By Melissa Dahl, health editor
What it claims to do: Provide you with a "bum-blasting workout" disguised as a 30-minute walk. The manufacturer says a stroll in these shoes will trim and tone thighs, calves and glutes, thanks to its MicroWobbleboard technology (patent pending).
My experience: Promises, promises. I was lured into buying the FitFlops after an ad from Bath and Body Works for the shoes landed in my inbox. (I'm a sucker for punny subject lines: "Try These on for Thighs!") The ad included an exhaustive, five-part diagram of the shoe that was impressively complicated, and the manufacturer's Web site has actual warnings all over the place: "Use progressively to avoid excessive muscle soreness." "Always consult your (doctor) prior to undertaking strenuous exercise." (Plus, it's recommended by Oprah!) Maybe after a few miles in these things, I'd look as good as this girl next time I felt like wearing only FitFlops and panties.
But if we're really talking warnings, this is one I would've appreciated: FitFlops may be chunkier than they appear online. Also, a big, embarrassing "FITFLOPS" insignia is stamped on the top of the shoe (where the straps meet) and into the sole of the shoe (so you leave their branding wherever you tread). On top of all that, I'd also made the huge mistake of selecting soccer-mom pink.
Still, I started swapping a couple of gym workouts a week for a three-mile walk around a lake near my house while in FitFlops. As ugly as the chunkiness may be, it makes the FitFlops super comfy. Each step actually did feel a little easier on my feet than most of my other shoes. Maybe they really were absorbing shock, as the manufacturer claims – or at least, they were doing a better job of it than my Havaianas.
After a walk around the lake, I stood in line at a Starbucks and considered my backside. It felt like I had taken a really pathetic turn on the seated leg curl machine at the gym – the muscles in my legs had certainly been "activated," but not much.
Since I figured the FitFlops weren't enough to really replace a workout, I dared wearing them in public as I ran errands. Maybe the firmer area at the toe really does "promote faster push-off," because I was hyperspeed-walking while wearing these things. Of course, that may have been because I didn't want to be seen in them!
What the experts say: The FitFlops and, of course, the MicroWobbleboard, actually do provide some great fitness benefits, says msnbc.com fitness contributor Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based fitness trainer who has worked with celebrities, including Jane Fonda. It just doesn't provide benefits anyone really wants. The wobbleboard makes walking a little harder for your feet, which normally don't have to work very hard during workouts, when they're stuffed in cushy athletic shoes, Blahnik says.
"The concept of strengthening your feet – that's a great concept, but it's not going to lead you to smaller thighs or a smaller butt," Blahnik says. He thinks the FitFlops might also help improve your posture and balance, which aren't often at the top of my reasons to hit the gym.
Gina Lombardi, a personal trainer and the host of FIT TV's "Fit Nation,"compares the wobbleboard embedded in the shoe to a super small version of a stability ball or a Bosu, and she agrees with Blahnik – the benefits are real, but a bit overblown.
"That wobbleboard in there is making it unstable for the foot, so the foot does have to work a little harder, and it does kind of project on up the legs, and your quads and your glutes have to work a little harder – but it's still such a miniscule movement," Lombardi says. "It's hard for me to believe that it's significant enough for it to ever replace a workout."
Bottom line: Wearing FitFlops will strengthen your feet and improve your posture and balance – but honestly, who cares about that? Most of us are interested in the FitFlops' promises of trimming and toning your backside, which the sandals only do on a very small scale. You will, however, be inadvertently training to racewalk at the Olympics with these guys.