What The Heck Are Toning Pants?

I’m not the most fashion conscious woman in the world, in fact sometimes I think I may be the least, but when a reader sent me a question about TONING pants, I had to investigate. Could the claims be possible, she asked.

What exactly was the claim?

“Achieving amazing in half the time”

That’s the promise Fila USATM is using to sell its Toning Resistance Tight Capri. They cost $50. They have compression toning panels that, it is claimed, “streamline the figure,” while purportedly increasing the efficiency of a wearer’s workout. They are made of polyester and Lycra-fabric and they claim a “50% increase in muscle workouts” and “41% more support.” And a press release from Fila states that the capris are “designed to increase muscle exercise, which improves the efficiency as well as recovery of an existing workout.”

The underlying premise would be that if in fact the capris did increase muscle activation, then there would be a corresponding increase in the caloric expenditure of the wearer and an improvement in her muscle tone. I’ve taken a look at some of the studies done by exercise science researchers and here’s what I found.

The Bottom Line

Although the research showed a slight increase in calorie burn while wearing Fila’s toning capris, in a real-world scenario that boost would be negligible.

“Calorie-wise, it’s like burning off the equivalent of half a single Peanut M&M,” says one of the researchers, John Porcari, Ph.D. “You would be better off walking an extra 50 yards than wearing these capris to achieve that benefit.”

In response to the claims of a 50-percent increase in muscle workouts, the researchers reported that the Fila capris didn’t deliver there, either.

Subjects were also asked to write down what they felt while wearing the toning capris compared to the athletic shorts, and several stated that they felt increased compression and resistance around the hip joint, which made it more difficult to walk.

“These pants have toning panels, which provide resistance, except your butt muscles and quads and hamstrings are so strong that putting a little bit of elastic in there doesn’t add much resistance,” Porcari says. “In order to provide enough resistance to be beneficial, the pants would have to be so restrictive that you wouldn’t be able to easily move. To achieve a 50-percent increase in muscle activation, you’d have to be wearing something akin to a straight jacket.”

As for “achieving amazing in half the time,” researchers point to the old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That said, for some women the look and fit of these capris may deliver psychological benefits that can’t be quantified.

“I would say that these toning capris are similar to other compression pants that you can buy,” says researcher Alexa Kleingartner, M.S. “I wouldn’t recommend buying them to make a difference in the effectiveness of your workout, but the extra compression and tightness may give you a butt lift and a better shape. That factor is definitely there, so if you think you look better, you may be more willing to work out. And that’s always a good thing.”

Personally, I’d rather see you use your $50 to buy yourself a pedometer for $20, and a month’s worth of swim passes at your local pool!