Sitting (in heels) is the new smoking

If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Alignment Snacks: Stretching the Standing Muscles.

It’s National Foot Health Awareness month, and I’ve been going foot-fact crazy for the last two weeks.

Yesterday I thought I’d share a short section of Whole Body Barefoot that pertains to every body–certainly every body sitting(?) on their computer, on Facebook.

It’s not only the shoes

It’s important to note that the tension in the calf–tension that results in heel pain for many–doesn’t only stem from how your shoes fix your ankle into a slight toe point, but also from how a chair “casts” your knee at 90°. Which means that if a minimal-shoe-friendly body is what you’re after, you should also reduce the amount of time you spend with your knees bent–a position that also shortens the posterior leg muscles. You’ll find more on this as well as exercises to help in Section 2.

To clarify this post, I added:

“If you’re wondering why your calves are tight (actually they’re short), even though you don’t wear heels, consider this: Sitting in a chair requires your calf muscles to shorten even more than wearing heels does.”

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Then I added a second post (with stellar illustrations):

“The gastrocnemius (main calf muscle) attaches to your thigh bone and heel bone. Wearing heels shortens this muscle, but not as much as sitting, not not as much as sitting WHILE WEARING HEELS.”

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(Please disregard the strawberry goop on the pictures. I was drawing and making birthday treats at the same time.)

The shortening of calf muscles in response to shoes is not a temporary gig–this adaptation requires your body change shape via a new mass distribution. This is why going from heels to flats too quickly can hurt your feet or back. But not only do most of us wear a shoe with a heel on it (most shoes, kid’s and men’s shoes included, have a heel), we sit the bulk of the time we wear them–and we’ve got a body that tells that story.

My favorite reaction to these Facebook posts was someone realizing that just straightening a leg could lengthen the calf muscles (and the hamstrings).

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As I wrote above, it is so wonderful to see someone realizing–for themselves, and not just because “Katy Says”– that being (working, living) in a different position results in the same outcome you strive for “during exercise.”

It’s also important to note that there is a difference between stretching and lengthening. One of the reasons people feel the need to stretch tight areas is because they don’t spend very much time in positions that lengthen these parts. You can keep searching for the “perfect exercise program” or you can just change how you move all day long. Think about it.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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22 thoughts on “Sitting (in heels) is the new smoking

  1. Frequent ankle flexing throughout the day is beneficial or at least there is no downside to such fidgeting

  2. Crap…I think this means that sitting in chairs that are too tall for my heels to reach the floor comfortably (because I’m short) is basically equal to sitting in heeled shoes?

  3. I’ve emailed before about your book projects, Katy. I think there’s more you could be doing with your work in book form, for broader audience. And meanwhile I’ve taken the opportunity to now stand up as I type this, and am already feeling better.

  4. I tell people all the time that I’m too lazy to “work out” so I got rid of furniture instead 🙂

  5. I have perennially tight calves and recently realized (after reading Move Your DNA) that my usual sleeping position (on my side with legs in a 90 degree “sitting”position) is adding to the problem!

    Also,Katy,do you have any recommendations on which barefoot running experts to follow? I see there is a lot of contradictory advice online.

    Thanks for your work!

  6. I’m going to disagree with Lisa’s idea about more books above (even as someone who loves books!) A book is a commitment, first you have to buy it, then you have to set aside time to read it. I think you are doing a great job by getting your message out in multiple formats. For me having the FB posts act as an almost daily reminder–whereas when I read a book I think about it when I’m reading it and then it starts to fade. I like your podcasts too because it feels like I’m sitting there having a conversation with you and Dani (even though I’M not saying anything!) I feel like I’m absorbing info much better with these multiple modalities. And getting any book in front of a broad audience is a tough gig these days. (I have fiction writer friends who struggle with this.) [I’m typing this sitting on the floor with my legs straight and a towel under my toes against the wall]

  7. The other day, I was walking – and trying to walk with correct alignment as I “push off” thru my back foot to my front [like skating?]… and leave my back heel down a touch longer [my coach suggested that addition]. I noticed that my achilles tendons were stretching – i could FEEL it. My husband [who was walking with me] asked me if that was supposed to happen. The next day, as I was reading “Whole Body Barefoot” I read the section you are discussing here. I realized that, YES – I NEED to stretch my achilles – they are obviously shortened. YAY – I’m doing it right!!

  8. love this discussion, and the poster though it is too small to really see, and when I try to expand it it gets corrupted – any chance you can post another version?
    thanks! sitting is for chairs.


  9. Love the comment about sitting in chairs too tall for one’s height being the equivalent of sitting in heels. Story of my life!

    I had to go to the doctor’s office yesterday. Had no idea how long my wait might be. Looked around at the sea of too-tall chairs. Thought about how odd it would appear if I sat on the floor. Then spied the children’s area–oh happy day!–with tiny little chairs. Sat happily and comfortably (though the wait ended up being brief).

    1. Can you explain what you mean by when you sat on the children’s chair it was better than the regular chair? I’m interested just not understanding what you mean
      Thank you

  10. What about sitting cross-legged? Is that still bad because the knees are bent so much? I’m short, and so I never sit in a chair “properly”, I just sit cross-legged on the chair instead. 🙂

    1. BENT is really just a category. I recommend sitting in many different positions throughout the day, that way you avoid the adaptation to a particular length. If you always sit x-legged, that’s short calve-central too, but standing and walking more will help.

    2. I do the same thing. At my desk, on the couch, at the dinner table, you name it. I have tried to stop doing it while sitting in the floor, at least. I feel your pain. Literally!

  11. Love your work!
    question – what do you think about earth shoes…the ones with the lower heel than toes? I’ve been thinking about trying those.

    I’ve had tight calves for as long as I can remember. but its definitely not heels… (I can probably count the times I’ve worn heels on one…maybe two hands…(to weddings!) smiles…

  12. I’ve had a bad habit of wrapping my legs around the chair legs which I finally stopped. However I’ve encountered another issue now,: every time I go for a walk my right calf gets really tight. What could I possibly be doing? I think I’m walking evenly with good posture, bitte why does only one calf get tight?

  13. I usually sit with my legs folded under me, and I’m sure that’s the reason my calf muscles are impossibly tight. I just tied a sling to the underside of my desk to support my legs in a straight position. Hope that works.

  14. I am wondering if changing habits will help me, as I am genetically tight in my legs. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, bit my father and his siblings all have very tight leg muscles. I am terrible at yoga. Awful. That sit and reach thing we had to do I. P.E.? Embarrassment. Is there hope for me?

  15. Sometimes I get sleepy after a meal. But for some reason if I stand up and lengthen my calves/hamstrings/psoas (and chest/shoulders), the drowsiness goes away. Cool.

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