The MBT shoes as well as the Sketchers Shape-Ups are becoming more popular, and it is hard to ignore them in the store, with their thick, rocker-bottom soles. They are advertised by the manufacturers as a way to tone your thighs, calves, and buttocks, but there may be better or more definite advantages to them as far as foot health is concerned.
There are some features of these shoes which have been recommended by podiatrists for many years. First, they have a stiffer sole, which can provide better support to your arch. I often recommend to my patients that they do a bending test to all potential shoes, where you try to flex your shoe in the long direction. Your shoe should only bend where the toes bend, not in the arch or other areas. If a shoe flexes easily in other areas, your foot is more likely to have excessive flex in this area, potentially causing arch strain or tendonitis. Even a seemingly good athletic shoe can be too flexible- a high-priced shoe does not always mean a high-quality shoe.
Another feature of the MBT/Shape-Up is a rocker sole. This type of sole has a natural curve along the long axis of the shoe, allowing your foot to roll through each footstrike. This takes pressure off of the forefoot, or front part of your foot where the ball of the foot is, metatarsals, and toes. It also helps to prevent collapse of the arch if combined with the stiff sole. I have had several patients who are plagued with pain in their great toe joint, or “first metatarsal-phalangeal joint”, either from bunions or arthritis, who have had relief of symptoms with a rocker shoe.
One group of patients that I would NOT recommend this shoe for is anyone with balance or gait problems which makes them less steady on their feet, such as many elderly individuals. The rocker sole is a less stable platform and may lead to falls in a susceptible person.
So, do they really tone your legs and buttocks? Well, my personal opinion is that they probably do a little, as you are forced to use more of your muscles and balance control while wearing them, but I’m not sure if it is enough to really make a big difference in physical appearance or strength. Perhaps if your feet felt better in the MBT or Shape-Ups you would walk more, which would certainly be better for your overall health!