By: Sarah Schmermund, M.A.
If you’ve never been a sucker for a fad diet or exercise equipment infomercial (shake weight, anyone?), then you’re lying. Even if it wasn’t weight loss related, we’ve all been seduced one time or another by the impressive “all-in-one” magic of a particular face cream (“No wrinkles, ever!), pair of jeans (“They’ll change your life!”), or even The Clapper (“Clap on! [clap, clap] Clap off! [clap, clap]”), as seen on TV.
I too, have been duped. And to the song of $25 million dollars, Reebok assures us that so have a lot of other people. The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection filed a suit with Reebok International regarding the health claims Reebok used to market their EasyTone line of shoes. Specifically, the FTC feels the evidence supporting Reebok’s health claims was “wholly insufficient” and asserts that these toning shoes may be no different than any other kind of sneaker. And the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus agrees; because Reebok’s health claims for their EasyTone sneakers came from an experiment testing only 5 subjects, the regulators found that “results that suggest potential toning are clearly insufficient to support unequivocal claims that you will ‘tighten and tone with EasyTone.’”
Now, you all know the commercials. Teeny tiny shorts and crop tops parade around town, the apartment, the beach, etc. sporting the “balance ball-inspired” shoes. The message: wear our shoes, and your rear end will look just like hers. And it wasn’t just implied. Reebok said it outright, noting scientific evidence along with consumer testimonials. A few jaunts around town in these shoes were all that stood between you and a firmer back side.
Now, a little back story. I’m a runner, or at least I would like to be. After training for a half-marathon a few years back, I discovered I inherited my mother’s lower leg compartment syndrome. Basically, the tissue surrounding my lower leg muscles doesn’t expand enough for the muscle, so the pressure within the tissue builds. This pressure can build, making it difficult to walk, and, if ignored, can cause nerve damage or death. This interior pressure amounts to a sensation similar to shin splints, times five. While insoles and physical therapy can relieve the symptoms for a few, compartment syndrome most often requires surgery to correct (a surgery I was not interested in having).
Clearly, I needed new options. As a graduate student at Pepperdine University, I had unlimited access to the rolling hills of the Malibu campus, steep enough to increase my heart rate and work up a sweat with just a brisk walk. Working with what I had, I decided to do just that: walk. Coincidentally, about the time I came to this decision, toning shoes were really hitting their stride. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a well-toned derriere prancing about, so thrilled that these shoes did all the work. Now, I won’t say that I wasn’t skeptical. So I did my homework, reading reviews online and deciphering what mechanism was actually allowing for “better toning.” I’ve spent enough time in gyms to be familiar with the bosu ball and all its (painful) glory. Balance ball-inspired technology made sense to me: if my footing is more unstable, my legs muscles will have to work harder to keep me balanced. And while I wasn’t entirely convinced, I needed new shoes, and it was worth a try (and if only my back side looked like hers…).
So, I shelled out the (too much) money for a pair, excited to walk my way to a firmer toosh. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that after just one round-trip hike about campus, I was sore. I could feel the uneasiness in my steps as the “balance balls” on the soles shifted with my weight. I could sense that my legs were working, if not harder, differently. And I could hear the dollar amount I coughed up for these puppies ringing in my ears. They had to work.
Like with every new exercise routine, the “routine” is the pit-fall. My legs quickly adapted to the shoes (or was it the hike?), I was no longer sore, and I found myself aching to give in to a run (despite the potentially painful consequences). My bank account, however, did not bounce back. The large deficit was still there, long after the EasyTone honeymoon ended.
But of course, the only real test for whether they worked lied in my mirror: was my toosh tighter? Indeed, I would say it was, but I’m wary to credit the shoes. I was tackling a new terrain, a new workout routine, and my body was adapting to the challenge. EasyTone shoes or not, hiking a campus built into the mountainside is a more-than-decent leg workout. If anything, I would say the sneakers had a “new toy” effect, something shiny and pretty and new to re-inspire me. I was excited to put them on, so I was excited to try something new and fulfill my daily workouts. And maybe that’s all we need; something to keep our workouts fresh and exciting and inspired. Maybe it’s a new group fitness class, a new time of day, or just some cute workout attire. And every once in awhile (about 6-9 months, if you work out regularly), maybe it’s a new pair of shoes.
Reebok has opted to settle with the FTC and will provide refunds to customers who purchased EasyTone shoes (you can fill out an application for a refund here).? Additionally, they are barred from claiming that the EasyTone footwear and apparel are effective in the toning and strengthening of muscles or any other health claims without substantial scientific evidence.