With all the advertising hype that features slick photos of fitness models with well-toned tushies, you may be thinking about buying shape-up shoes. But if you have flat feet that make finding properly fitting shoes a challenge, you are probably leery of investing in a new type of shoe. In the case of shape-up shoes, your reservations are justified.
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The Science of Unstable Soles
While only recently entering the mainstream market, unstable-soled shoes have been around since the '90s. The premise behind them is that your body must work harder to offset the instability of the soles, recruiting more muscle in the legs and core. Among other benefits claimed by manufacturers are improved posture, decreased joint pain and increased caloric burn. Many of the studies put forth on the effectiveness of shape-up shoes were conducted by shoe manufacturers who had a vested interest in cashing in on a popular marketing trend. But in a review of available studies, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found they lacked adequate research control, had small sample sizes and offered questionable or no statistical analysis.
Hype vs. Reality
To get a more objective analysis of the validity of manufacturers' claims, the American Council on Exercise collaborated in 2010 with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to compare three popular brands of shape-up shoes with mainstream athletic shoes. After testing for muscle recruitment, cardiovascular response, caloric expenditure and perceived exertion, researchers found no evidence to support claims that shape-up shoes increased muscle tone, exercise intensity or caloric burn over traditional athletic shoes. What's more, the unstable nature of shape-up shoes may pose a safety hazard for activities other than walking on a smooth surface.
Foot Type and Fit
With shoes in general and athletic shoes in particular, fit is important for comfort, support and injury prevention. Individuals with flat feet often have difficulty finding athletic shoes that meet their needs. For flat feet, MayoClinic.com advises you look for shoes with a straight last and motion control to provide stability. Most mainstream athletic shoe manufacturers offer a line of motion control shoes specifically designed for flat feet. However, because shape-up shoes are a niche market, they do not feature such options.
Selecting Athletic Shoes
For fitness activities, shoes serve as safety equipment to provide stability and shock absorption and to prevent injury. Worn or poorly fitted shoes can undermine your fitness goals by causing pain and discomfort during exercise. All athletic shoe manufacturers offer a wide selection of shoes at a broad range of prices, and up to a point, you get what you pay for. An investment in well-fitted quality athletic shoes should be a priority for anyone engaged in a regular exercise program. Many running stores have professional staff qualified to analyze your foot type, gait and stride and help you select the best shoe for your needs.