And glide... and glide...
November 17, 2011 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Someone who very rarely wears high heels just got a pair of snazzy high heeled boots that I'm now wearing to work every day. (About an inch and a half tall, thick heels not stiletto) It's a learning experience. I'm trying to figure out how to walk gracefully but I still seem to be clomping awkwardly. Is there a trick to this or just practice? Also, I've observed that some women move their hips when they walk (which I've never done naturally) so I tried that but it makes this weird sensation in my hip joints like "popping" kind of. Is that normal? Is it just because it's a different kind of movement? Or does it mean I'm terribly deformed?
posted by bleep to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I would try to swing your hips less, actually. You're going to throw something out if you try to sashay before getting a basic heel-toe walk down. You should be rolling off your heel smoothly onto the ball of your foot.
posted by limeonaire at 7:35 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

try to think about putting your heel down first and then rolling through the step, with the ball of your foot as the fulcrum. Like, your weight should shift from the heel to the ball of your foot, and finally to the toe as you push off.

Yours are a good height for learning to walk normally in heels. But heels do shorten your stride - the taller the heel, the shorter and choppier/clompier your stride will be. It will feel a little odd at first, but do think about rolling through each step and don't get into the habit of putting both heel and toe down at the same time. That way lies clompiness, and it will just be worse the taller your heels get.

I don't know if any of us can say whether your biomechanics are off, but with very exaggerated hip swinging, there is a definite and complete weight shift to one foot only with each step. The hip on that side becomes very prominent, with the weight fully broken. That could definitely feel odd if you're not used to it.

Serious Hip Swinging—slow and deliberate—is not really something that ever looks not-silly, unless maybe you are Marilyn Monroe as Ms. Laurel. In real life, you can give a little swing to your step by moving your weight from foot to foot rather than keeping it distributed between your feet. Both feet are on the ground when you are walking, so you might have to consciously think about it.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:37 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Unless you're walking on snow, that is, in which case stomping with a flat foot can be your friends.)
posted by limeonaire at 7:37 PM on November 17, 2011

I usually wear flat shoes but do wear heels and high-heeled boots on occasion. One of the hardest things to adjust to, if you're used to a nice free long stride, is that you just plain have to slow down and accept not covering as much ground as quickly. It's frustrating when you're used to a normal easy walking pace.

You can step quickly, but because you have to shorten your stride, you don't go as far for the effort. Or you can try to take a long stride, but then you won't plant your foot right. Unfortunately, one of the first things heels do is force you to adjust your pace.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on November 17, 2011

Don't land too heavily on your heels (not only does it make you clompy, but if you wobble as you come down with all your weight on a high heel, you can sprain your ankle and fall). You probably have to shorten your stride slightly. It's just practice, but I have one totally impractical trick -- I had to take a rotation of dance in high school P.E. and one of the units was tap dance and all they had were 4" heels from the 1970s for us to learn in and once you can tap-dance in 4" heels? WALKING IS A PIECE OF CAKE. If you do have to run in heels, you will have to "jazz run" on your toes.

If you walk with your feet in a straight line (as if on a tightrope), you'll get some sway. You'll notice runway models will cross their feet all the way across the center of their body to the other side to get exaggerated sway.

Don't sway on purpose at work, though. It's unprofessional. Some of us have hips that naturally roll when we walk; some of us don't. But on-purpose sway is to be sexy and, unless you have a lot of practice making it look natural, it a) won't look natural and b) will draw attention to your attempt to be sexy. Save the deliberate sway for a night on the town. (You may notice your hips sway some as you get a more natural stride in heels ... don't worry about that. That's just walking.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:44 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Walk heel-toe, as suggested above. Some women have a natural sway and ease with high heels, but some don't, and if you don't, it will take practice + breaking in your boots/shoes. In general, don't try to force your body into something that it doesn't want to do.

(FWIW, I had the same kind of awkward issue when I started wearing flats. I'm not even a terribly regular heels wearer but the way I walk in flats is different from sneakers, and I had a really awkward stomping thing for a couple days in the beginning.)
posted by sm1tten at 7:51 PM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: This is very helpful so far. I forgot to mention that part of the problem may be that my feet are confused because they're basically immobilized and can't do their usual things. So now they're more like hooves. When you talk about "rolling through the step" how do you do that if your foot can't move?
posted by bleep at 7:53 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your foot can't move I'd say it's possible your boots are too tight. I can still feel and move my feet in my heeled shoes.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: That's weird because I started with the next size up (10) and they were definitely too big.
The elderly Italian guy selling me the shoes also saw fit to look at me like I was less than a woman for telling him I never wore heels, so that made me trust his judgement when he said the 9s were a better fit.
posted by bleep at 8:02 PM on November 17, 2011

The elderly Italian guy selling me the shoes also saw fit to look at me like I was less than a woman for telling him I never wore heels, so that made me trust his judgement when he said the 9s were a better fit.

