Recently, I was heading for a social event that called for something more elegant than Dr. Scholl's. So, here I am coiffed and polished with clutch in hand, and I slip on my fabulous sky-high strappies and toddle off onto the rough city streets when halfway down the block I feel the very recognizable rush of distracting discomfort working its way up my body. Suddenly, I remember just how much it takes to really "work" a pair of heels. With each attempted heel strike I realize I'm restricted to smashing the ball of my foot repeatedly into the relentless concrete runway. Pain begins in the ankle joints and works its way up to my calves stopping briefly to visit my knees but, finding no satisfaction there, moves up to my quads, wends it way in and around my hip joints and finally comes to land around my low back spreading itself out with the unconscious abandon of an unwelcome guest in your living room. I
Now, as a teacher of the body arts and acknowledged kinesiology geek, I am not thrown by this pain, but instead immediately enthralled by the challenge being presented to me by these pin-pointed symbols of sexiness.
I must teeter off track for a moment to point out that the irony of heels as bringing automatic sexiness to their wearer is not lost on me in the least, especially as the simple truth is that when not operated correctly or, like me, if you are so terribly out of practice that you've lost your Manolo mojo, then you must acknowledge that the effect is quite the opposite of sexy and more often than not downright silly. I see ladies traversing the city on tiptoe daily and I'm steps away from an impromptu intervention which might go something like this, "Hi, I'm sorry to have to do this, but as a Pilates professional it's my duty to remove from your possession those five-inch Louboutins and replace them with these training shoes which are yes, considerably uglier, but also far more stable and sensible. No need to thank me -- your improved posture is reward enough!"
And so now it's my turn and I'm blowing the whistle on myself, but I have neither the time nor sensible shoes at the ready. And so, I do the next best thing: I spend the next few blocks trying to assess and correct the situation now plaguing my lower half.
First, I direct all my attention to what any Pilates teacher worth the weight of their Wunda chair would, my "powerhouse" (the abdominal muscles and their next-door neighbors). I begin by pulling my navel away from the front of my pants and track it as I draw it up the anterior portion of my spine, which might look a bit like trying to close the zipper on your tightest pair of jeans, elongating the waist and lightening the load on the hips.
Doing this I've already halved the pain in my back and taken a considerable amount of weight off my ankle joints. My knees are peacefully going along for the ride and taking it all in. Next, I fix my gaze straight ahead and with each inhalation I send the image for my back to start rising as if being hoisted from above so that I am lifted both front and back. Now I am aware of more wobble in my step because my ankles are slightly destabilized from the lack of weight bearing down from above that would help counter the harsh return from the pavement below. But no problem, I will just add to my multi-tasking the job of placing my feet down just so to ensure that I am landing and pushing off the middle of my foot, somewhere around the ball of the second toe. And it's starting to come together for me now, I'm lifted and striding confidently (yet cautiously) onward to my fete. I've reclaimed the heel (and my dignity), and made a very important decision for myself and, arrogantly, for all western womankind. Tomorrow, when rooting through our closets ... we won't choose the Choos!
Try These Well-Heeled Movements to Stretch & Strengthen
1. Runway Roll Down
This exercise will help to determine if you're strong enough to really "work" those heels. TIP: keep your knees 'soft' (unlocked) so you don't topple forward onto your head.
• Don your steepest stilettos and position yourself with your back against a sturdy wall.
• Walk your feet a few inches from the base of the wall while making sure every vertebra is glued to the wall behind you -- especially your sacrum (the back of your pelvis).
• Take a deep inhalation, drawing your belly up into your spine and then bring your chin toward your chest.
• Slowly begin to round forward, "peeling" each vertebra off the wall sequentially as you exhale.
• See how far you can roll down (stop when you run out of breath) and then inhale to begin rolling back up again.
• Make sure that you replace each vertebra on the wall an inch above where you found it.
• You can practice this three times getting stronger and more conscious with each repetition.
This exercise is also effective without heels on. Simply complete the same sequence with your feet planted solidly on the floor about a foot from the wall.
This exercise will stretch both your calves and Achilles tendons (the parts that shorten the most in heels) while strengthening your ankles and inner thighs for better stability atop shaky stilettos. (Do this one barefoot!)
• Stand tall with your heels together and toes about three inches apart, legs squeezed together from the upper inner thighs.
• Draw your abs in and up and rise gently to the balls of your feet. Imagine you are holding a raw egg between your ankle bones and bend into a plié position with knees wide apart.
• Do not allow your ankle bones to widen to the point that you might drop your invisible egg.
• Lower your heels to the floor without straightening your legs.
• When they won't lower any further straighten your legs and return to the starting position.
• Repeat five times (improving with each one) and then reverse the sequence five times.