Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why Fitness Shoes are a Waste of Money

Shape Ups: Footwear Devolved 
Way to Die Young #2: Wear Shape Ups


Shape ups are just the latest gimmick in the footwear industry. Many predecessors lived before it. Their slogan is, “get in shape without ever setting foot in a gym.” While I agree you should be able to get in shape without ever setting foot in a domesticated fitness environment, I disagree with their methodology. It is the short-cut mindset that every person (at some point in their life) falls prey to.

The idea behind Shape Ups is to mimic the unpredictable landscape of our natural earth. We live in a pavement world today where we constantly walk on an even plane. This leaves ours feet, its connected ligaments, tendons and metatarsal muscles unprepared for the rigid earth they were designed for.
A simple solution to this problem would be to go walking on a trail, hike, run up a hill, rock climb, walk on the beach, or just go barefoot in your own yard.

But Skechers wanted to make things complicated. Instead of marketing a connection to the rugged earth they designed a plastic shoe to “mimic” the effects. You will be sore at first because your feet are being contorted to walk on an unusual plane. Different muscles will be engaged. But in reality these shoes are not an improvement to traditional running shoes, they are only a modification. The bio-mechanics are still predictable only more challenging initially. They only challenge your foot on a single plane of motion. There is no side to side, or dynamic movement as in a barefoot environment because of a firm support. The same effects could be achieved by wearing high-heels [but in reverse since these products put your heal lower than your toe].
Here is the “clinical study” that Skechers conducted on behalf of their product.


This study is flawed from the start.

It only tests things independently. They may seem impressive on their own but they may have opposing negative side effects. For instance, a strengthened lower back may mean weakened abdominal muscles. The body is all about balance. If Shape Ups make you rely more on your glutes and lower back, they could possibly make you depend less on your abdomen and quadriceps. If one muscle is forced into a prolonged stretch another muscle must relax and contract. They need to test all muscles that are used in walking to show the overall effect of the shoe.

The study consisted of ten participants- two of which turned out to be pregnant during the course of the study. This is not a large enough sample. And twenty percent of the participants were pregnant! This creates a new imbalance and change in body weight that would surely taint the study.

The study only lasted 6 weeks. Anything that changes the bio-mechanics of your mobility needs to be tested for a longer period to notice substantial effects on posture, muscle imbalances and general fitness. 6 weeks is just long enough for a false positive or a confounding variable. For instance, the participants could have been excited they had new shoes that presented a new challenge thus increasing their daily walking,. The study did not indicate if the participants engaged in more physical activity during the period of the study.

If you want to challenge your body against the unpredictable surfaces of a natural earth without gimmickry take a walk on the beach or in your local park barefoot. If you are looking for protection pick yourself up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. The idea behind modern footwear is support and protection. Footwear prior to this modern era was purely for protection and aesthetics. These shoes are the closet alternative to being barefoot with the protection of traditional shoes. Going barefoot will challenge your feet and body in ways Shape Ups will not. So use the feet that were uniquely designed for your body and gait in the way they were intended. Just like all mankind before us and not jammed in a one size fits all “fitness” shoe.

There is no substitute for real exercise and diet when it comes to being fit and healthy. There are no shortcuts when it comes to true health.

Check out Vibram FiveFingers and Born to Run (a great novel exposing modern footwear as the cause of injury and how going barefoot is the solution) to find out more about barefoot footwear and running.

UPDATE 5/15/2012:
Skechers is fined $40 million dollars by the FTC for false claims.



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