All About Rocker Sole Shoes
By Cam White, CFts
Rocker sole shoes have become the latest trend in active walking, comfort footwear. Almost every manufacturer of comfort shoes is entering the marketplace with a rocker sole shoe. With so many options to choose from, and millions spent in advertising these brands, there will no doubt be some confusion about which brand to buy. The purpose of this discussion is to provide a better understanding of the rocker sole footwear category.
Rocker sole shoes have long been known for their therapeutic benefits. They can protect the heels and the balls of the feet from repetitive impact with concrete and hard surfaces. They can be helpful for those suffering from heel and arch pain. They can also be helpful for those suffering from arthritis in the big-toe-joint (hallux rigidus).They promote good posture and can improve circulation. Rocker soles tend to engage core muscles and can improve proprioception. But rocker sole shoes are not for everyone. If you have problems with vertigo or dizziness, for example, a rocker sole shoe may not be appropriate.
There are 2 Subcategories of Rocker Sole Shoes: Unstable and Stable
Unstable rocker shoes are designed to induce instability in all planes of motion. The idea is that if you walk in an unstable shoe, your body is forced to adapt, thus simulating the effect of walking on soft, uneven terrain. Your core muscles are strengthened as your body adapts to the instability of the shoe. Unstable shoes use soft EVA memory foam or pods to create instability. MBT pioneered this concept, but brands like Skechers, Reebok, Joya and Z7 now have offerings in the unstable subcategory. If you have good control over your lower extremities – an unstable shoe may be right for you.
Stable rocker shoes rock straight ahead, but offer much better medial/lateral stability. These shoes are better suited for people that want to enjoy the exercise & postural benefits of a rocker-sole shoe, but need stability and support as well. People that over-pronate or have unstable feet tend to feel much better in a stable rocker-sole shoe. I encourage the use of custom or over-the-counter orthotics in stable rocker-sole shoes to achieve the greatest amount of stability and control. Brands like RYN, Finn Comfort “Finnamic”, Mephisto Sano and Cogent all are good examples of stable rocker shoes. Z-CoiL shoes actually function as a stable “double-rocker” shoe. As the coil compresses, it returns energy across a firm orthotic into a forefoot rocker.
Within these 2 subcategories, the degree of the rocker will determine the amount of muscle activation. In the unstable subcategory, the MBT Sport and Chapa models probably provide the greatest muscle activation. The RYN shoes provide the most aggressive rocker in the stable rocker shoe subcategory. People that buy “active walking” shoes to get the most out of their walk will probably favor MBT and RYN. The key decision will be whether they prefer an unstable or stable shoe. Here’s a breakdown of unstable and stable rocker sole shoes:
Skechers Shape Up
Reebok Easy Tone
Finn Comfort “Finnamic”
Guidelines for Buying Rocker Sole Shoes
1. If possible, go to a store and get personally fitted for your shoes. Rocker sole shoes should fit securely and move with your feet, without heel slipping. A trained sales associate should measure your feet and observe how you are walking in the shoes. Visiting a store also provides you with an opportunity to try on various brands and styles to find the shoe that works the best for you.
2. Break the shoes in gradually. If you have never worn rocker sole shoes before, there’s a very good chance that you will feel some muscles that you haven’t felt in quite some time. Listen to your body. If you feel like you’re over-doing it, you probably are.
3. Beware the hype. If you think that just lacing up a pair of shoes will magically burn fat, you’re fooling yourself. Start moving, and pay attention to your form as you walk. You will feel the muscles getting worked harder, especially when you walk uphill. The more you move, the more calories you burn. In my experience, RYN shoes are the ultimate shoe for elliptical trainers. The rocker adapts to the pitch of the pedals, and there is absolutely no stress on my knees when I work out on the elliptical trainer.
4. You get what you pay for. If the price looks too good to be true, you are probably buying a poorly made shoe or a counterfeit. Only buy from reputable, authorized dealers and allow yourself to be fitted in person, if possible. Brands like RYN, Z-CoiL and Finn Comfort cost more than cheaper shoes, but they will last for years, instead of being replaced after a few months.
5. Do your homework. A good way to check out shoes is to read online reviews for each brand. Please bear in mind that some of the “online reviews” are probably sales people posing as “thrilled” or “angry” customers.