Rocker-bottom shoes, like Skechers Shape-Ups, are very interesting and controversial. Chances are, the first time you saw them you were struck with either disgust or hope. Unfortunately, it appears those struck with hope may have to keep looking for a new easy button.
A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined rocker-bottom shoes. The study asked whether participants shod with Shape-Ups would show any increased muscle activation in the legs, and whether they would use more oxygen during a walk. The study compared three shoes: Shape-Ups, a standard athletic shoe, and a standard athletic shoe with weight added to match the weight of the Shape-Ups. Apparently rocker-bottom shoes are heavier than most athletic shoes.
Participants strapped on their shoes and then set off for a 10 minute walk on a treadmill. Researchers asked the participants to set the treadmill at a comfortable walking speed. After they allowed the participant to set the speed, the researchers then increased the speed by 10%.1 Well played, you sneaky scientists. Well played.
The results showed no significant difference in muscle activation. Oxygen consumption? Nope, no difference there either. Every time it appeared researchers might find a muscle that was worked harder by the rocker-bottom shoes, it turned out the added weight was the culprit, not the profile of the shoe.2
To be fair, at least one study has found a slight increase in energy required to walk in rocker-bottom shoes. That study also used a particularly heavy rocker-bottom shoe. The authors also point out that if allowed to completely select their own walking speeds, results could have changed. Finally, the authors point out that all participants were healthy. The effects of rocker-bottom shoes on injured populations may be different.
The authors gave rocker-bottom shoes every possible benefit of the doubt, but I still remain convinced these are not a legitimate tool for seeking fitness. My problem is that the product is designed to fulfill a false prophecy in the mind of consumers: you can get something for nothing. By simply buying a different shoe, the consumer is assured that she can get fitter without making any serious time commitment towards fitness. To me, this is selling a lie. And regardless of morals, in fitness it’s a lot more fun to sell the truth. Truth is what changes peoples’ lives and achieves their goals. In my opinion, a single high five after a hard-earned PR is worth more than a factory full of rocker-bottom shoes.
And I’m not the only one thinking Skechers made grandiose claims. Turns out the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. court system feel the same. The courts handed down a $40-million award to a class action lawsuit filed against Skechers for bogus marketing claims. If you purchased purchased Shape-Ups between August 1, 2008 and August 13, 2012 you could be eligible for a refund.