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Students dispel claims made by Reebok

By Michelle Osmond

Many footwear companies have claimed to enhance performance and improve stability. Reebok is one of them, claiming that instability created by balance pods on the sole of the Reebook EasyTone sneaker leads to more strength and tone in calves (11 per cent), hamstrings (11 per cent) and gluteal muscles (28 per cent) than regular walking shoes.

Some School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR) students wanted to find out if the claims were true. So, Adam Lomond, Jason Blair, Stephen Pollard, Amanda Power and Aprill Drake, all fourth-year students at the time, recruited 10 women aged 18-25 to test the sneakers out. The test subjects walked on a treadmill while wearing either their own sneakers or a pair of Reebok EasyTone sneakers.

Under the supervision of Dr. Jeanette Byrne, professor in HKR, the students recorded muscle activation using electromyography.

"One of the reasons we chose to do this study was because we realized how big the fitness industry is and how different products can have a huge impact on it," said Mr. Lomond. "Since EasyTone footwear was still popular, even amongst some of our peers, we decided to determine whether or not it would be worth buying into the fitness craze."

The result: no difference. In fact, the Reebok EasyTone sneakers resulted in less muscle activation when it came to the muscle on the front of the calf.

The students were midway through the study when news broke in the U.S. that Reebok lost a class action law suit regarding alleged false advertising about the shoes. In September 2011 and, according to a USA Today article, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges it used "deceptive" advertising to market so-called toning shoes.

Under the settlement, Reebok was no longer allowed to make claims that toning shoes are effective in strengthening muscles, or that using the footwear will result in a specific percentage or amount of muscle toning or strengthening, unless the claims are true and backed by scientific evidence.

"So we essentially found what the law suit confirmed to be the case," said Dr. Byrne. "The shoes don't increase muscle activation. They act like normal shoes. I should note that the basis for this shoe design was a much uglier, more expensive shoe made by the company Masai Barefoot Technology and has been proven by research to work. Reebok attempted to create a much more esthetically pleasing and relatively inexpensive shoe that would appeal to females."

Mr. Lomond said the study has made him look at products differently.

"I find myself being a lot more critical of whether or not the new products you see advertised actually do what they claim. I always wonder where they got their information from and how they actually went about doing their research. Now, if the product is one that I am really interested in, I often research the product a little further and see if there have been any additional studies done on the product and what their results had to say."