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."
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."
STELLAR ILLUSTRATIONS, I said.
(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).
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.