Karen Brockman nearly fell the first few times she wore her Skechers Shape-Up shoes. Now, the registered nurse at the Orthopedic Center of Illinois says the shoes designed to activate and tone more muscles than a regular sneaker not only work, but also feel more comfortable.

Karen Brockman nearly fell the first few times she wore her Skechers Shape-Up shoes.

Now, the registered nurse at the Orthopedic Center of Illinois says the shoes designed to activate and tone more muscles than a regular sneaker not only work, but also feel more comfortable.

"They feel strange, they look strange. You'll trip a lot because they have such thick soles. You can't stop suddenly, but once you get used to those things, they're worth it," Brockman said. "I wear these so much that I asked my husband to get me another pair for our anniversary."

Brockman is one of many people who have tried the exercise shoes, called toning shoes, in hopes of burning more calories and getting more definition in their legs without going to the gym.

But some local experts say their claim, "Get fit without ever going to the gym" is an exaggeration.

What are toning shoes?

Toning shoes feature a rocker bottom, sometimes compared to the feel of walking on sand. Besides Skechers, Reebok offers toning shoes.

The idea of a rocker-bottom shoe is not new, said Dr. Barry Mulshine, an orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Center of Illinois. He said podiatrists have used the shoes for patients with ankles that don't move correctly because of various conditions.

Mulshine said a toning shoe's rocker bottom introduces instability in the front-to-back plane of a person's foot. He said that forces people to use other muscles to hold their balance, which may or may not be good for you.

Kevin Imhoff, a fitness trainer at FitClub in Springfield, Ill., said toning-shoe users on average will burn roughly 50 calories more per day than people who wear regular tennis shoes. He said that translates into working off about half a pound more per month.

But Imhoff also said people who use Shape-Ups, which range from $100 to $150, may hit a plateau after six to 12 weeks -- similar to any other workout -- if they don't adjust how much they use the shoes.

"Wearing these Shape-Up shoes is the equivalent to a low-intensity workout," Imhoff said. "The thing most people don't realize is that exercise is all about adaptation. Any exercise you do, you'll get used to it after awhile."

On Skechers' website, the shoe company cites four clinical studies claiming people's legs, back, buttocks and abdominal muscles get more toned and strengthened. The studies also conclude, according to the website, that people will have reduced body fat and improved circulation and posture.

Imhoff did not dispute those claims, but said the results likely happened in the first six to 12 weeks testers tried the shoes.

Who shouldn't wear them?

Rocker-bottom shoes are not for everyone, Mulshine said. He offered a few suggestions for the best use of the shoes:

- People with balance issues or weak ankles susceptible to twists and sprains should avoid using the shoes.

- Some people can experience soreness from wearing the shoes and could develop tendonitis if they continue to use them. He said stress fractures are unlikely from wearing the shoes.

- The shoes are best used on flat ground, and people should not use them while playing sports.

"You can make yourself sore from walking on abnormal patterns," Mulshine said. "It's something you want to work in gradually. Using more muscles isn't necessarily the best way to walk. Our body will naturally be more inclined to use our muscles more efficiently but not needlessly."

Breaking-in period

Skechers suggests users start slowly with Shape-Ups for the first several weeks, recommending "25 to 45 minutes per day depending on your level of fitness."

"It makes sense theoretically," Mulshine said. "If you're using the shoes, you have to use more muscles, burn more calories, and the muscles you weren't using before will get stronger, but are you doing it at the risk of making yourself more sore?"

Brockman said she advises new Shape-Ups users not to get frustrated if they become dissatisfied with the shoes initially. She said it took three weeks for her to feel comfortable, notice results and, most importantly, avoid falling.

"I think they take a lot of getting used to," she said. "Now, they're like a foot massage all day long because the soles are so spongy, and my feet don't get tired."

State Journal-Register