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Forget those Reebok toning shoes -- here's how to shape up your legs

September 28, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • These Reebok shoes may not tone your legs, but some real exercises will.
These Reebok shoes may not tone your legs, but some real exercises will. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg )

Cross those Reebok EasyTone and RunTone shoes off your list of ways to get fit--the company has agreed to pay $25 million in refunds to settle FTC charges that claims that the shoes strengthen and tone muscles were not substantiated.

This didn't come as a huge surprise--the American Council on Exercise was onto these shoes last year. The San Diego-based organization published its own study that compared how people responded walking in both traditional athletic shoes and in special toning shoes.

Participants included 12 physically active women who did a series of treadmill walking tests with both types of shoes. Researchers recorded muscle activity at several points in the legs and monitored oxygen consumption, heart rate and calories burned to see how hard everyone was working.

The results? Response to exercise and muscle activation were basically the same for the regular shoes and the toning shoes.

We know you had your hopes up that great legs were only a walk around the block away, but don't worry--we have great advice from fitness experts who will really tell you how to get your legs in shape. One caveat: you have to actually exercise.

Let's start with some cardio. Although leg muscles are working during activities such as walking, cycling and doing the elliptical trainer, there's another reason to do aerobics at least four days a week: "It's really helping to burn calories which will help decrease the fat mass around the muscles so they can show," says Jenn Burke, personal training manager at Crunch in New York City.

One of the shoes' main draw was that the soles promoted instability, allegedly making muscles work harder. But you can recreate that instability that will not only target leg muscles but also the core and improve balance as well--it's an exercise trifecta.

Alice Burron, a Cheyenne, Wyoming-based exercise physiologist and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise, recommends starting with exercises that work both leg muscles and balance. Stand on one leg and reach for something with the opposite hand--so if the left leg is planted, reach with the right hand. Try to grab something at waist-level first, then work your way down to the floor, making it more challenging.

"When you're using one leg you're incorporating muscles that aren't necessarily used in bipedal movement such as walking," she says. "That also promotes balance, so you're getting a big bang for the buck."

Burron says you can also walk on unstable surfaces such as sand, grass or hiking trails to train leg muscles and work on stability. Gym rats can do calf raises on a Bosu Balance Trainer, a stability half-ball. Start out holding onto a wall with one hand while standing on the dome side of the ball and pushing up onto the toes, then lowering the feet down. Gradually depend on the wall less and less, holding on with the tips of the fingers, then one or two fingers, then nothing. Increase reps and sets to make the exercise even more difficult.

Don't overlook classic exercises such as squats and lunges that target the legs and glutes, says Shirley Archer, a Florida-based former IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. instructor of the year and author of "The Strength and Toning Deck."

She calls the squat the "creme de la creme of lower body exercises," but check your form to maximize the exercise and prevent injury.

Start by standing while holding a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your side (if you're new to exercise, skip the dumbbells). The feel are parallel and hip-width apart. Relax the shoulders and tighten the abdominals to support the back.

Next, inhale as you bend your knees and sit back as if you're about to sit in a chair. Avoid bending the knees more than 90 degrees, and don't let the knees go beyond the toes. Keep the spine neutral--don't make it concave or convex.

Exhale as you push down through feet, and return to standing position. Make sure your feet are flat throughout the exercise and don't lift the heels or toes. Do eight to 12 repetitions.

Women who don't want to build bulk should do leg strengthening exercises with lower weights and higher reps. To build muscle, do higher weights and lower reps. Archer says that majority of gains come from the first exercise set, so if time is an issue, do one good quality set.

With these exercises, you'll definitely have a leg up.

Sorry, we couldn't resist.

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