Have you ever done toe raises and marveled at the kind of workout they gave your calf muscles? This is what strength shoes are supposed to achieve. These are shoes that look quite regular, except for one thing – the soles under the balls of your feet are raised. Think of this design as the opposite of high heel shoes. Strength shoes force you to support yourself on the front parts of your feet for as long as you wear them. The question is, does this design actually strengthen your calf muscles or does it somehow injure you as poorly thought-out exercise products do sometimes?
One of the first clues that you get that strength shoes may not be all that they are cracked up to be, comes in the form of the unsupported claims that major manufacturers of these products often put out. ATI, for instance, claims that strength shoes have been medically proven to be the most effective method possible of improving athletic performance in many areas. Check what they claim here.
An independent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looked into the training benefits of strength shoes, though, seems to completely go against the claims of the manufacturer. In this study, the study group that had the benefit of the strength shoes performed slightly better than the group that didn’t. They also seemed to end up with better calf musculature than the other group. The benefits of these gains, though, were offset by the muscle injuries that many of the test subjects in the group experienced.
The conclusion from the study was that while strength shoes do work, they require competent supervision by a qualified sports trainer to make sure is that they don’t cause injuries due to poor exercise form. Strength shoes, therefore, are not safe for the mass-market.
How exactly do strength shoes cause injury when you use a poor form? Some experts explain the injury by comparing the calf muscles to a spring. Stretching a spring will produce more and more contraction force up to a point. Stretch the spring beyond what it is meant for and you will permanently deform it. It won’t contract anymore. You could say much the same thing about your muscles.
Strength shoes are supposed to strengthen the calf muscles by stretching. Since these are not custom-made products, though, they could easily end up causing some users to under-stretch and others to go too far.
The study above hasn’t been the only one done on the use of strength shoes. There are many positive ones; except that they appear to use poor research methodology. For instance, a study at Tulane University at their Laboratory of Human Performance gives strength shoes a vigorous thumbs up. This study finds that athletes who use these shoes do show great improvement. The study, unfortunately, fails to mention that the other group used in the study – the one that worked out without strength shoes – improved by the same amount.
In general, any exercise innovation should be viewed with suspicion. Much of it – even major products by major corporations (such as Reebok’s Easy Tone) – sometimes ends up causing more injury than athletic improvement.