Ladies can spend ungodly amount of money on shoes. It blows my mind, honestly. Heel sizes of all heights, shapes, and styles for a plethora of outfits to be worn once, multiple times, or a permanent fixture in the wardrobe rotation. Not everyone has a separate closet dedicated to shoes, those that do are very proud of it. Why do I choose to write a blog post on high heels? Because the damage high heels can do for a woman’s ankles, knees, and hips can be detrimental to their fitness goals.
Elevating your foot in a high heel shortens the calf muscles and weakens the muscles of the shin (anterior tibialis). Good posture begins where the body contacts the ground, and that’s at the feet and ankles. Proper ankle mobility allows you to squat with more power, push off for running and cutting, and reduce potential injuries like a torn Achilles tendon and plantar fasciitis. Often ankle joint dysfunction is seen in the position of the knees when doing any type of squat movements. The knees turn inward putting pressure on the outer connective tissues which can lead to ACL injuries and pain in the knee cap. Bet you didn’t know any of that!
When the ankle joint doesn’t work right, other areas of the body must compensate to produce normal movements. Over time, these compensations are seen in how a person stands (static malalignments), and in their movement patterns (dynamic malalignments). According to the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist textbook, “Joint dysfunction is one of the most common causes of pain in an individual. Static malalignments are frequently the result of pattern overload from either chronic sedentary positioning or repetitive stress injury. The most common example of this is seen in people with computer-based jobs.” If you’re reading this blog, typically that means you. Pain felt in one area of the body does not mean it originates from that spot.
As a personal trainer, I see many women perform squats with their heels elevated on a weight plate or other small platform. Why? Because they read somewhere in Shape Magazine, or another women’s focused source, that raising your heels can activate the glutes more. Women love working their glutes! The truth is elevating your heels with already tight calf muscles, reduces the amount of weight you can squat, increases potential for injury, and exasperates already tight and weak muscles from your daily routine. Typically, you shift forward during a squat and your feet turn out, which causes pressure on the knees and hips to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility. These issues are not mentioned in said periodicals and media sources catered to women.
To ensure the muscles around your ankles work in good order, begin a workout using a foam roller on your calf muscles. “The myofascial roller (or other myofascial tool) should be held on the tender area for up to 60-seconds then perform 4 – 6 active movements. The intensity should be such that there is some discomfort felt, but the user should be able to relax and breathe. Lastly, total rolling duration should last for between 5 – 10 minutes, with 90-120 seconds per muscle group,” says NASM.
After foam rolling, stretch the calf muscles lightly. You can hold a stretch for 20 seconds. Besides stretching the tight muscles, it is important to strengthen the weak muscles of the shin (anterior tibialis). You can use an elastic band tied around a bench and around your toe area. Pull your toes toward you and away from the bench to activate the anterior tibialis. You can also do ankle flips, which is like walking in swim fins. Walk your regular stride and point your toes up as high as you can with each step, pausing briefly to only have the heel contact the ground before completing the step. Integrating these stretches and movements into your warm up and/or cool down routine can give you the results you’ve been missing in the gym and in any sport you play. Don’t believe the hype of women’s fitness magazines. They write articles to sell magazines, not necessarily to help you truly get the most out of your fitness routine. Want more specific help? Sign up for my coaching program at mattpeale.com. I promise you’ll be glad you did!