How to Walk in Heels
Last updated on : January 23 2016
As the years have passed it is commonplace to see high heels everywhere. Celebrities put them on during awards shows, with their runway dresses, during photo shoots, and more. We put them on when we need to give our look a push toward more sexy, more sultry, and more mouth watering. Heels are more than pieces in our closet - they are staples to fashionistas everywhere. When did fashion begin to embrace them? When did everyday women begin to wear them to birthday parties, on dates, and to galas?
Curator Lisa Small explains that heels are an accessory to women’s fashion that is complicated, polarizing, fascinating, and steeped in history. Unlike gloves and hats, women’s heels have stood the test of time and enjoyed a comfortable position in our closets. Rather than simply fizzle out of style they evolved and grew with us.
Interestingly enough heels were first worn by noble men. They were not about fashion, sex appeal, or style. Rather heels were about one’s stature in society. The higher the heel and elevation the higher the class, privilege, and power. Women began to slowly catch on to the usefulness heels. Like men their wealth and nobility was measured by their outward attire. The more length and fullness in the skirt of the gown the higher the class and privilege.
The First Heels
The first recognized heels were called chopines. They were most popular in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century among royal and court families. The chopine most closely resembled our modern day wedges and platforms. They were initially worn for practicality. For example, aside from allowing women to wear longer skirts they also lifted the wearer off the ground enough to protect the dress from mud and street soil. This shoe type and practicality was picked up around the world - literally.
Chopines were popular and worn throughout Venice and the rest of Europe. The heels were exceptionally practical yet as the years passed practicality became an afterthought. During the Renaissance chopines became taller, in fact, some were more than 20 inches high! Shakespeare referenced the ridiculousness of chopines height using the world “altitude” in his stage play Hamlet, “nearer to heaven...by the altitude of a chopine”.
Slowly heels began to take on more shape, style, and purpose. The chopine became a wedge and the wedge became the pump and the pump became a stiletto heel. No matter your opinion or choice of heels there is no discrepancy to one significant point: high heels are a friend when worn properly and a foe when donned without care and preparation. When worn well and with confidence they improve your posture, give your legs the appearance of being more toned, and are sexy, sexy, sexy.
Here is Fashion Mommy’s great blog on how to take care of your posture in high heels.
Heels: Friend or Foe
Unfortunately wearing high heels requires a bit more prep work than most women fully understand and are aware of. To be able to walk in heels you need strong legs, above average posture, and determination. You must understand the simple anatomy of walking, train your body to endure the slant, and put on a pair at least five to six times a month regularly.
In reality most of us only opt for the discomfort of a high heel shoe for special occasions. When we do put them on it is as an afterthought so we are uncomfortable, avoid walking, and in unfortunate cases pull them off only a few hours into the event.
The struggle of wearing high heels is very real. Yet we see celebrities walk red carpets for hours, models prance down runways inhibited, and professional women strut through grocery stores after work as if in sneakers. The truth is that high heels are a friend to us all. They give us the appearance of longer legs and an immediate and confident femininity that we all love and expect when we slip our feet into them.
Paul Ingraham, publisher and founder of Pain Science, explains, "
High heels are often vilified. Along with things like flat feet and worn out shoes, heels get blamed for back pain or foot problems like plantar fasciitis and more. But a carefully done 2010 study showed that the body adapts effectively and minimally to wearing heels, different muscles and tissues get stronger, and the functional result is the same — ankle function ends up about the same, heels or no heels. In other words, women are adaptable! This isn’t the only science on this topic, but it strongly suggests that most women, most of the time, can safely wear heels in moderation, and just enjoy the benefits."
Understanding Your Gait in High Heels
Before we explore our gait when in heels it is important to understand the muscles regularly engaged when we walk. How does walking in high heels improve our posture? Our quadriceps (quads) work together to extend our knees. Quads are the four muscles located in the front of your thighs that run from your hips and upper femur (bone segment) down to your knee cap. This muscle group is inherently what gives you the ability to lift your foot off the ground and helps you avoid tripping.
