If you haven't attempted a stroll in a pair of rocker shoes, you've probably seen someone wearing them. Thanks to an exaggeratedly rounded sole, these people wobble when they walk - the instability encourages more muscle engagement in legs and glutes.
Less extreme versions from big-name brands, such as Reebok's EasyTone and Skechers Shape-ups, are more wearable, less wobbly. Rocker shoes represent the growing "wellness" trend in footwear whereby innovative design offers toning benefits simply by doing everyday activities. They look like a cross between an orthopedic shoe and an aerobics sneaker circa 1985.
Now New Balance is attempting to get a leg up on competitors with TrueBalance. If placed in a police lineup of sneakers, they would not be singled out as the wellness shoe.
TrueBalance essentially looks like an ultra-modern sneaker with a stripey pattern running along the back end of the sole. On closer inspection, it's almost as if two soles facing opposite directions have been glued together. According to product literature, what I'm seeing (and hopefully feeling) is the balance-board technology that also boasts a series of "leaf springs" inside the shoe. There is some rounding in the sole but it's not overly pronounced. All combined, these "hidden toning" features are meant to provide better range of motion in all directions compared with the recognizable and awkward back-and-forth rocking.
Call me a skeptic but I've always questioned the firmer butt and shapelier calves assertions touted by makers of wellness shoes. I've been testing the TrueBalance sneakers for two weeks and the most I can say is that they're certainly comfortable and attention-getting in all the right ways.
I made the mistake of attempting a light jog in the sneakers before reading the FAQ that advised against running or boot-camp activities. Which explained my shin pain the next day. It seems the "undercuts" in the sole that allow the feet to move freely during walking are not supportive enough for more strenuous activity. Lesson learned.
Nathaly Hotte, marketing supervisor for New Balance Canada, advises that the shoe is not designed for everybody. She singles out "customers who already have a diagnosed foot problem or anyone who already has severe pronation," and also those with weak ankles. In-store assessments, will help determine individual issues. On the flip side, Ms. Hotte says that the shoe can be a rehabilitative aid. "The toning category can also be muscle strengthening if coming back from injury."
The New Balance website is supported by nutrition tips, including recipes for "enlightened trail mix" and "white chicken chili," and motivational blog posts. The irony is that the more time people spend on the site, the less they are out walking.
So to those interested in TrueBalance (prices range from $120 to $150), I have this to say: A firmer booty would definitely be a bonus but expect to enjoy these shoes solely based on their look-good feel-good attributes. FYI men: You'll be able to get in on the action by December.