....I'm not so sure he had your true best interests at heart.

When you say the 10s were 'too big,' in what way? Because honestly, if your feet are that immobile, I think something's wrong unless these are extreme 'event' shoes that are supposed to be quite constricting.

Also, if they're brand new and leather, they will loosen a bit over time.
posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on November 17, 2011

Response by poster: This is very enlightening. Sorry to thread-sit but I don't have any IRL girlfriends/sisters etc. to learn from.
My feet were sliding around all over the place in the bigger shoes, sliding down and squishing my toes. Any time I've worn boots (non-heeled or small heeled) my feet still couldn't move so I thought that was how they were supposed to be. Your foot is encased in a hard shell.
posted by bleep at 8:09 PM on November 17, 2011

I think they're probably the right size - you're just not used to wearing stiff boots, which feel very different from flats or sneakers.

I think the only real way to get comfortable walking in heels is practice. Chunky, low heels - which is exactly what you have - are perfect to practice in.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:13 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not the world's biggest shoe person so I will refrain from more talking about it. Your feet shouldn't slide and crush your toes, but also, no, you're not supposed to be so encased that you can't flex your feet or put different pressure on the heel and the toe.

I am really skeptical of men who tell you how your shoes are supposed to fit - they don't even know how it feels to wear them, after all. And many really don't care when a shoe is uncomfortable, because they're concerned only about the look (a really common phenomenon in shoe designers, actually). I just don't wear shoes that feel that bad. They don't all feel that bad, especially at that heel height which isn't huge.

But also, there are a lot of videos about walking in heels. Maybe those will help.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2011

I wear heels about half the time. When I do, I kind of runway walk it--I stay on the balls of my feet and I cross my feet in front of one another a little more than I do in flats. And keep your shoulders back and your head up.

I don't consciously move my hips when I walk either in flats or in heels--any swing will come naturally, don't force it.

It might help to practice with music--that's how I learned as a kid. RuPaul will bear me out on this.
posted by padraigin at 8:39 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh--and keep your pelvis centered beneath your shoulders, or slightly to the front. Have fun practicing!
posted by padraigin at 8:40 PM on November 17, 2011

Miko's search brought up the video I was about to point you to. She spends the first 4-5 minutes talking about how to work up to higher heels. Then she moves on to the actual walking, including the heel-to-toe, smaller steps bit, plus how your weight should be shifted. Seeing it in action may help.
posted by moira at 8:42 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

10,000 hours!

Ha, just kidding. I started wearing heels about two years ago after, literally, 25 years of high tops and army boots. (And other assorted funky flats.) For years I had believed I couldn't walk in heels, and then at some point just decided I wanted some. As expected, I clopped around like a horse for a while, feeling terribly awkward and graceless. Then it got better.

I'm a heel-to-toe walker naturally (honestly, I didn't know there was any other way to walk) which, apparently, is helpful. I have never had particularly swinging hips when I walk, but heels makes them swingier. It just happens, though, something in the stride changes the hip motion. Forcing it from the hip would probably be uncomfortable.

It sounds like the problem with your boots isn't that they are too small; however, they may be too stiff. Can you stand on your tip toes in them, or, when they're off, fold the toe up/back? If not, that accounts for the hoofy feeling. Time and wear might help with that. Wearing them inside, where it's warm, will help even more.

High heels are terrible for your body. They shorten your hamstrings, calf muscles (which is why they make your legs look so good) and hip flexers, and tip your pelvis forward. Perversely, I think all those things need to happen a little before you can walk well in them. If I haven't worn flat shoes in a while, the first time I put them back on, I walk all clomping and clumsy in them, they way I did at first with heels. And no one believes me but I swear to god they have straightened my previously bowed legs. Also, apparently they are as good as doing kegels.
posted by looli at 10:27 PM on November 17, 2011

An inch and a half is a low medium heel, not a high heel. If you can't go through the foot, are you wearing wedges? Wedges are very bad for the feet for that reason.

However I think the real problem is you were sold shoes a size too small. You should not need any special skills to walk in low heels.
posted by tel3path at 11:55 PM on November 17, 2011

When you've never worn heels, an inch and a half does indeed feel high. (And when you're used to an inch and a half, two inches feels precipitous.) Your legs have to use their muscles differently, your feet have to adjust to a new angle even at rest, and your whole body has to get used to walking on something with less shock absorption (and more noise) than trainers/sneakers etc. provide.

OP, if the soles of your boots don't flex at all, then that's going to make life difficult. I can't offer any advice if that's the case, because I've never worn heeled shoes with completely rigid soles.

