Biomechanics of the Stiletto Strut

stilettoAnyone who has followed by work since before 2012 knows that I love shoes!

I may be barefoot strong but come Friday night, I, like most women across the world, am strapping on my sexiest stilettos for a night out on the town.   Blame it on fashion and living in NYC for over a decade, but I can’t deny that my knees get weak as I walk through the Shoe Department at Bergdorfs!

Associated with power, confidence and sex appeal nothing ruins a perfect pair of pumps like a young fashionista stumbling around in her 5 inch platforms.   If you are looking to improve your stiletto strut, understanding the biomechanics of the foot & ankle may be the ticket to the perfect stride.

In today’s blog I’m going to combine two of my passions – stilettos & biomechanics – to give you a scientific approach the catwalk and why biomechanics play a bigger role than we realize when achieving the perfect stiletto strut!

The Case of the Stiletto Duck Walk

I’m sure we’ve all seen the woman walking in heels with her feet turned out – or every time she takes a step the foot drops down into pronation.   The cause for this “stiletto duck walk” is related to the biomechanics of the great toe joint and the extreme heights of today’s heels.  Big toe

Normal walking on flat ground requires at least 30 degrees of great toe dorsiflexion.  Slide into stilettos and the demands on great toe dorsiflexion increases – often requiring up to 90 degrees dorsiflexion!

If you have limited great toe mobility (whether it be in flats or heels) and you are trying to enter the propulsive phase of gait but do not have the joint mobility – you will compensate!

Two of the most common compensations for limited great toe mobility is to turn your feet or pronate during push-off – leading to the stiletto duck walk.

So what can be done to avoid the stiletto duck walk?

1.  Lower the height of your heels.

photo-2Heels that exceed 3 inches start to defy natural foot biomechanics which is why the higher height of heels must have platforms and a forefoot rocker built into the shoe (see picture to the left)

For women with flat feet I often recommend keeping the heel height lower as this foot type is inherently unstable which compromises great toe mobility.

2.  Shorten your stride

Another great tip for decreasing the demands on great toe mobility when in high heels is to keep your stiletto stride short.   The longer the stride, the greater the demands on great toe mobility.

Learn more about wearing high heels with flat feet –

The Forward Lean

The next common mistake I often see in the stiletto strut is the forward lean.  This dropping of the chest is often associated with the stiletto strutter trying to walk faster than the heels are biomechanically allowing.    Biomechanical studies have shown that when walking in heels the woman is forced to shorten her stride length and increase stride frequency.

Increased stride length not only requires great toe flexibility (see above) but also hip extension flexibility.   As soon as we slide into our heels the ankle assumes a plantar flexed position forcing the pelvis into an anterior tilt.   This anterior tilt shortens the hip flexors thereby limiting hip extension.

What can be done to avoid the forward lean when walking in heels?

1.  Minimize the heel height 

The higher the heels the greater the shift in the pelvis.   Each additional inch in heel height is further shortening the hip flexors and reducing hip extension flexibility.   If your pelvis already naturally gravitates towards an anterior tilt then keeping the heel height 3 inches will not only save your stiletto strut but it will also dramatically decrease the load to your lower back.

2.  Keep the hip flexors flexible 

If you are going to wear heels often then make sure to keep the hip flexors flexible.   Repeated stiletto wear will overtime shorten the muscles on the front of the hip making successive high heel wear more difficult.    I encourage women to do at least 5 minutes of hip mobility exercises (stretching) before and after wearing their heels.

To learn more stiletto recovery tips –

To experience my Stiletto Recovery Workout DVD please visit –

3.  Own the shorter stride 

This final tip is often difficult for me sometimes as I’m always moving and walking super fast, however if the heels force you to shorten your stride you might as well own it.    The shorter stride gives you time to spice up your walk and add a little sex appeal or personality to the walk!

 The Weafalls-off-high-heels-2k Ankles

The final common mistake seen in the stiletto strut are the weak or wobbly ankles.   Again blame it on biomechanics and foot type as the extreme plantar flexed and inverted foot position can be difficult for certain foot types to control.

If you find yourself weak in the ankles and pitter pattering around in your heels out of fear of falling then the below tips should help you build some ankle strength and confidence in your strut!

1.  Minimize heel height

Just like the previous two stiletto strut errors, decreasing heel height is probably one of the best ways to correct all stiletto strut errors and compensations.   Remember that for every inch you increase heel height you drastically change the demands placed on the foot and body.

For the novice stiletto lover I suggest not going above 3 inches.   In addition, the thickness in the heel can greatly help build confidence in your walk with many women stating the greatest stability in wedges / espadrilles.

2.  Barefoot training

Another tip that I love and have built my Catwalk Confidence Workout around is barefoot training for foot, ankle and core strength – all necessary components to walking confidently in your heels.

Studies have shown that our feet and core and deeply integrated and that the stronger the feet are the faster the core / hips can stabilize when walking.   This translates to a more graceful walk (think tango dancer)!

To learn more barefoot training tips for improving your stiletto strut please check out my DVD – Catwalk Confidence.

In closing a few final tips for keeping your feet and body stiletto strong :

1.  Recover your feet daily by standing on a golf ball

2.  Keep your hips flexible by do hip flexor stretches or foam rolling your quads

3.  Weekly barefoot training keeps the small muscles of your feet and core working together

4.  Never compromise in shoe fit as the damage it can do the feet is not worth the fashion

To learn more about feet and stilettos please check out my recent segment on The Meredith Viera Show!


One Comment Add yours

  1. jodie says:

    What causes fallen arches and any suggestions on how strengthen if you already have them. Thanks

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