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The Pilates footwork on the Reformer is a fundamental section in a Pilates workout. Footwork is often the first series of exercises to be taught on the reformer but despite this it shouldn’t be mistaken for a basic exercise.
Although called footwork, it actually encompasses the whole body; in particular the spine and pelvic position and of course, the legs. For those horsey people amongst us, I am sure you have heard the expression “no foot, no horse” and it’s no different for us!
Footwork on the reformer is simple yet powerful and for a teacher, provides great insight to the client’s imbalances. The footwork enables the client to develop correct foot, ankle, knee, leg and hip alignment. It will also develop strength and flexibility in these areas. This makes it a perfect exercise for both prevention and rehabilitation of injuries to the lower limbs which are aided further by the varying levels of spring resistance on the reformer.
Footwork Exercise I: Toes
This exercise can be carried out with the feet in parallel or in a Pilates V position (heels together, toes apart). The toes – all of them! – should be on the bar and the heels lifted so you are on your tip toes. The heels should stay in the highest possible lifted position as the carriage is moved in and out. It is tempting to allow the heels to lower as you straighten the leg, this should be avoided as the legs are not then receiving the full stretch and benefit of the exercise.
Footwork Exercise II: Arches
In my experience many clients find this footwork position one of the most challenging. In this exercise the arches of the foot are placed on the foot bar and the feet are in parallel. The heels of the feet should be reaching under the bar and the toes should be gently reaching over the top of the foot bar, being careful not to scrunch the toes up. You should feel a stretch through the soles of the feet which should be maintained throughout the exercise.
Footwork Exercise III: Heels
In this exercise the heels are placed on the bar and the toes should be in a straight line. Sometimes it is taught that the toes should be pulling back toward the body and sometimes that the toes be lengthened toward the ceiling. Neither is incorrect, it depends what you want to achieve with the exercise.
In this case we keep the toes lengthened toward the ceiling. The foot needs to stay still as if you are standing on the floor, while the ankle, knee and hip joints should hinge as the legs glide in and out.
Footwork Exercise IV: Lift/Lower
This is a fab exercise and enables the client to feel a good stretch through the front and back of the leg. With the feet in a parallel (or sometimes V position) and heels lifted, the legs are straightened. Then whilst keeping the legs straight (but ensuring the knees are not locked), the heels are dropped under the bar. As well as feeling a nice hamstring stretch, a stretch through the sole of the foot should also be felt. When returning to the start position the heels should be lifted.
There are many variations in the footwork but they all work to strengthen and align the body. Our poor feet take a lot of mistreatment from the shoes we wear and our daily lives and are often a little neglected and taken for granted! However they deserve our full attention sometimes and the benefits of the Pilates footwork series will be felt throughout the whole body.