The Craze Over ‘Toning’ Shoes Is, Well, Over

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A year ago, consumers eagerly handed over upwards of $200 for each pair of special fitness “toning” shoes that, thanks to designs featuring padded, wobbly, uneven soles, would supposedly tighten buns, thighs, calves, and abs. Nowadays, amid widespread claims that they don’t come close to working as advertised (and may even be dangerous), toning shoes are more likely to be selling for $50 or less, and shoemakers are unloading millions of them at a loss.

Sales of hot new toning shoes from the likes of Reebok, Skechers, and Avia rose 400% in 2010. But almost as quickly as consumers hopped on board with a gimmicky product that promised quick results through less effort, doctors, fitness gurus, and consumer advocates expressed deep skepticism amounting to something like: “Come on, who are you kidding?”

A study released last fall from the American Council on Exercise concluded:

“Across the board, none of the toning shoes showed statistically significant increases in either exercise response or muscle activation. There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.”

At the same time, shoemakers, focusing way more on the skyrocketing sales figures than the gripes, churned out more and more of these shoes, regardless of whether they really toned anything. Today, what we have is a marketplace flooded with oddly-shaped shoes of dubious utility, combined with consumers who are newly wary that they’re just funny-looking shoes that won’t miraculously give you a swimsuit-model body.

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The Los Angeles Times reports that recent sales of Skechers, which has been using Kim Kardashian to help sell its Shape-ups and Tone-ups padded toning shoes, have been terrible, and the company’s stock has tanked as well. One Skechers executive offered a few numbers to explain the situation:

“We aggressively reduced our excess toning inventory during the second quarter by selling 2 million pairs of our original Shape-ups for a loss of $21.0 million,” Chief Operating Officer David Weinberg said in a statement.

The problems with toning shoes aren’t limited to their effectiveness. A Consumer Reports study indicated that people exercising in these shoes are more likely to report injuries, including turned ankles and pain in the legs, hips, and feet. CR’s advice?

If you want to tone your legs and buttocks, we think you’re better off spending time in the gym than wearing shoes that could send you to the couch with your foot in a cast.

A doctor at Johns Hopkins, meanwhile, recommended a different alternative to toning shoes. She said consumers would be better off if they just “bought one less bagel a day — and walked an extra block.”

(MORE: Proof That Consumers Just Love the Quick-Fix Gimmick)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.