyTone technology—the first shoe in the toning category inspired by balance-ball training. We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the continued development of our EasyTone line of products,” reads Reebok’s official response.
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Toning to a Different Tune
Over the past few years, the toning industry has grown to include Skecher’s popular Shape-ups, New Balance Rock&Tones, MBTs, and FitFlops—all of which claim to help tone your gams, increase muscle activation, or burn more calories thanks to the shoes’ soft, unstable soles. And Reebok isn’t the only company catching heat for false advertising. In January 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against New Balance over its claims that its toning shoes boost calorie burn up to 10% and increase muscle activation by 27%.
As a whole, the research backing the promises of the toning industry has always been a bit questionable. “Any studies [on toning shoes] that have been done have two major flaws,” says Liz Neporent, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and coauthor of Fitness for Dummies. “The studies are really tiny—researchers maybe look at 5 to 10 people—and conclusions are often based on subjective information. People may say that they saw or felt their thighs being toned, but that’s not the same as actual measurements.”
Reebok based its EasyTone claims on an unpublished study conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware. The study found that leg and butt muscle activation was greater when wearing the toning shoes than when wearing regular sneakers. The study looked at five women and was commissioned by Reebok.
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Likewise, the studies that New Balance referenced in its claims were never officially published and were conducted in-house.
A study at the University of Puget Sound found that the force from toning shoes travels up the legs differently compared with that of normal walking shoes, but didn’t find any difference regarding muscle activation. And researchers at the University of Calgary concluded that wearing toning shoes for 6 weeks could help strengthen small balancing muscles in the legs and ankles—although not those in the butt and calves. Both of these studies received funding from shoe companies.
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In one of the few studies not commissioned by a toning shoe manufacturer, researchers concluded that toning sneakers do not burn more calories, fire up more muscles, or improve muscle tone to any significant degree. The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse compared the effects of MBTs, Skecher Shape-ups, and Reebok EasyTones with those of regular running shoes and found that none of the shoes lived up to the hype.
“I’m not surprised [by the FTC case],” says Neporent. “I am surprised that Reebok has gotten away with what it has for so long. But in all fairness, I don’t think it should be limited to Reebok, and toning clothing will probably be looked at next.”
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