At the top of my list for products I don't recommend for fitness walkers are weighted shoes. These are shoes specially designed to add 1 to 5 pounds to the sole of the shoe. The marketers claim that the heavy shoes allow you to burn more calories per mile and tone your muscles better than with walking with lighter shoes.
Are these shoes of benefit to fitness walkers walking briskly for 30 to 120 minutes a day? I think there are more negatives than positives. I have consulted with physical therapists, kinesiotherapists, a physiatry physician, an orthopedic physician, and several walking coaches. None of them would recommend weighted shoes.
Orthopedic Physician Opinion: An example is Dr. Jonathan Cluett, About.com Guide to Orthopedic Medicine: "There is no scientific data to support the use of a weighted shoe, and there is reason to believe that there could be detrimental effects on joints from footwear that is heavily weighted."
Ergonomic Expert Opinion: Chris Adams, About.com Guide to Ergonomics, examines the use of heavy shoes. While they can be of benefit if used like ankle weights in specific strength training exercises, they increase the risk of strain if used for walking or running. The Ergonomics of Heavy Shoes
Why wouldn't I buy weighted shoes for fitness walking?
- Heavy feet are unnatural: Our bodies weren't designed to wear weights at the bottom of of our feet, ankles, or wrists. Weights added to those areas can cause strain in the joints above them. It is simple physics that weight added to the end of a pendulum causes more effect than weight added near the center of mass. Your joints will have to deal with that extra stress with every step. While some strain is good to make the body build muscle and burn more calories in moving the limb, it could contribute to repetitive strain injuries. The risk may be minor for a healthy young person using the weights or weighted shoes for a limited period when exercising. But wearing heavy shoes all day or for extended walking could be a problem.
- Yes, you will burn more calories with weighted shoes: If your body has to move more weight, it will have to burn more energy with each step. But the difference is minor compared with just walking a little bit further, which is free. See my Calorie Calculators.
- There are better ways to burn a few more calories: If you want to burn more calories in the same time period, you can buy fitness walking poles for less than the cost of weighted shoes. These burn 15 to 30% more calories per mile while reducing the strain on your hips, knees and ankles. For me, that is the clear choice. Why wouldn't I reduce the strain vs. add to the strain if I reached the same goal of burning more calories with each step?
- It's hard to walk fast in heavy shoes: If you have only 30 minutes for your walking workout, you are bound to go slower wearing heavy shoes. As a result, you go a shorter distance and burn fewer calories. It is likely that the reduced distance could offset any extra calories you burn by wearing the weighted shoes. I find this with my heavier trail shoes vs. my lightweight performance running shoes. I can go much faster in the lighter shoes. I have to warn my walking buddies when I'm wearing the trail shoes that I'm wearing my "slow shoes."
- Many kinds of weighted shoes are not flexible: I've tried on weighted shoes that felt extremely comfortable -- until you tried to walk. Walking shoes need to flex as your foot flexes through the step. If you can't twist and flex the soles, they are not suitable for fitness walking. This is true for any shoe -- stiff shoes are no good for walking. Some weighted shoes may be designed to flex. Be sure to test them before you decide to buy.
- Convince me with research: If I see a large study that showed that walkers will walk just as far and just as fast when wearing weighted shoes, and have no increase in injuries, am I more than willing to be convinced. I love mythbusting -- even my own cherished myths! Meanwhile, I found an article in a Japanese sports science publication of a study using only 9 women. They walked for 30 minutes at a time at about 3 miles per hour. The weighted shoes (adding 2.2 pounds to each shoe vs. a regular sports shoe) raised their heart rates 10 to 20% This is about the same effect you would get from using fitness walking poles, or using arm motion if you normally don't. The study participants had no difference in developing muscle strength for heavy vs. normal shoes.
Miyazaki Yoshinori, Yamada Nobuyuki. "Effects of Walking Program with Light-weighted Shoes in Middle and High-aged Women" Descente Sports Science. VOL.24;NO.;PAGE.153-161(2003).
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