Check out the Gait and Posture Tips for Walking by the folks at SitAndBeFit.
Strong quads improve your walking and make it a simple task not a chore. If you condition and strengthen these muscle groups you immediately begin to feel a difference in your actual ability to walk. There are various exercises that are designed to strengthen these core leg muscles. A strong step makes it easier to lift your foot when stepping forward - which is imperative when you are required to lift it higher to accommodate the height of your heel.
The hamstring is made up of three different muscles. Your hamstrings work to bend the knee of your leading leg when walking. The glutes or butt muscles work with your hamstrings to extend the rear parts of your legs during stride. When you walk up a heel these muscles are the first to feel it. SImilarly when wearing high heels these muscles are the first to scream for relief.
Hamstrings and glutes work hand in hand to give you stability when walking. For example, if you step off a curb with your right leg your hamstring and glute muscles on the left side are immediately activated and prevents your left side from sagging or giving out. Strengthening your hamstrings not only makes walking simple but makes walking in heels a breeze.
The easiest and most appropriate way to tackle strengthening your quads and hamstrings is functional body training. Faya, from Fitness on Toast, explains “Functional training is an industry buzz-phrase that’s thrown around a lot, but which put simply, means ‘exercises that mimic everyday human movements’ (unlike for example, some stationary machines you’ll find at the gym). It involves body weight exercises that teach the body to handle it’s own weight, emphasising multi-joint movements instead of isolating a specific muscle. These multi-joint movements then, in turn, strengthen the core muscles (hips, back, and abs) and improve ‘body awareness’, posture and balance by stabilising the musculoskeletal systems.”
Some simple functional exercises designed to strengthen your core, quads, glutes, and hamstrings are squats, kick boxing, and planks. (Your core is what holds your body upright. A stronger core supports improved (and feminine) posture.)
If you are inspired to start working on your planks today, join this 30-Day-Plank-Challenge now.
How to Walk in Heels
So how do we walk in heels and how to do so with ease, comfort, and style? You prepare, plan, and practice. The most essential part of walking in heels is obviously working on strengthening and conditioning our legs to be up to the task. Rather than opting just for shoes that are comfortable and flat instead go with ones that have a bit of a slant such as a low wedge or raised loafers for daily wear. Also find a go to pair that is always comfortable and compliments almost everything you have in your closet.
Keep in mind that heels come in a variety of styles and heights. Wedges are notably more comfortable because they require less balance and offer more surface area. Additionally most wedged style heels are casual and easily pair with denim. They are available in a variety of styles and provide a straightforward approach to introducing your body to walking in heels in small doses. Instead of putting on sneakers to run to the grocery store slip into a pair of wedges. Increase the height as you feel more comfortable.
As time moves on and you have committed to doing daily preparatory exercises such as at least 50 sporadic a squats a day with a few planks peppered, in begin to trust your legs and body to find the task of walking in heels much more bearable. Allow your body to take on the challenge of walking in stilettos heels in small doses such as attending church or brunch on Sunday or heading to your book club meetup.
Try High Heel Pads
No matter how strong your body is and how toned and prepared your quads and hamstrings are for the task of wearing high heels there is always going to be a pair of heels that is your arch nemesis. The best way to handle heels that are super attractive and sexy but a bear to walk in is to pad them. Pads for heels come in a variety of styles and are used for direct purposes such as resisting slipping or providing more comfort to the ball of your foot.
Here is a simple list of the most commonly used pads for high heels. Purchase these pads online or at your local drug store.
- Insoles. These pads cover the entire insole of your heel. They are ideal for heels that are slightly too big and work to relieve common pressure points. Usually these insoles are made of a soft and wicking fabric that keeps your feet dry. A quality pair is easily removable and thus able to be reused in several pairs of heels.
- Stripes. These stripes are placed on the straps of your heels. The are designed to provide more cushion for your straps and to help fight uncomfortable rubbing. See a pair here.
- Grips. These pads are most useful. They prevent slipping and help to keep the high heeled shoe securely in place which makes for more graceful walking and movement.