Biomechanics and the science of walking

Since participating in the shoe prints and forensic science research study, which I wrote about in late July, I have taken part in another research study. My friend told me about this study, researching the natural variance of the human footprint.

This study took place in a biomechanics lab (biomechanics is just a fancy name for the study of human movement). There, I was asked to walk across a designated area barefoot and with shoes. Special equipment on the floor measured my footprints while I walked and sent information to a computer. This kind of technology – assessing footprint patterns when walking – is often used to determine what footwear best suits a person.

I found the researcher quite amusing because he was way more excited about my results than I was. I guess it’s nice to see someone so passionate about their research. To me, my results were just a bunch of colourful graphs and diagrams, but the researcher kept saying my footprints were ‘Beautiful!’ and ‘Fantastic!’ Errr… thanks, I think. This is the first time anyone has ever complimented me on my feet or soles of my feet. The researcher was very excited because in the results, all my individual toes and weight transfer across each toe can be clearly seen. The researcher said this was not common and some people’s toes were all squashed together.

My results for walking with bare feet in the biomechanics lab. Areas that are coloured red and yellow are areas where I have exerted more force/placed more weight.

My results from doing this study: my weight transfer from heel to toe is consistent all over, which is a good thing. When I walk, my left foot points straight in the direction that I am walking, but my right foot is slightly turned out, at an angle of about 13 degrees. The researcher also said my feet are wide. I kind of already knew that, but it has just been scientifically proven. Lastly, he said that there are 26 bones in the foot and you need to take care of them. One way to do that is to replace your shoes before the soles get too worn.

I could choose what shoe to wear for the research study. This is my result for walking with skate shoes in the biomechanics lab.


How to walk in stiletto heels

It’s December and there are always many parties at this time of the year, like end of year functions, Christmas parties and New Year’s eve parties. Since it’s the party season, I thought I would write about stiletto heels – the quintessential party shoe. Women love stiletto heels because they instantly make you taller and make your legs look longer. Here are some of my tips for how to rock in your stilettos.

First, are those heels too high for you? If your ankles wobble when you’re standing straight in your heels, then YES those heels are too ambitious for you. Start with a lower heel.

So, how do you walk in stiletto heels? Personally, I find it helpful to lean back a bit and concentrate on a heel-toe, heel-toe action when walking. If your weight is too much forward or if you’re trying to walk with your weight on the balls of your feet, your feet are going to hurt a lot by the end of the night. It’s probably bad for your posture to do that too.

Wearing stilettos is a bit like trying to navigate an obstacle course. Stairs, gravel, cracks in the pavement all become safety hazards when you’re wearing stiletto heels. To go up and down stairs, always hold on to the railing and make sure your entire foot (toe and heel) is on the step. I find it easier to go up and down stairs at a slight angle, instead of facing directly forwards, as it’s easier that way to make sure your whole foot is on the step. I don’t recommend going up or down stairs using only your toes or the balls of your feet, as the back of your stiletto heel may catch on the edge of a step and send you flying.

Just like with anything else, to walk with style in stilettos – practice, practice, practice! You also need to practice on all surfaces – tiles, wood floor, dance floor, gravel, pavement, plush carpet – as walking on these surfaces all have a different feel. If you’re planning to dance in stiletto heels, even more practice is needed.

Final word of advice – taking your shoes off when you’re dancing may not be a good idea because other people wearing stiletto heels may step on your feet and there may be other hazards on the dance floor, like broken glass.

To save your feet some pain, take breaks, sit down and rest when you can. Or else have a spare pair of more comfortable shoes in the car … just in case. Have a blast, enjoy all your parties this December and see you again in the new year!

Shih Yen wears a pair of stilettos (photo by Jaime Smith)