5 Ways to Counteract Wearing High Heels
Written on July 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm, by Eric Cressey
Today's guest post comes from CP coach, Greg Robins.
This week, my girlfriend is off competing for the Miss International title. I am really proud of her, as she is doing so to raise awareness for her charity. She asked me how she could cancel out some of the negative repercussions that come along with wearing heels for seven days straight. It got me thinking, and I decided to take my advice to her and make it into a post for the readers out there who regularly wear high heels – or train females who do so.
It almost goes without saying, but wearing footwear that includes an excessive heel lift (i.e. high heels), greatly alters the alignment of your entire body. When we are misaligned, certain areas of the body will be asked to do more than they should, while other areas, in turn, are unable to fulfill their duties. We recognize this problem and its ill effects with people who function day to day with poor posture and movement habits. When we choose to wear this type of footwear, we are forcing ourselves into a poor position, regardless of where we were prior. To make matters worse, most of us are not in a particularly great position barefoot. The addition of heel lifts, as high as 2 – 4 inches, certainly does not help.
That being said, high heels are a fashion statement, and sometime ladies just want to look glamorous. I certainly am not one to advocate against wearing something that makes you feel like a million bucks. However, if you don't want to feel like the polar opposite of that the next day, try applying these five tips!
1. Do more self massage.
I recommend keeping a golf ball, lacrosse ball, and (if possible) a foam roller or piece of PVC pipe on hand. As we touched on above, wearing high heels will cause a few muscle groups to work overtime. The idea with all of our tips is to "undo" what you have "done." With that in mind, we need to start with a concerted effort to take down the tone down of these overactive muscles.
Use a golf ball to massage the bottom of your feet. This can be done by placing the ball underneath your foot while standing. Apply a generous amount of pressure while rolling the ball in various patterns along the underside of the foot.
Like wise, you can do a similar thing on the muscles of your calves with either the golf or lacrosse ball. In a seated position, place the ball under your calf and apply pressure while rolling the ball around the back side of your lower leg.
Another great spot on which to use the ball is the front side of your upper leg. Attack the hip flexors by using the lacrosse ball and/or foam roller. In a prone (face down) position, use the implements to massage the quadriceps (thigh) as well as the high, anterior (front) of the hips. While I would make these two spots the priority, you would be well advised to work on the outer thigh, and inner thighs as well. Check out our foam rolling progression in the video below. Pay extra attention to the portion targeting the lower extremities.
2. Facilitate the inhibited muscle groups.
Once you have finished with the self massage techniques described above, you will want to "re-ignite" the areas that were inhibited by the mal-positioning of a high heel lift. I like people to start from the core, and work their way out. There are three easy to use activation exercises to get you going. First, you can use a low level breathing exercise. Breathing exercises will help facilitate the diaphragm, and the external / internal obliques. By doing so, we can help "turn on" the mid-section correctly, get you away from an extended bias, and further bring down the tone of your body. A great option is the the deep squat breathing with lat stretch. Check out the video below.
Next, we can facilitate the mid section a little more aggressively by adding some movement of the limbs while controlling the core. Dead bugs are a viable option here. Check out this video:
Lastly, some easy glute activation is in order. The glutes function in all three planes of motion. Therefore, it is important that we facilitate their function correctly. For lesser trained individuals I would recommend hammering the sagittal plane first and foremost. Supine bridge variations are the best place to start. From there, we can work into a side lying clam variation. Lastly, for the more prepared individuals an exercise such as the bowler squat is a nice way to activate the glutes in all three planes. Check out the videos and pictures below.
3. Stress foot/toe and ankle function.
When wearing heels, the most obviously altered joints are the toes/foot and the ankles. It is important that we address them appropriately. The toes will be constricted by the narrow toe in most of these shoes. Because of this they will no longer function normally during gait. Additionally, the ankles will be placed into a position of plantarflexion permanently. With this in mind, there are a few easy exercises that should be done in order to restore proper function of the foot and ankle. The first would be some low level mobility drills for the ankle, stressing dorsiflexion. Knee break ankle mobs are terrific in this scenario.
Furthermore, some ankle "alphabets" are also a great way to restore function to both the ankle and the foot.
Lastly, I would recommend doing toe pulls as well to wake up the feet, and toes. Check out the video below from Hitting Performance Labs showing us the toe pull exercise made famous by the folks at Z Health.
4. Re-groove a posterior weight shift.
The heel lift causes us to shift our center of mass forward. This can be a big problem, namely for all the reasons we talked about in the opening of this article. In order to combat this, we need to re-groove a posterior weight shift. Basically, the idea is that we need to re-teach our body what right feels like. Eric did a great post on the effectiveness of the left-stance toe touch, you can read it here. For now, make sure that you implement this exercise as often as possible, especially when you find yourself wearing heels!
5. Take a break whenever you can.
Finally, you can offset the problems associated with wearing heels by simply taking them off whenever possible. If you have 10-15 minutes where you can catch a break, do so! If you really want to make progress, use that time to do some of the drills above.
If you regularly find yourself in heels, I hope this article helps you out. Additionally, if you know someone who wears heels on a regular basis (I know you do!), then please share this with them!
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