High Heel Training

Crystal Schwanke
Woman with many shoes

Going from flats to high heels with no warm-up isn't the best idea. To feel comfortable and confident in your new shoes, you'll need to prep before you go out on the town. If you've worn heels in the past but have taken a hiatus from them, you may have instinctively given yourself a crash course in heel-wearing without even realizing it and now you need a refresher.

Candidates for Heel Training

Who needs high heel training? Many women need a little bit of practice before wearing heels.

  • Happy woman in heels
    Young girls who have never worn heels but want to start will need some practice (but they aren't the only ones).
  • Grown women who have never had much of a reason to wear heels may wish to start and require some high heel training to feel confident.
  • Moms who have been out of heels for the duration of pregnancy, followed by the baby and toddler years, may find that they don't strut around in them as easily as they used to. They may like something of a refresher course once they're no longer worried so much about being able to chase small children (or find a sitter who makes it easier to have date nights).
  • Ladies who have always worn low heels around two inches may want to venture into four-inch heels (or taller) territory for nights out or an event.

When you're just starting out, haven't worn heels in a long time, or you want to make a leap in the height of your heels, training is a good idea. Keep in mind that if you've fallen in love with a four-inch heel and want to wear it for a special occasion, you don't have to invest a lot of money in the heels that will be the stepping stones to the goal shoes. They just need to fit well and be relatively comfortable for heels. Check the clearance racks for these in-between heel heights and you can donate them later.

Where to Start

Going from flats to heels takes leg strength, balance, and mobility -- in addition to the time you'll need to work your way up. Don't go from flats to five-inch stilettos all at once. Training could feel discouraging because there's such a vast difference in foot position when you're moving from flats to heels, but you could also put yourself at risk for an injury if you don't prepare. Exercising your legs, feet, and ankles may speed up the process and get you ready for your shoes in less time while lowering that injury risk.

Work Your Ankles, Calves, and Arches

To successfully wear high heels for any length of time, you'll need to strengthen your ankles and calves and increase arch flexibility. The American Osteopathic Association, in fact, suggests that those that wear high heels regularly stretch to loosen the hamstrings and eliminate pain in the feet and legs.

To prepare for high heels, you can do exercises similar to those seen in barre or ballet classes. In addition to increasing strength, you'll want to ensure that you stretch the muscles and have good mobility. You can use a workout like the Barre Workout for Calves and Ankles (right) from Lazy Dancer Tips on YouTube a few times per week, or just choose a few of the moves to run through on your own when you have a few minutes to spare. The higher the heel, the more important these exercises are.

If you don't have time for or access to the video some days, try a few quick exercises when you have a few moments to spare:

  • Ankle circles, clockwise and counter-clockwise, five times each way, per foot.
  • Heel raises (15-20 repetitions, for one to three sets with toes turned in, feet parallel, and toes turned out)
  • Toe raises (15-20 repetitions, for one to three sets)
  • Sitting on the floor with one ankle crossed over the other knee (in "4" position), tug the toes and front part of the foot toward you for a few seconds. Repeat four times.
  • In the same "4" position, hold your heel with one hand and push the top of the foot away from your body to stretch the arch, then release after a few seconds. Repeat four times.

You can do these exercises before you ever buy your first pair of heels (or higher heels). Strength and flexibility are always good, and you'll have a head start on your training when you do find high heels you want to wear. Not everyone sees the exercise portion as mandatory and many people jump straight into a low pair of heels when they want to train themselves how to walk in them. Wearing heels when you have weak calves and/or ankles could increase your risk of injury, however.

Start Low

If you've never worn heels, you may need some tips for wearing them. Don't start with the highest ones you can find just because you love them and can't wait to slip them on your feet. Instead, start with a low heel. Two inches should be low enough to begin, but try a few pairs of shoes on to see which height feels manageable for you. You may be able to start with a higher heel, or you may feel more comfortable starting with a shorter kitten heel.

Once you've mastered the two-inch heels and walking in those feels natural (check the mirror to make sure it looks natural, too!), you'll be able to move up to three-inch, then four-inch, etc. This will slowly train your foot (especially the arch) to walk in high heels. You'll be more comfortable overall in the fit and your ability to walk in them, but keep in mind that how good your foot feels will still heavily depend on the way the shoe is designed.

The thinner the sole and higher the heel, the more pain you can expect in the ball of your foot. A platform, wedge, or even chunkier heels will almost universally be more comfortable than stilettos. They not only distribute the weight more evenly over the space of the heel, but platform heels will still give you height without requiring your foot to perform at such a drastically different angle from the one it's used to.

Once you've mastered different heel heights, you'll be able to wear two-inch heels one day, four-inch heels the next, then flats, then three-inch heels, and so on. As long as you don't take a significant break from your heel collection (months or years), you can expect to transition almost effortlessly between heel heights you've trained yourself to walk in.

Try Different Sizes

Woman putting on shoes

Before you even begin to train your feet for a pair of heels, you'll need to make sure you have the correct size. In some cases, you may need to go up or down a half size to allow for the shape of the shoe and how your foot is positioned. Shopping for high heels isn't quite as simple as shopping for flats. If you have the opportunity, try on your regular size, but don't make a purchase until you go up and down a half size to compare for the most comfortable fit.

