One such claim for Skechers Shape Ups is that because they automatically exercise your pelvic and leg muscles as you walk, using them is a simple way to stay in shape, and “you can get in shape without ever setting foot in a gym”.
In fact, there are many ways to get in shape without going to the gym. Walking, whether barefooted, in standard shoes, or in rocker bottoms will tone the muscles to varying degrees.
But, far more important than the quality of workout, is the impact that rocker bottoms have on your feet and ankles.
A Good Idea Gone Bad
The concept of rocker bottom footwear began in the 1970s, when doctors placed their patients with a broken foot or leg in a leg cast with a rocker bottom platform, similar to the one shown in the photo below. This platform made it easier for them to walk within the confines of a leg cast. Because the foot, ankle and leg were supported in the cast; biomechanical issues (such as potentially twisting the ankles) were not an issue.
A false assumption was made that if the rocker bottom works well in a cast, then it would also work well in a shoe. In the 1990s, the first rocker bottom shoe was marketed to the public and since that time many brands, such as Skechers Shape Ups have become popular.
Are rocker bottoms really as beneficial as they claim?
Normally, you use your foot and leg muscles to move the weight of your body from your heel to your toe as you walk. But with rocker bottom shoes (such as Skechers Shape Ups), the rolling action is done for you, reducing the need to use your muscles and making it easier to walk. At first thought, this sounds good; but the result is that your foot and leg muscles (due to decreased use) get weaker the longer you use the shoes.
Do a self test- First walk in your rocker bottoms, paying attention to how hard you are using your leg and foot muscles. Then walk barefooted in soft sand. Which gives your muscles the better workout?
Can they potentially cause ankle injuries?
A 2009 study conducted by researchers Albright B.C. & Woodhull-Smith (2009) suggested that rocker bottom shoes may increase the risk of falls. I believe the reason for this is because (unlike rocker bottom leg casts) there is no structural support of the ankles and because the muscles in the leg and feet are not being optimally used, they become weaker and prone to injury.
If you have a Rothbarts Foot or PreClinical Clubfoot Deformity, wearing Skechers Shape Ups or any rocker bottom shoes can be disastrous:
Both the Rothbarts Foot and PreClinical Clubfoot Deformity create a twisting motion in the ankle when you walk, making the ankle joint especially vulnerable to sprains. If you have one of these two common, abnormal foot structures and you wear rocker bottoms, the combination of using less muscular activity in the foot and leg muscles, plus the inherent ankle instability seen in the above two foot structures, can lead to ankle injuries.
Rocking in your shoes may seem like a fun and easy way to get fit. But a safer and even simpler way to get in shape ‘without setting foot in a gym’ is by walking barefoot in soft sand; which strengthens your ankles, tones your entire body, is natural, fun and free.
Albright B.C. & Woodhull-Smith W.M. (March 2009). “Rocker bottom soles alter the postural response to backward translation during stance.” Gait & Posture
Professor/Dr Brian A Rothbart
Chronic Pain Elimination Specialist
Discovered the Rothbarts Foot and PreClinical Clubfoot Deformity
Developer of Rothbart Proprioceptive Therapy
Inventor and Designer of Rothbart Proprioceptive Insoles
Founder of the International Academy RPT
Author of Forever Free From Chronic Pain and The Foots Connection to Chronic Pain