Nike Says Toning Shoes Don’t Work

By Mel Thomassian (RD)

Toning shoes, or shoes that claim to work your butt, back, abs, and thighs while you walk, are cropping up all over. I even saw Fit Flops the other day that would fit my seven-year-old kid, which is sure sign that they’ve become more of a trend than a tool.

But in a recent speech to investors, Nike vice-president for global product and merchandising, Eric Sprunk, took a jab at competitors Reebok and Skechers, who are making a killing with their toning products:

Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a pair of shoes that made your butt smaller, made my gut look smaller, make your muscles look a little bit bigger, just by putting them on and…walking in them? Nobody can do that. I was just teasing.

Sprunk’s comment, though, might be little more than sour grapes.

That’s because when its competitors were busy creating toning shoes, Nike sat back and watched. Whether they didn’t believe the shoes really worked, or they thought the flip flops would flop isn’t clear, but what is clear is that they missed out on a very lucrative trend.

Though Nike is still number one in the U.S. woman’s athletic footwear market, Reebok and Skechers are making huge gains, thanks to their toning shoe lines. Reebok estimates they’ll sell five million pairs this year alone. Even Oprah loves them. And that makes Nike see red.

Not one to miss out on something good, the company is now promoting their Nike Free line to women. Five years old, Nike Free is the company’s answer to barefoot running — a trend that’s gaining in popularity (though not as fast as the toning shoe). From Bloomberg Businessweek:

We’re excited that women are spending money on athletic footwear, and we think we can get our share — said Charlie Denson, president of the Nike brand. Free can — supply the same kind of benefit to the athlete that maybe some of the others are claiming.

I think Nike is just scrambling to get their piece of the toning shoe pie, but I’d probably still buy a pair of Nike Free’s before a pair of Fit Flops. Toning shoes might work your legs a little, but I can think of far faster and more efficient ways to reach that goal in a pair of plain, old tennies.

How do you feel about toning shoes? Do you own a pair?

Filed in Cardio,


  1. Daniel

    Both my wife and my sister in law have CMT disease which makes their walking difficult and unstable. With the Skechers shape-ups they walk far better because it allows the foot movement they need to keep their balance. with regular shoes, that effort is harder because of the fixed sole, the muscles have to balance the whole body instead of just the feet. In addition it helps keep the muscle tone which is otherwise reduced because of the lower nervous impulse that arrives to these muscles. My wife now uses Shape-ups almost all the time, and that has improved her walking incredibly and also prevents muscle atrophy.

  2. Dermatologist

    There are many toning shoes on the market and each claims to be the best, offering faster toning, improved weight loss and a healthier way of walking.
    It is very hard to find the Wright Product for that.
    Any 1 who can provide me details such as BRAND PRICE AND RETAIL STORES?

  3. Sonia del Valle

    I got a pair of Reebok’s Runtone sneakers about a year ago. I don’t know if they have made a difference (haven’t meassured or anything) but they do what they’re made for: I run with them and that’s enough. They’re very comfortable and I’d buy them again.

    Oh, I’m not sure about nikes… the sole of every pair I’ve used has fallen off! You won’t see that happening with my runtones.

  4. african mango lover

    i think it would be much better to find shoes that fits perfectly. However, if the footwear is comfortable and can really support what the features and are reasonable price then i’ll probably buy one myself.

  5. VZ

    Like one of the other posters, I bought a pair of the cheap Danskin ones at Walmart. They definitely make a difference. I walk a lot anyway (even before I bought them), so I can absolutely tell that they are working a different set of muscles.

    When I first got them my ankles were sore for the first couple days, but now they aren’t (I think they are stronger), I have knee, hip, and back problems that also seem to be benefiting from these shoes (something I never expected), after wearing them for a few weeks, I feel the workout mostly in my inner thighs and butt, and, if I take a long walk, I can feel it in my abs (another thing I never expected) and the backs of my thighs. (And.. just like most women, these are absolutely my trouble spots, exactly where I want to target)

    As another poster said that she feared, they do throw you off balance just slightly, but that is part of the point. It makes your body walk in a different way and work at keeping you balanced. (Which also works your core muscles, like your abs) Many are designed to make you walk as if you are walking through sand.

    I’ve started telling all my friends about them, as far as I can tell, they really work.

    (This morning my husband looked at me appreciateively and said my backside was definitely firmer…so, I think I found my new favorite shoes. Lol)

  6. Lori

    I have a couple pairs of Sketchers & I love them. I don’t care whether they are fitness or not – they have lots of support & that’s what I like – especially the flip flops. I need arch support & they provide that in a slipper type

  7. GiGi

    Never thought they would work… but I think the reason NIKE is saying this is because NIKE has never come out with a leg toning style shoe and I think they might be jealous because these shoes seem to be flying off the shelves!

  8. Son

    I agree that Asics are awesome. Forget the hype, it’s about the comfort and functionality. USUALLY, cheap shoes don’t fit the bill. Often, expesive ones don’t either.

  9. Tricia Lefkowitz

    They don’t work-I bought some and they even began to fall apart after a few months. I’m a fan of MBT’s. They do work! Buy last years model/get em for $125. They last forever/work!

  10. Janet Darbey

    I was dubious whether they would tone anything and I thought the rocker type soles would throw me off balance. But I scathingly tried on a pair when I visited a shoe shop with my friend….after walking up and down the aisle a few times I bought them. They are the most comfortable training shoes I have ever owned…. I go weight training in them, power walking , and dancing in my rock and roll show! They alter my gait of walking and I seem to stand more upright in them. They do tone my legs and butt, I can feel the difference when I wear them…and I am used to bodybuilding workouts! My only new decision about them is to get more pairs in different colours!

  11. Court

    I’ve had my new balance for nine years. i still run in them four days a week, go to the gym and all that jazzz. great shoes!

  12. Geri

    Totally disagree! I have both the Skechers Shape-Ups and the Reebok EasyTone. Absolutely LOVE them. In 2 months time, I’ve shrunk my thighs and my rear by using these shoes. Great purchase on my part! Everyone has noticed that I’ve shrunk!!

  13. Nicole

    LOL I was thinking of getting some for myself, I think I’ll take a step back with you now.