Photo Credit: FitFlops
We have all seen her on the evening commute: that stylish specimen, impeccably dressed, flawless hair and makeup, gorgeous nails, drool-worthy bag… but wait, what is that on her feet? She may have killed it in stilettos at a power lunch, but now she’s hoofing it home in a pair of kind of ugly, very expensive shoes that promise to improve posture, alleviate back, neck and joint pain, and tone the thighs and tush. Where did they come from and do they actually deliver? Beauty in the Bag serves up the skinny on the latest stampede of functional footwear, all designed to produce instability and maximize the benefits of every stroll. Instability (that underlying principle of Pilates, Bosu, Madonna’s beloved Power Plate workout and a bevy of other buzzworthy regimens) compels you to activate your muscles. Otherwise you fall down.
But what about the thighs? And what about the tush? Let’s talk shoes.
MBT – The name is an acronym for Masai Barefoot Technology. Its makers call it “the anti-shoe,” and they have even gone so far as to establish their own scientific research academy. First manufactured in the late nineties, the MBT has a distinctive thick, curved sole outfitted with a sensor. That sensor simulates walking on uneven terrain, promoting natural movement and healthy form. The first generation of MBTs were, to put it bluntly, heinous, but they have come a long way from their fugly origins. A new series has a smaller, less freaky looking sole – but I say go big or go home.
I road-tested the clunky M. Walk style. The first few steps are decidedly weird. It was déjà vu to my childhood roller rink, and those first moments just after lacing up my skates. These shoes are made for walking and not much else; the MBT FAQ claims that the shoes are safe for use on the treadmill, elliptical, or for slow running, but I’m pretty sure that those activities in MBTs would land me in a face plant. On brisk walks, I notice that I engage my core muscles, something I should constantly do but rarely remember to, and it does feel like my hamstrings and glutes work harder when I wear the shoes. My feet love the support provided by MBTs.
Price: From $200, www.zappos.com
REEBOK EASYTONE – Reebok’s entry into the fray is perched on top of two balance pods to produce instability, which the promotional literature likens to walking on a sandy beach. The company claims that EasyTones activate hamstrings, glutes and calves. By far the most normal looking pair in the bunch, they even approach cute and bear the strongest resemblance to standard sneakers. Reebok has designed an entire product line including flip flops, training shoes and walking shoes, all featuring SmoothFit for seamless comfort and DMX Max, which moves air from heel to toe with every step.
They don’t look so bad, and at a fraction of MBTs price, I wanted to love them, but I didn’t feel like my muscles were working harder than usual and my messed up feet need more support than EasyTone delivers. Unfortunately, I felt that most in my ankles.
Price: From $110, www.zappos.com
FITFLOP – As we look back on Summer 2009, the Fitflop may go down in infamy as the UGG boot of its time… funny looking and absolutely ubiquitous, an “it” shoe that is equally revered and reviled. Marcia Kilgore, founder of the Bliss spa brand, collaborated with a British biomechanist to turn out the clunkers in 2007 with record sales. Since then, Kilgore has found ways to pretty up the brand, teaming up with British brand Liberty and NYC boutique Kirna Zabete for limited edition sandals. The thick soles are effective shock absorbers with varied densities of foam, producing that good old instability, stimulating slow-twitch muscle fibers.
I have the Oasis Fitflops in black suede and I live in them, not because they work wonders for my butt, but because my war-torn tootsies love them. After years of aggressively impractical footwear, my feet have finally said “enough”. I can’t wear my cute Havaianas all day long; my feet want structure and support. Fitflops fit the bill, so I can actually walk home from a pedicure without wrecking my polish or my arches. Physical therapist Stacey Palmer, MPT, is skeptical about the toning claims, but she says that Fitflops have been great for her Plantar Fasciitis. The squishy soles deliver relief for her aching heels, and she explains that “instability of the sandal sole makes the intrinsic muscles of the foot work while you walk, which keeps the sole of the foot from stiffening up and keeps the arches and the fascia stretched out. It helps strengthen the foot itself and keeps some of the pressure off that inflamed tissue.” I also suffer from PF and will continue to wear Fitflops for that very reason.
Price: From $45, www.fitflop.com
But wait, that’s not all! We haven’t walked a mile in these, but here is an overview of a few more brands.
SPRINGBOOST – With shoes for fitness, Nordic walking, walking, volleyball and performance training, Springboost has adjustable insoles to help with Achilles problems, but apparently the sole is like wood. Developed by Swiss sports medicine specialists, Springboost uses Dorsiflexion TechnologyTM to purportedly improve performance in explosive power, vertical leap and speed, efficiency in muscular work, trimming, toning, increasing calories burned and enabling you to run faster.
Price: From $99, www.springboost.com
CHUNG SHI – Chung Shi claims to combat cellulite, improve core stability and posture with a built-in “Pilates system.” Apparently these are great for core stability, but like the Easytones, they aren’t the best for weak ankles. One perk of Chung Shi Shoes is that they are machine washable.
Price: From $235, www.chungshiusa.com
SKECHERS SHAPE UPS – Skechers boasts that their Shape Ups will improve circulation, tighten abdominal muscles, firm calves, reduce cellulite, firm buttocks, strengthen the back and improve posture. Designed to simulate walking on soft ground, Shape Ups are comprised of a rolling bottom, soft foam heel support and dual-density midsole.
Price: From $110, www.skechers.com
Caveat Emptor – Sad but true (and such old hat), no shoe will ever take the place of a good old-fashioned workout. These shoes may maximize your muscular activity while walking, but don’t burn your cross trainers just yet. One of these options could be a winner if you are a serious walker looking to get the most out of your mileage, but if you truly want to transform the shape of your body, you’ll need to hit the gym hard or schedule a consultation with a plastic surgeon.