This is probably the only post you’ll read from me involving the word “fashion.” When it comes to fashion, I appreciate it only as long as it’s practical and comfortable! But I know for many of you, it may be a bigger part of your lives and that’s how you do you. Before I go on, this post isn’t to tear you down for being into some trendy fashions, this is just to help you on your fitness journey!
I mostly stick to training people that have some form of injury or limitation. This is my favorite type of client because I love helping them figure out how to workout around this obstacle. I know from personal experience just how frustrating and demoralizing an injury or chronic pain can be. I’ll repeat until I’m blue in the face that I am NOT A CLINICAL PROFESSIONAL so I do not diagnose and treat.
However, what I CAN do, is help people to figure out exercises to avoid and exercises to enhance their recovery. Often times, this directly relates to what’s going on in the gym. I help people understand what types of exercises are not for them (at this time) and which ones are their “golden” ones but, sometimes, it goes beyond the gym.
The gym is great for adding more good stuff but sometimes, you’ve gotta look at your daily habits to figure out if there is any bad stuff that might need to be removed. This is where these three fashion items come in. When working with injuries or trying to improve overall functional movement, what you do and even wear on a daily basis can be working against you. Functional and efficient movement, in general, is absurdly helpful in moving any fitness goal along so it may be worth considering even if you’re not dealing with an injury.
If you think moving well is something you need to work on, you may want to look at some of these accessories a little closer! Here are the big three that I’ve talked to clients about over my career:
You knew I was going there! Now, hear me out – if you love your heels or you feel you NEED to wear heels to be taken seriously at work (you know that BS double-standard I could go on a long feminist rant about) I GET IT. However, sometimes this can be a BIG culprit that contributes to knee pain, back pain, and even up the chain to neck pain.
I’m not saying that heels are the only thing that is affecting your movement but if you’re wearing them a lot, or you’re already dealing with chronic pain, it may be a piece that you want to remove. Wearing heels alters how our bodies move from head to toe. When wearing heels you use your calves more, your calves are stuck in a shortened position, and you use your quads more than your hamstrings, and you’re likely more extended at the spine, which can lead to flared ribs, which can lead to a craned/extended neck….and in the end, your body can’t do what it was designed to do.
This forced position can start to put more strain on your low back, more strain on your knee, more strain on your neck, and decrease your ability to use your glutes and abs! If you’re reading this and you’re still saying “yea, well….I’m still not giving them up so this was useless…” There’s more!
Even if you’re not giving them up entirely, there are things you can do to counteract their effect. Like I said, certain body parts are overworking and others under-working. If you are going to continue to wear heels, you may want to consider adding a few exercises to your routine on the days that you wear heels:
- Calf stretches – stretch those babies back out – They’ve been shortened all day!
- Quad stretches/foam rolling them – give those quads a bit of a break.
- Glute work – and LOTS of it! Try glute brides, deadlifts variations, clams, or band walks.
- Hip flexor stretch – Hip flexors can contribute to yanking you forward into back extension so stretch them out GOOD.
- Core Stability work – work your core in very active planks or work on maintaining a flat back during leg-lowers to be sure you’re core is able to maintain a neutral spine position.
- Posture Exercises – Try a snow-angel lying length-wise on a foam roller to realign your spine and stretch out your chest.
So, try to limit those heels and/or factor in some correctives that help YOU to counteract all that heel time!
2. Open-Back Shoes
I have a very strict rule for myself that I will NEVER buy a pair of sandals or slip-on shoes that don’t have a back to them. I’m talking about flip-flops and their various slide-on cousins. Just like the heels, these shoes change how our bodies have to move from bottom to top, so you can’t move well. The body’s compensations for this can lead to shin-splints, plantar-fasciitis, general foot pain, and they can even start to affect things further up the chain. Again, this doesn’t mean your flip-flops are causing your pain or injuries, but if you’re wearing them and you’re dealing with some kind of issues – you may want to reconsider.
When you wear this type of shoe, your feet have to literally flex and crunch to grip the shoe for every single step you take. That is a LOT of extra, inefficient work. Your feet and calves may overwork, your stride could shorten to not allow you to use your hips properly and all of this adds up over time. Obviously, my vote is to limit wearing these torturous inventions, but if you MUST – Here are a few corrective exercises to help you counteract the negative:
- Roll your feet! – Use a lacrosse ball or tennis ball (it’s more forgiving) to roll out the bottom of your foot. If you’ve never done this, I recommend starting seated in a chair because if you’re really tight, it can be pretty tender. Massage them out with the ball to help your arches stretch back out.
- Calf Stretch – You can do whatever variation you like. You can try a downward dog, a runners stretch on the wall, or roll these out on a ball or foam roller.
- Shin Stretch – This is for the little muscle on the front of your shin. To stretch it, stand and drag your big toe behind you. A progression would be to kneel and sit on your feet with them flat.
- Hip flexor stretch – as a rule, this is probably always a good one to put in your program!
- Glute work – Same here! Most of us need more of it since we sit on our butts anyway!
3. Big, Heavy Shoulder-Bags
These can be big heavy purses or a big messenger bag that hangs on your hip. Basically, any bag that has you carrying a heavy load on one side for an extended period of time falls into this category. These are a posture NIGHTMARE and any posture nightmare can affect just about any injury you may be dealing with. More directly, these will add to your back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain.
Everyone carries a one-sided load differently, but some things that can happen are a perpetually hiked shoulder, flared ribs (which basically means overactive low back and underactive abs), rounded or extended spine, hiked hips, and general lopsided gait. This might not seem like a big deal until I tell you that the second-biggest indicator of future injury is asymmetry in movement.
If you’re carrying one of these big guys around and it would be social suicide for you to switch to an ergonomically-friendly backpack (I kid, I kid…), I’ve got some compromises for you too! First off, outside of the gym, just be mindful of it. Try to swap sides and try to check in with your posture on a regular basis. As for in the gym:
- Mind your posture – On every exercise you do, check that posture! Everyone should be doing this already but you’ll want to pay particular attention to anything that seems uneven from side to side. Add in exercises that encourage a neutral spine and maintaining it.
- Carries – Farmers carries, racked carries, and overhead carries are all a great way to teach your body to maintain posture under a load. These can be done with two arms at once or one arm at a time. Both will be great for you – I don’t think one is better than the other. Doing single arm will allow you to notice differences from side to side and the goal is to move with posture as if you are carrying the load evenly.
- Even out your strength – in any exercise, if you notice that you are much weaker on one side, catch that side up! The gym is an opportunity to even out asymmetries to decrease your risk of injury. If you notice that you can row 20lbs on your right arm but only 15lbs on your left – do not lift different weights on each side! Train to the weaker side and let it catch up!
- Roll, roll, roll – Like I said, everyone responds differently to carrying a one-sided load so it’s hard for me to guess what you may need. Either way, experiment with what feels tight and like it needs some foam rolling or self-myofascial release. Focus especially on things that seem to be just on one side (the right or the left) because being especially tight on one side, is a sign of an imbalance you might want to work out.
An Ode to Comfy Fashion
I’d love to live in a world where all women’s fashion is super functional and super cute at the same time. I’m still in awe that I can never find kick-ass fall boots without a two-inch heel. It can’t be THAT hard, can it?
But, until that world comes, I hope you find this advice helpful. If you need to rock your heels or carry that massive bag – go for it! Just remember, if you’re struggling with some pain or dysfunctional movement, it may be worth cutting back and it’s definitely worth squeezing in some corrective exercises.