The core. The back. The butt. The arms. When most people think of working out with Pilates, these are the body parts they want to target. But what about the true base of the body, the feet?
In each foot there are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons…but most people don't use all of them! Bringing awareness to the feet and how they work can lead to better balance from the bottom up.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in every three older people falls every year, citing lower body weakness and difficulty with walking and balance as two of the major causes. This article from Harvard Medical School reveals a study linking falls to foot pain.
To make matters more interesting, "The psychologic impact of a fall or near fall often results in a fear of falling and increasing self-restriction of activities. The fear of future falls and subsequent institutionalization often leads to dependence and increasing immobility, followed by functional deficits and a greater risk of falling." (AAFP) The "fear of falling [is] especially common among those who have already sustained a bad fall. Fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that, by curbing activity, can lead to a loss of muscle tone, balance and bone density and increase the chance of a disastrous fall." (NYT).
In terms of Pilates...
Mobility, articulation, and range of motion are the challenges most Pilates practitioners face, and with age comes longer bad habits. Most people stuff their feet in clunky shoes all day long, perhaps cramping the toes or distributing the weight too much on either side. They walk or run without understanding what happens each time their feet hit the ground.
But Pilates instructors have been doing this for decades!
Because Pilates is performed without shoes, practitioners experience the way their feet interact with the ground without shoes. Pilates reformer exercises allow people to work their feet and ankles without gravity pulling them into old habits. With the Pilates reformer, practitioners learn how misalignment in their feet and ankles translate up the body to knees and hips. To incorporate proper placement into upright movement, Pilates Cadillac and Chair exercises allow practitioners to learn how to balance weight on their feet through standing movement sequences.
CARDIOLATES(r) is excellent for the feet, by design. CARDIOLATES(r) rebounding is ideally done barefoot, thus forcing the feet to work throughout their entire range of motion. "Here's a surprising fact: The less industrialized nations of the world have citizens with far fewer foot problems. Why? Because they actually use all of the muscles in their feet." 1
Additionally, exercises standing on the CoreAlign enhance Pilates exercises and are great for finding imbalances in the muscles of the feet. Correct ankle tracking is key, starting with the basic Hoof exercise from which many movements progress. If the big toe doesn’t have good mobility, the ankle might shift out over the small toe – an unstable and potentially dangerous place. When balance is weak the toes might “grip” the floor and create more problems for the muscles in the arches.
There are several exercises with the Pilates band that train the strength of the muscles in the calf and shin, which connect to those in the feet. Pronation, when the arches drop inwards, and supination, when the outside of the feet take the weight, are common problems that can be improved with repetition. Standing on an unstable surface like the Bosu or a CARDIOLATES rebounder also shows the foot’s tendencies and weaknesses.
Ask your Pilates instructor for more ways to bring attention to your feet in your Pilates workout.