Would You Exercise in High Heels?

ThinkStockYou already know that those four-inch heels make you look sexy and now science substantiates that: A recent study published in the journal Evolution and Behavior found that women who wear heels are perceived as more feminine than those who wear flatter shoes. 

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And with spring coming earlier this year (according to Groundhog Day, anyway) paving the way for shorter skirts, a slew of sexy exercise classes seeks to help you enhance your gait even more by offering group sessions to women who want to work out in, you guessed it, high heels.

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One such class is designed and taught by certified fitness instructor Kamilah Barrett, 35. Called "Heel Hop" the class is a low-impact hour of strength-training that helps women develop cardiovascular strength and the confidence and skill to rock high-heeled shoes. Participants pay $15 for a weekly class to learn Barrett's 10-signature moves that include re-training the foot to decrease the amount of shock impact while walking and how to align the spine. Women are advised to wear light-weight three-inch heels with straps around the ankles and toes.

Stiletto Fitness Classes in Kansas City, M.O. touts itself as a "core and lower body high-impact strength and training fitness class." Created by former dancer Coryelle Abney in July 2012, her class helps women look graceful wearing heels while offering a serious calorie burn. The women saunter across the room to practice their walk,  engage in strength training exercises including squats, and gyrate their way through dance sequences.

But is it safe to wear high heels when exercising? "It depends on how high-impact the class is, but as a very general rule, it's not the best idea," says New York City based podiatrist Hillary Brenner. "If you're jumping up and down, you're forcing all your body weight to rest on the balls of your feet which can result in stress fractures and ligament damage. You can also hurt your knees and your lower back. In some cases, it can be a total body disaster."

High heels came into prominence over a millennium ago when in an attempt to land a husband, Chinese women had their feet pressed and bound to fit into three-inch long lutes slippers, a look that at the time, was very appealing to the opposite sex. But with mass production and the array of shoe styles available to the public along with the emergence of the short flapper skirts, the trend caught like wildfire. But were these heels ever intended for every day use, much less a dance class? Probably not.

"I wouldn't advise women to bring their Jimmy Choos to a class like this," says Dr. Elisa M. Kavanagh, DPM, who treats the New York City Rockettes. "If you're curious, wear character shoes (they look like a classic Mary Jane with a chunky heel) that are flexible and designed for stomping, kicking, and twirling. It might be okay to wear heels while doing bar work and strength training but with something like a squat where you should be putting all your weight on your heels, by wearing high heels you put more weight on the ball of your foot, risking foot and back injuries."

According to Brenner, if you want to give these types of classes a whirl, try using foot pedals—small cushions that are inserted into your heels. Just make sure they're made of poron, a material that aids shock absorption. "Otherwise in your quest to be sexy, you could end up with an injury that's anything but," she says.

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