Stand Still

Stand still just to get the feel of the shoes on your feet and the shift in your center of balance. Hold your core tight, shoulders back, and glutes strong. Keep your knees and hips relaxed. Wearing the shoes like this will not only allow your feet to get used to them, but help the shoes mold to the shape of your feet. You may notice that your legs (particularly your quadriceps) feel fatigued pretty quickly. That's because the new positioning of your body encourages them to stay flexed while you're in heels. It gives the appearance of nice, toned legs, but can make your muscles tired. The strength and mobility exercises will help with this over time, as will walking in the heels themselves.

Break the Shoes In

To further the process of your feet and the shoes becoming one, so to speak, you'll have to practice your walk. This will help the materials of the shoes loosen up as you move and mold to the shape of your feet.

Heel to Toe

Walking with high heels

When you first try heels, you may start stomping rather than walking. It'll be tempting to put your whole foot down at once instead of rolling it from heel to toe, but being conscious of your gait will give you a much more graceful sashay. Focus on walking slowly, putting your heel down first, followed by the ball of your foot and your toe.

Adjust Your Posture

Your new center of balance may have you leaning forward without realizing it as you take your first steps. Think about leaning back so your body is in a straight line. Check a full-length mirror from the front and sides. It will be easier to learn to walk correctly in high heels if you don't start with bad habits like leaning your shoulders or neck forward.

Imagine a Balance Beam

You won't be putting one foot directly in front of the other as if you were on a tightrope, but picture the balance beams that were on the playgrounds when you were a kid and imagine you're walking on one of those. This will help you keep your feet from swinging too far out to the sides as you learn to walk in heels. Focusing on your walk this way can give you a more graceful strut. Your feet should be closer together when you walk in heels than when you walk in flats, but you don't have to put one foot completely in front of the other when you take each step.

Accept That You'll Be Slow

With heels, you'll have to slow down. Even when you're a pro at walking in heels, you'll need to take shorter steps rather than the longer strides you may take in sneakers or flats. Practice this while you're practicing your balance so you won't try to get ahead of yourself in public and fall.

Short Trips

Unless your shoes are being saved for a special occasion, like your wedding, prom, or some other formal event, take your shoes out for a few short trips before committing to several hours on your feet in them. The more you can strengthen your legs, feet, and ankles and have the shoes mold to your feet, the more endurance you'll have in heels and the easier it will be to transition to higher heels.

Rough Soles and Inserts for Pain

There are two things that can help in the training process that have more to do with the shoes than your feet. Once you know you have the right size and you will be keeping your heels, take them onto a rough surface (your driveway or the sidewalk, for example), put them on, and shuffle your feet back and forth to scuff up the soles. No, they won't be as pretty on the bottoms anymore and it may make you cringe to do this to your brand new shoes, but this helps the shoes grip the floor and lessens the likelihood that you'll slip. You can also use sandpaper on the bottoms instead of taking them outside.

If you need to ease the pain as you get used to walking in heels (or even after you've mastered it), gel inserts under the balls of your feet can work wonders. You can pick them up at almost any drugstore or shoe store.

The Time Commitment

The amount of time it takes to feel comfortable in heels, transition from a lower heel to a higher one, or feel ready to go from wearing your shoes in your home for a few hours versus wearing them to work or to an event that requires you to be in heels for several hours will depend on the individual. It will depend on strength, mobility, flexibility, design of the shoe, and confidence. Some people may be ready to wear their three-inch T-strap pumps in just three days, while others may take twice that long, or longer. The following time commitment estimate is a guide, but always listen to your body to determine when you should slow down or speed up in your training.

Beginning Training

First, put your heels on and stand in one place for a minute or two. Then take a few steps. If you feel comfortable, walk around your house for a little while. If your legs feel fatigued, take the heels off for the day. The total time commitment for the first one to three days can be as little as 10 to 30 minutes. Once you've gotten those under your belt and you feel comfortable enough to endure longer practice sections, wear your heels around the house for a few hours each day. After a few days to a week, you will probably find yourself comfortable enough to wear your high heels outside of the house.

Progression

When you progress into a slightly higher heel (around four inches, for example), it may only take a day or two to feel comfortable in the new height. Shoes with very high heels (six or seven inches) could take longer to master, depending on the style, height of the platform, and weight of the shoe. Make sure you're comfortable with heels that are four or five inches high before attempting those. This could take several weeks or more, total, if you're starting with little to no experience in heels.

Wear Your Heels with Confidence

Of course, the training process is different for everyone. What takes some people a week or more may take you just a few days, depending on your strength, mobility, and the type of shoes you want to wear. If you've previously worn heels and just want to put on a pair of three- or- four-inch heels from your closet after a hiatus, you may be able to skip the shorter heels and jump right into the ones you really want to wear. Practice in those before you take them out for the night. Because there's a risk of injury, be careful no matter how you decide to train your feet.

High Heel Training