Bad Combo: Fitness and High Heels
Written by: Coach Slater
Ladies, I KNOW you’ve heard this argument before, so don’t expect anything novel here. I’m just reminding you that wearing high heels is not only bad for your feet, but also your calves, knees, hips, and spine. High heels aren’t just “less functional” than flats, they are actively harming you.
But, don’t take it from me. Listen to an expert.
“High heels, in general, are an unnatural way to walk. We weren’t meant to walk on our tippy toes,” says Dr. Neal Blitz, a foot surgeon based in New York and Los Angeles who is board certified in both foot surgery and reconstructive rearfoot and ankle surgery. “That’s what high heels do, they put women on their tippy toes, and what that does is put excessive force on the ball of the foot. In the short term, because the foot is in this altered state and not functioning properly, you wind up getting a lot of muscle activation in the intrinsic muscles inside the foot which can lead to muscle spasms, cramping, and acute pain.”
High heels also lead to bunions, stress fractures, and abnormal calluses. They can cause the Achilles (the strongest and largest tendon in the body) and the calf muscles to tighten and shorten over time. That can limit your ankle mobility and lead to a higher risk of sprains and strains. So, if you hate running now, imagine running in the future when one of those ugly ailments rears its head. And even if you never choose running when that pops up in a WOD, those ailments make the foot less stable, so it affects your power lifts and weightlifting, too.
Looking beyond the foot, heels also pitch the body forward, putting pressure on the knees, while forcing you to compensate by extending your lumbar spine while pushing your butt and chest out. You’re forced to make active corrections to keep your head centered over your hips and stay balanced. By spending hours in this position, multiple times each week, you’re creating more stress on your spine over time. That stress can lead to pelvis and back issues later in life.
Look, I know you’re still going to wear heels. You’re not going to throw yours out. I get it. So, if I can’t convince you to wear flats only, maybe I can ask that you wear your heels less often? Dr. Adam Lipson, a New York-based neurosurgeon and specialist in spinal surgery, suggests, “…no more than two days a week of very high heels (3+ inches). Two days a week in medium heels (1-2 inches), and three days with flats or sneakers. Cycling your higher heels with your lower heels is appropriate, so you’re not constantly exposed to higher heel height.”
To reverse the foot issues brought on by high heels? Keep strength training with us in class, learning to “grip” the floor with your feet. Doing so creates a natural arch in your foot, which lifts the foot just enough to allow the ankle, knee, and hip to stay in a straight alignment. Also, look at some self-massage of your feet and calves with a lacrosse ball. Below, I’ve added an old video of ours showing you some examples. These simple measures can help correct the problems you’ve encountered.