It’s the morning after a few too many cocktails with your girlfriends. Last night you drew the blinds in anticipation of a throbbing headache, upset stomach and bleary eyes. But as you swing your legs out of bed you notice a new, unexpected symptom: tight calves.
You have a high-heel hangover.
Cramping calves and stiff hips occur frequently after wearing heels for a long period of time—like from the office out to a happy hour that lasts longer than one hour. (And, no, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich will not cure a high-heel hangover.) Even when your heels were comfortable all night long, your muscles stiffen after you whip off your strappy stilettos. The morning-after effects include sore muscles that can make climbing stairs or crossing your legs uncomfortable.
How can you prevent this discomfort? Stretch your leg muscles before and after wearing heels.
The Importance of Stretching
Although heels visually lengthen your gams, they can actually shorten your calves. When you wear heels for too long, your calf muscles weaken from resting in a shortened position. Also, your Achilles tendon—the tendon that attaches your calf to your ankle—becomes inflamed if you suddenly ditch your heels for flats. The abrupt change in heel heights leads to a high-heel hangover.
“Over use and long-term use of high heels can cause the Achilles tendon to permanently shorten which causes pain,” warns podiatrist Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, DPM. “Stretching is great way to prevent this from happening.” Gently stretching your muscles before slipping on your heels will increase your range of motion and prevent muscle strains.
To help you prep your gams for a day in heels, we spoke with Carol Johnson, Group Fitness Manager at Crunch Fitness. Carol developed an exercise class dedicated to strengthening and toning the muscles most engaged when you strut about in heels: gluts, abs, back and calves.
“The Stiletto Strength class tones, sculpts and aligns the body to prepare for walking correctly in heels,” explains Carol.
During the class, students focus on strengthening the entire body, finishing the workout with crucial stretches to keep the body aligned. “Stretching before and after wearing heel increases your range of motion, promotes circulation, and prevents muscle strains,” says Carol, adding, “a strong, pre-stretched muscle resists stress better than a strong, un-stretched muscle.”
To keep your legs limber, Carol suggests three key, at-home stretches to do before you venture out in heels.
3 Key Stretches for High-Heel Wearers
Calf Stretch Stand two feet away facing a wall. Step forward with heel landing first on the ground. Prop the ball of your foot against the wall so your foot is flexed. Slowly lean into the wall, keeping your knee straight. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Switch feet and repeat two more times on each foot.
Ankle Circles Raise your leg, bend your knee and, with both hands under your thigh, cradle your leg. Keep your hips stable as you rotate your ankle in a large circle clockwise. Repeat this movement six times. Then rotate your foot in a counter-clockwise direction. Repeat the ankle circles with the opposite foot.
Seated Hamstring Stretch Sit on the floor with your right leg extended in front of you. Bend your left leg so your left foot rests against your right inner thigh. Lean forward and slowly reach for your ankle until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Keep your chest up and sit bones on the floor; you should be stretching from your hips, not your back. Hold for 15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat on the opposite side.
Want to perfect your stiletto strut? Strengthen your abdominals and practice proper alignment at Crunch Fitness’ Stiletto Strength class. Sign up here!
Main image courtesy of Melanee Shale.