Next time you’re exercising, do me a favor and take a look down at your feet. (Or when you’re just standing around, take a look down south there.) What do you see going on? What I’m noticing more and more (and that’s only because I’ve started to learn more about how to spot trouble areas by taking a look at people’s feet. It’s fascinating… really) is that there is a lot of externally rotated feet out there. Ladies… how many of you squeeze those big toes into painfully high and unnaturally pointed-toe boots? (I used to alllllllll the time! Wasn’t easy but I made the sacrifice for an extra 4 inches. I even tempted death by walking down an icy pathway to my car during the winter months, every so often slipping just enough to allow passerbyers a quick smirk or laugh as I spastically tried to regain my footing, composure and self-esteem. But damn, did I look good once on solid ground!)
Anyway, back to my point. So many women out there are walking all around with these shortened calf muscles because of these high, stiletto shoes. Walking with your heels high above your toes causes your calf muscle to tighten and shorten, thus creating outward pointing toes when the straps come off. In turn, some claim this imbalance can lead to weakened glute muscles (the maximus being the largest muscle in your body… your bum if you will). This in turn can cause you to perform all sorts of leg exercises incorrectly by recruiting the wrong muscles to do all the work. Not a good thing and can eventually lead you down a road full of dangerous potholes.
So what’s a high-heeled wearing fool to do?
First, check out your feet and notice which way those toes are pointing. If you’re looking like Charlie Chaplin up there, then you got a problem. Eventually these imbalances can lead to (if they haven’t already) postural problems, hips issues and possibly some knee problems. It’s important to make sure you stand with proper form before starting any exercise. Here are some standing tips:
• Stand up nice and tall, shoulders depressed and slightly back
• Pull in your bellybutton so as to bring it to your spine
• Do not tilt your pelvic bone in either direction. Keep it stabilized by bringing your bellybutton to it.
• Point your feet straight ahead. (This may feel weird for many, like you’re straining your feet, but it’s good to understand how it feels to have your feet properly aligned. This way you can feel and adjust accordingly while exercising.)
If you stick with this form you’ll be better equipped to execute exercises properly. What also helps is having a mirror in front of you while exercising. (There is a reason gyms are covered with mirrors… it’s not just for all the ego-maniacs out there!) Some leg exercises you should concentrate on are squats and lunges (where the gluteus muscles are the primary movers) and calf stretches. Keep those feet pointing forward throughout the motion and always ask yourself, are my feet properly aligned? (Check yourself out in that mirror.)
Initially you may find your balance to be a little off, but do not despair, this is a new feeling for your body and you’re working on adjusting your alignment. After a few sessions it should start to feel a little bit more comfortable and balance shouldn’t be such an issue. The important thing with squats is to remember that your weight should be shifted back to your heels, and you’re lowering your butt as if to sit in a chair. Keep the weight off your toes, as this may create an imbalance and recruitment of the incorrect muscles.
Proper form and constantly being aware of forward pointing toes can lead you on the path to strengthened glutes and properly stretched calves. (And tossing out the high heels, or at least wearing them only on special occasions, will go a long way in helping you out also!). Examine your toes for abnormal bending or severe deformities as well. If you have them, you should consult a podiatrist about hammer toe surgery.I will be away for the next few days, doing some holiday visiting, so please check back next week for more health and fitness commentary! Anne Marie Costanzo is a nationally certified personal trainer and owner of Little Black Dress Personal Training. If you have any questions or comments on health and fitness, she would love to hear from you. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 841-1121.