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Can rocker shoes really help you lose weight?

Shoe companies claim that rocker shoes tone your legs, decrease cellulite and drop pounds. But is the hype justified?

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I’ve seen a lot of marketing gimmicks, and a shoe designed to battle cellulite is an interesting one, although not nearly as good as weight loss earrings. Rocker shoes — which have a thick rounded sole, requiring you do work harder to stay balanced while walking — have exploded in popularity, but are people buying them for the wrong reasons? I asked some experts for their opinions.

Sandy Connery is a clinical pedorthist and owner of Foot Health Centre in Calgary. I spoke to her about the dramatic increase in sales of rocker shoes and she started off by educating me on the different types.

“There are both ‘stable’ rocker shoes, which only rock front to back, and ‘unstable’ rockers, which also go from side to side,” she explained. “It was the MBT brand which started off making stable rockers for treating medical conditions such as foot, ankle, knee and hip pain, but then Skechers flooded the market with unstable shoes.” Now they’ve got Kim Kardashian endorsing Skechers and it’s become like Kleenex is to tissues, where unstable rocker shoes are just referred to as “Skechers,” even though other well-known shoe companies like New Balance and Reebok now make them.

But according to Connery, not all companies have jumped onto the rocker shoe bandwagon. “Brooks has made a statement that they won’t make unstable shoes because of the biomechanics of it,” she told me, “and I respect them for it.” In fact, Connery believes the whole rocker shoe phenomenon is going away. “They’re too ugly for people. They’re awful looking and I just don’t think people are going to find the benefit the manufacturers are claiming. They can also be unsafe to walk in.”

I asked her about the claims that they will burn extra calories (up to eight percent more via “regular” walking shoes), tone legs and butt, and get rid of cellulite. “I don’t think it’s been verified,” she said. “There simply isn’t enough independent research. Any toning that takes place would not be significant.”

Something I can add is that “toning” comes from strenuous effort of the larger “fast twitch” muscle fibres, and this can only be done via heavy resistance training. Walking only works the smaller “slow twitch” muscle fibres, and giving those lower-body muscles some extra work with a rocking shoe isn’t going to do much about the way they look.

Also, the American Council on Exercise commissioned a study (PDF) that declared, “There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.”

Connery is more blunt: “I don’t think that there is a case for anyone to ever need to by an unstable rocker shoe. Stable rockers, however, do have medical applications.”

And it was those medical applications that lead me to speak to Dr. Reed Ferber, an assistant professor of biomechanics at the University of Calgary and also director of the Running Injury Clinic.

Dr. Ferber also agreed that these shoes are not intended to burn extra calories or tone muscles, but in their testing they did find MBT brand shoes to be good for relieving ankle, knee and hip pain.

“But it’s not just something people should go out and buy,” he told me. “In order to effectively use these shoes as a medical intervention you need to seek professional advice, first from a physiotherapist or other specialist. Also, note that these shoes are not a magic bullet for relieving pain. They can be part of an overall recipe of ingredients to prevent and treat injuries. Don’t think that the shoe is going to solve all your problems.”

If you have lower body aches and pains, then you can ask a specialist about whether rocker shoes can help. As for cellulite, there are shoes that help with that. They’re called runners. You put them on, and you run. Also, any shoes you can wear to the gym for lifting weights will help get rid of the butt dimples, as long as they’re coupled with a healthy and calorie-reduced diet.

Unless I’m wrong and those magic earrings actually work.

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email him at james@bodyforwife.com.