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The Case Against MBTs and Sketcher’s Shape-ups

If you’re interested in a shoe to help you with toning up and you’re considering purchasing an expensive pair of one of those new and cool rounded shoes on the market, please read on.

Sketchers and MBT lead the way in this category with their ‘shaping’ shoes, or shoes that are supposed to help you tone up while you walk.  In theory, this sounds great…work on an activity that should tone you up just by doing it, and tone up because of the footwear you choose versus the activity you are performing…and, of course, there is no downside?? 

MBT (and Sketchers similarly) has set out to copy the feel of walking on soft ground…and by making the ground feel as though it is not flat.  In effect, the shoes try to  create a feeling of instability.  The makers say that by altering your gait and creating instability, your body will adapt by creating more stability. Really?  Where does this come from?

The little video on the MBT website shows a depiction of someone wearing their shoes and walking upright, while those of us who do not wear their footwear lean forward (of course, there is a disclaimer that says results will vary).  I don’t know where to start with criticism of this as I could go on for pages, so I’ll keep it simple by saying that there is a lot more to gait than simply what you wear on your feet.  There is no hard science that has shown that wearing a rounded shoe makes you walk upright while the rest of humankind is hunched over simply due to a traditional shoe…for that matter, I’ll argue that such shoes are NOT good for you.  Here are just a few of the reasons…

1.  Gait begins with heel strike, proceeds to mid-foot loading, and ends with toe off (Windlass Effect of Hicks that involves the Great Toe).  The idea of a shoe creating instability while you walk in no way contributes to helping to ensure that your gait cycle is correct.  In fact, the compensation that they are looking for may just be that…compensation…meaning, you are not functioning properly and your body will do whatever it can to just simply function…does this sound beneficial?

2.  The primary shock absorber of the body is foot pronation, followed by unlocking of the knee.  With these shoes, the emphasis is not on the PROPER biomechanics of the foot, but rather on the instability notion…do your feet properly pronate with these shoes or do you just quickly roll over the mid-stance phase?  (more likely the latter)

3.  About that instability…most of us cannot even balance on one foot on a stable surface.  Why would we want to use a shoe that effectively stresses out our body and may actually NOT help build stability, but lead to injury.  I wouldn’t take a patient who is rehabilitating from pain and dysfunction due to a two level disc herniation and start them with core balance work on a bosu ball. This simply wouldn’t make sense and further injury would likely occur.  They would start with level one exercises and proceed from there.  With these shoes, I cannot figure out why creating instability is the goal…just because you create instabiliy does not mean the body will appropriately adapt by becoming stable.  The end doesn’t justify the means.

4.  Who thinks the foot ‘rolls’ when you walk?  I’ve never seen anything that says this.  If you accelerate the foot though the gait cycle in a fashion that it is not supposed to, you will likely create more harm than good.  The foot is made to strike the ground in a particular fashion, load in a certain manner, and come off the ground in a very specific way.  Failue to do this will lead to injury.  With these shoes, you are likely bypassing critical cycles of gait that are there so that you absorb impact properly.  It is not a good idea to alter the gait cycle.

The list goes on…

The bottom line is that any footwear should be geared toward allowing your foot to work as it is programmed to do.  Those who have excessive pronation or supination should have functional orthotics to help with restoring proper gait mechanics (as much as possible).  The notion that these shoes help to tone you more than just being active has no merit.  Period!  If you feel your calves more when you walk with these shoes, it’s because you are altering your gait…and this is something you really don’t want to do.

Putting celebrity names, like Kim Kardashian and Joe Montana, on ads and in commercials does not a good product make.  We’re dealing with force transmissions through the body that can lead to potential injury all the way up your legs and into your spine.  If you want to get toned up…exercise…don’t look for a shoe without hard science to do the work for you…it’s likley not worth the injury risk.


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