If they do flex, just not the way that trainers do, then the trick is to put your foot down more slowly and deliberately than you're probably used to. The heel goes down first, then you put the foot down in a controlled way, shifting your weight forward gradually. When the front part of the sole first makes contact, your weight should be moving from the heel to the ball of your foot; then you shift it smoothly forward through the ball to the toe, at which point the heel is starting to come up again. Because there's not much weight on the sole until it's already in contact with the ground, there's no clomping.

If you try to put your foot down too quickly, either the whole shoe will make contact at once, or your weight will shift suddenly from heel to ball and the front part of the sole will slam down. Either way, you'll clomp.

It takes me about half as long again to put my foot down when I'm wearing heels as it does when I'm wearing trainers, and when I haven't worn them in a while, I have to pay a lot more attention to what I'm doing with my feet. I still seem to walk faster than 80% of people on the pavements though, and I can even run for a train if I have to (inelegantly, granted).

I can't tell you how to make your gait graceful, though - I settle for purposeful and minimally clompy.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:48 AM on November 18, 2011

When I put heels on, I always have to remind myself that my pelvis is supposed to tilt forward. I tend to try to fight that, but then I look like awkward goat. Stand up straight with your feet together and sit your weight in your heels. See how that feels? Your pelvis tilts forward a bit? Maintain that feeling as you walk. It will help you go "heel-toe" even if your boots are stiff.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:32 AM on November 18, 2011

I also suspect maybe these shoes just don't fit. I'm pretty picky about shoes and there are lots of shoe styles (even whole brands) that just don't fit my feet in any size (and this is true of athletic shoes, boots, flats, and heels).

But regardless, as far as walking in heels goes, there are lots of good tips here but in the end I think it's all about practice (conscious practice - not just clomping around for hours, but clomping around and paying attention to when you're more clompy and when you're less clompy).
posted by mskyle at 7:56 AM on November 18, 2011

1. Lean back slightly
2. Tighten your lower belly muscles, this will prevent your hips from going wonky
3. heel to toe
4. If you can't move your foot at all, the shoes are too tight. But you don't want them too loose either because then the foot will slide down and you get too much pressure on the ball. It sounds like maybe you need a 9 1/2, and that a shoe that doesn't come in half sizes isn't right for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"You should not need any special skills to walk in low heels." I disagree with this. If you've never worn heels, adjusting to even a "medium" heel is an effort.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:59 AM on November 18, 2011

Response by poster: I'm so glad I asked this question. Today I loosened up the laces a lot to give my feet room to do their jobs, and that has helped significantly - they are no longer hooves but feet again! The tips about posture and movement have also been very helpful.

Also, as to the height, I was guesstimating but now upon measuring I see they're 1 and a half at the shortest part and 3 inches at the highest part (very back of the heel).
posted by bleep at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2011

I have not been allowed to wear heels for many many years. The spine doctors who forbid this would hit me with sticks if I tried to walk without moving my hips. For most female bodies this is normal and the alternative is to twist your hips forward in an unnatural way. However, I don't know what kind of skeleton you have or if you are or are not really moving you pelvis correctly when you walk (although I suspect you are and I suspect your hips do move in a way that was not noticable in flats.) Lift up your sternum while keeping your back straight and your jaw and neck soft, then walk in a straight line. That's how you should walk. You may notice that lifting your sternum requires engaging your core. That's the ticket.

On behalf of everyone in your workplace who has to deal with women who have not learned to walk in heels and are clomping around, I thank you for wanting to look professional. Also, your back will thank you for doing this correctly. (my iPhone tried very hard to have you "loom professional - also an option, now that I think of it.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2011

The mid-height heels you're wearing are perfect for developing a smooth, graceful, sexy walk. Just relax and go easy. You'll walk much slower than usual, with a shorter stride, and your hips will naturally swing a bit more than you're used to, but that's normal and nice. My advice would be to just wear these boots all the time around the house until walking in them becomes natural and easy. Yes, you do put your heel down first and roll onto the ball of your foot, then onto the toe as you move to the other foot. Try not to stick your fanny out in back and tilt forward - that's what happens when a woman wears heels that are way too high - and that's also what causes the clomping. I watched some lovely young ladies the other night who were all dressed up for some "do" downtown; they were walking with their boyfriends/husbands, also all dressed up. Two of the women had very tall heels and one had mid-height heels, and sure enough, the two with the ultra-tall ones were walking awkwardly, leaning forward, clompling, etc. - and giggling together to distract themselves and the others from their awkwardness. I smiled because I've been there and done that, as they used to say.

Go ahead and let your hips sway smoothly, keep your back straight and don't lean forward, force each foot to roll into the step and out again, and keep at it - you'll master it - promise.
posted by aryma at 1:38 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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