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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, we're going to hear about the latest hot product from the athletic shoe industry. The toning shoe is basically a fancy sneaker with an unstable sole that's supposed to make your leg muscles work harder without making you work harder.

Shoe companies claim that toning shoes can sculpt your legs and reduce the girth of your backside while you walk, but at least two new studies say not so fast.

NPR's Anthony Brooks reports.

ANTHONY BROOKS: Americans are always in search of that magic bullet: beers that taste great but don't fill you up, workouts that don't require work. Now, we have athletic shoes that promise the benefits of athletics without doing any athletics.

Here's how Skechers is promoting its toning shoe.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #1: Get in shape without setting foot in a gym with Shape-ups from Skechers.

Unidentified Woman #1: I already feel the difference in the way my jeans fit.

Unidentified Woman #2: My feet...

BROOKS: Skechers along with companies like Reebok and MBT are all selling versions of toning shoes, from $100 a pair to as much as $245 a pair.

Outside her office in Boston this week, Carin Willis was wearing her MBTs, which have big, thick, curved soles that look like big rubber rockers.

Ms. CARIN WILLIS: They're very heavy. They're very ugly.

BROOKS: Maybe so, but she says they have helped her sore back.

Ms. WILLIS: I followed the hype of great for your legs, great for all of that. And do I think that they've resculpted my legs? No. But I do think that it has helped with my back and my posture.

BROOKS: Toning shoes represent the fastest-growing segment of the shoe industry. Here in the Skechers store in downtown Boston, a manager says the shoes are flying out of his store - even if customer Muhammad Jaffa seems skeptical.

Mr. MUHAMMAD JAFFA: Yeah, the way they look, I don't like them much.

BROOKS: They claim that if you walk in them they make your legs - they tone your muscles - they make your muscles stronger.

Mr. JAFFA: Oh yeah?

BROOKS: Yeah.

Mr. JAFFA: I have no clue about that. You have some research about that or just...

BROOKS: In fact, there is research. It just doesn't all agree. The latest two studies come from the American Council on Exercise, or ACE. The nonprofit group compared the benefits of toning shoes from Skechers, Reebok and MBT with ordinary running shoes.

Here's Todd Galati of ACE.

Mr. TODD GALATI (Certification and Exam Development Manager, American Council on Exercise): Both studies found is that there was no significant difference between any of the toning shoes and the standard running shoe.

BROOKS: Bottom line, says Galati, claims that toning shoes help people burn extra calories, improve muscle tone and build strength are bunk.

Mr. GALATI: These shoes are not a magic pill. It is the walking that will make the big difference in your life, not the shoe.

BROOKS: But that's not the way Skechers sees it.

Mr. LEONARD ARMATO (President, Skechers Fitness Group): Well, first of all, I would say that the study that they conducted is deeply flawed.

BROOKS: That's Leonard Armato, president of Skechers Fitness Group. He says the ACE studies are too limited, and he says they're contradicted by what he calls more than a dozen larger and more rigorous studies and by his customers.

Mr. ARMATO: Skechers has received 12,000 unsolicited positive reviews of Shape-ups, and many of these people insist that the health benefits they have enjoyed from wearing Shape-ups have literally transformed their lives for the better.

BROOKS: But the American Council on Exercise stands by its studies and points out they were conducted by independent researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

Todd Galati of ACE does concede that while toning shoes aren't magic, they might motivate people to walk and exercise more, and that can only be a good thing.

Anthony Brooks, NPR News.

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