MBT? Perhaps, you've heard of the "anti-shoes" touted to increase your circulation and combat cellulite, all the while helping to align your back and neck for improved posture. I was intrigued by the claims and decided to investigate.
For starters, MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology. According to Wikipedia, "The Masai are an indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania." Hmmm… now that I think about it, I do recall my sister creating an informative poster on the Masai for junior high, and learning that the Maasai diet consisted of "meat, milk, and blood from cattle." However, I didn't see a mention of Masai shoe preference. Why are shoes being mass-produced in their honor when they go barefoot on a daily basis? Good question. It seems that the creators of MBT were impressed with the erect posture of the Masai tribe and designed a shoe with the intention of aligning the posture of those who would wear them, i.e. you and me.
According to the official US MBT website,
The positive effect of the MBT is based on the principle of "natural instability." An effect which can, in fact, be achieved without the benefit of high-tech footwear: by simply walking barefoot on soft, uneven, natural ground such as sand or moss. However, in today's thoroughly modern world this is not always easy to do – but the health benefits are significant. While wearing MBTs the body is forced to maintain its natural balance, thereby stimulating and exercising the body's supporting muscle system which results in numerous pro-body benefits.
Numerous scientific studies are available both on the MBT site and elsewhere. Remarkable improvements have been found in the areas of neuromuscular training, biomechanical therapeutic effects, osteoarthritic pain reduction, and more. However, like many other females in this media driven society, sadly, I was most interested in the following study:
"Interestingly, about 2/3 of the subjects reported a markedly improved tissue condition in the area of the cellulite. Furthermore, increased well-being and an improved quality of life were found. Almost 63% would recommend MBT for the treatment of cellulite to their best friend." – Cellulite Study: The Efficacy of Masai Barefoot Technology as an Auxiliary Therapeutic Measure for Cellulite (N. Linde, C. Stegen, CH)
While they are a bit pricey, at $245 a pair, I invested my hard-earned money in a pair of shoes that looked a little bulky and odd. My first pair of MBTs had an inch and a half heel on what otherwise appeared to be a pretty traditional looking sneaker. I couldn't wait to put them on when I received them. Did a bright light appear from the heavens shine upon me? Did angelic harps play? No on both counts, but I felt a slight tingling sensation in my feet as an initial reaction. Not a bad feeling, to imagine my circulation increasing, especially because we all know that increased circulation helps reduce cellulite (of course, so does weight training and a proper diet, but that's for another article).
My first few steps felt a bit awkward, but nothing more. The foot has a tendency to roll backward ever so slightly. The next day I wore them for the better part of the day and honestly, my feet felt great. I have slight lymph edema in my left foot, but I didn't have any swelling that day. That was a bonus!
My first MBT purchase was almost four years ago and I have no regrets whatsoever. I purchase a new pair about once a year. I have found that when I wear them on a regular basis, my legs, glutes, and calves are firmer and the appearance of cellulite is less (again, I do recommend weight training and proper diet, in conjunction with MBTs). They are so comfortable, I prefer to wear them even at home over going barefoot.
The real test was about a year ago; I was meeting with a trainer at the gym and she suggested I wear a flat-soled tennis shoe for some Pilates routines. The only other sneakers I had at home was a pair of New Balance tennis shoes, which I hadn't worn in more than a year. Thinking nothing of it, that next morning I put the NB sneakers on to go to the gym. After having worn only the MBTs for the prior few years, I cannot tell you how shocked I was to find the NB sneakers to be just flat and uncomfortable-feeling. It was unbearable. I removed them, put my MBTs on just to drive to the gym, and did Pilates barefoot. I've since donated my NBs to a friend.