Thursday, January 26, 2012

RECOVERY: Sex in the City vs. Ironman - Do Women Have to Choose Between High Heels and Running Shoes?

Ladies, if you had to choose, would you rather be Carrie Bradshaw from Sex In the City, or Chrissie Wellington, 4-time Ironman world champion?  Recent news headlines may make you think you have to choose....

Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker)


Chrissie Wellington (played by herself)
Most women I know love their shoes and, particularly, their high heels.  I'm no exception.  They make us feel sexy, they make us look taller, they reflect our personality.  Likewise, most triathletes and runners I know love their running shoes. I'm also no exception.  They make us feel powerful, they help eliminate injuries, and, yes, they reflect our personality.  But now, an Australian study  is saying that high heels may make us more prone to injuries.  This may be where our Sex In the City and Ironman worlds collide...

The Study

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, focused on nine women who had worn high heels for at least 40 hours a week for the past two years. According to the study, women in high heels walked with shorter, more forceful strides, using their muscles rather than their tendons, thereby leading to muscle fatigue and increased risk of muscle strain.  Essentially, wearing high heels contracts the calf muscle, shortens it, and puts more mechanical strain on it.   

Adding further insult to injury, wearing high heels can lead to flat feet by weakening the tendons in the foot and causing the arch to fall.  High heels also have long been associated with osteoarthritis, hammer toes, bunions, and corns.  And to top it off, the Australian study also says that this damage to your feet can lead to inflammation in other areas in your body, such as in your body and possibly even your heart.  How could such beautiful little fashion statements be the source of so much potential pain?? 

The Impact on Your Workouts

Think you can counter the ill effects of high heels by shoving your foot into a flat shoe at the end of the day?  Think again.  According to the Australian study, "In a person who wears heels most of her working week," the foot and leg positioning in heels "becomes the new default position for the joints and the structures within.  Any change to this default setting . . . [constitutes] a novel environment, which could increase injury risk."  

Awesome.  So when I come home from work each day, where I've tromped around in my cute little Steve Madden high heels (which are vegan by the way - no leather), and then throw on my New Balance Minimus shoes to run with my midfoot strike (which works my calf muscle) I'm actually increasing the risk of a calf strain.  Gee, had I not ripped the hell outta my calf muscle by jumping rope with small children, this may never have occurred to me.  To think - my fashion sense may have contributed to my painful third degree calf strain, three weeks of crutches, and almost two months off of running...

What's A Fashion Conscious, Athletic Female To Do? 

The Australian study recommends easing back on the high heels - to maybe two or three days a week, and also lowering the height of the heels.  It also recommends taking your high heels off when you're sitting down to give your calves a break.  

Personally, I also recommend a strict regime of foam rolling, probably right after you take your high heels off and before you head out for any run as part of dynamic warm-up.  For me, accupuncture also has worked to lengthen my calf muscles and remove old scar tissue.  Massage, active release therapy, or graston techniques could have the same therapeutic benefits too.    

Bottom line, we women can be both Carrie and Chrissie - a Carrie Wellington or Chrissie Bradshaw combo.  We shouldn't have to choose.  Fashionistas by day, wearing our high heels (in moderation), and kickass runners/triathletes by night.  Just make sure to warm up your calves before switching from heels to running shoes and take care of your calves afterwards with foam rolling or massage.   

Fashionista meets Ironman...We don't have to choose one or the other...
How much do you love your high heels? Will you be able to make some adjustments to allow the fashionista to co-exist with the athlete? 


Jen said...

I've had to cut back on my heel addiction. I've even bought a couple of pairs of flats that I wear at least a few days a week. I try to ensure I wear them on run days especially. Now that I know, I'll be adding in some foam rolling to my stretching routine to the calves. Thanks.

Life Through Endurance said...

Hey Jen, thanks for the comment. I like your point about trying to wear flats on the days that you run. Great idea! And one tip on the foam rolling - to get some good pressure on the calves, cross one leg over the top of the other and lift your bum off the floor - that way you're using your body weight to get a deeper massage on the calf tissue.

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