It’s not often a pair of shoes comes with a “caution while driving or climbing a ladder” warning. Then again, most shoes do not come loaded with weights. Welcome to the new world of exercise, where you don’t have to do anything except put on a pair of shoes to fit in a workout. These days, the gym can be found by looking south of your ankle, right on your feet.
Jennifer Cohen, born and bred in Winnipeg, created the line of shoes called NGR, short for No Gym Required. They will be available in the new year, around the same time she releases her first fitness, motivation and health guidebook, No Gym Required: Unleash Your Inner Rockstar. “It’s the evolution of fitness,” explains Cohen. “The ’80s was all about aerobics and cardiovascular exercise. The ’90s was about the mind and body and yoga.” This era, she says, is about the “integrated lifestyle approach.” Which means working out while doing everything else you normally do.
Cohen knows about the evolution of fitness. “I’ve trained people from all walks of life for over a decade,” she says. She has also been a spokesperson and activewear model for La Senza, and her photo was featured on billboards across North America for the Nike “Goddess” campaign. Her shoes, she says, will take away every “excuse factor” from fitting in a workout. “Though everyone’s lifestyle is so different, it all comes down to the same thing. That is, how to maximize what you do in a minimum amount of time.”
Cohen isn’t the first to put, or think, feet first. The Masai Barefoot Technology shoe, known as MBT, is slowly working its way onto feet in Canada. The shoes, developed by Swiss engineer Karl Müller, have sold more than a million pairs and promise to improve posture, relieve back pain and exercise legs and butt while you walk. Then there is the FitFlop, created by Bliss spa owner Marcia Kilgore, which promises to help you walk faster and keep the hamstring and calf muscles active longer during steps, reduce joint strain and tone thighs. Cohen says she’s the first, however, to come up with something that isn’t “ugly.” “The other shoes feel like you’re wearing a boat on your feet.”
Cohen and I meet up in Toronto where she lives part-time (she spends most of her time in Los Angeles). The shoes she hands me look like a very hip pair of cross-trainers. “Everyone is shocked when I first show them because they are so aesthetically pleasing.” She’s right. The shocks on the bottom are a funky shade of green. She places the weights, which are shaped like insoles, in each shoe. (You can take them out and wear the shoes without the weights as well.)
It’s a strange feeling to lift a pair of shoes that feel so heavy, and an even stranger feeling to walk in them. Within five minutes I can feel my glute muscles working. Maybe. I’m not quite sure if it’s because I’m paying more attention, but I’m not sure I care either. This is one product I hope works. “It will tone the lower body, back and burn up to 50 per cent more calories,” she tells me. “Now you can work out all day long. I wear mine all the time, while running errands. I suggest wearing them as often as possible, because doing anything is better than doing nothing.”
And so I do. My feet feel heavy as I get into the car and drive (so much for the warning). I soon forget about them. By the time I get home (four hours later) and take them off, I feel so light it’s as if I’m walking on air.
The next day I take them to show my personal trainer to ask what he thinks. He worries the shoes could hurt the knees if worn for a long period of time. Cohen says that’s not a problem. “There is research out there backing up that the shoes don’t cause undue strain on the knees. As an added safeguard, within the technology of how the weight is distributed across the feet, there is something that reduces the impact on joints.”
The weights in each shoe range from half a pound to almost two pounds based on your shoe size. (My size six NGR shoes together weighed 1.8 lb.) The shoes will come in sizes six to 12, in lime and blue, for women, and sizes seven to 13 for men, in blue. Cohen will sell them, at first, only through the website. “When you sell shoes like this, you have to do it organically. You can’t just have them in big stores, because salespeople have to know how to explain them.”
After wearing the shoes for three days, I’m not sure if there are any results. They do however add two inches to my height. Evolution of fitness or not, for this reason alone, I’m willing to drag around on heavy feet.