By Rebecca Sirkel
As a Pilates Teacher, you spend a lot of time standing. Does your lower back sometimes ache after a few hours of teaching? Your feet could be the culprit. If you don’t stand balanced on your foot tripod, how you walk and hold yourself will be affected because, as you know, your feet are your foundation. There’s a ripple effect from your feet to your core. Even though you learned about your feet in Pilates training, there’s so much more information beyond the Comprehensive training.
Are Your Feet Weak?
You may not realize that when the ground or any force stimulates your feet, this creates a co-contraction of your core. In her book Barefoot Strong, Emily Splichal says, “Co-activation means that the firing of one muscle leads to the simultaneous firing of another muscle.” In other words, your feet sense movement and signal your core muscles to engage simultaneously. Your feet are like the driver that tells the passengers to prepare for a bumpy road ahead.
Modern society dictates you wear shoes to protect and cushion your feet. While this is important, wearing shoes all day long can have an adverse reaction. When your feet don’t have the stimulus of the earth and its surface to react to, they become desensitized and weak. Your feet have thousands of tiny sensory nerves responding to every subtle move you make. Your feet are designed to react quickly to the earth’s surface, temperature, texture, stability, etc. Wearing cushioned shoes and orthotics gradually decreases the strength of your feet. “Even the most minimal ‘barefoot’ shoe to some degree block these plantar receptors,” says Splichal. Keeping your feet trapped inside your shoes constantly makes them numb, weak, and disconnected from your body.
How do you strengthen your feet?
If you used your feet half as much as your hands, you’d have control and be able to move your toes independently of each other and pick things off the ground with your toes. Curling up a towel with your toes is a practical exercise I use to help those with collapsed arches and generally weak feet. Can you separate or move your toes precisely one at a time? Many people can’t. After I work with clients consistently, I often see progress after only a few sessions of regular Feet-ness exercises, like the “Shake Foot” and “playing Mozart.” Once your toes and feet are under your command, you can pick your towel up off the floor, find a better balance, and move more gracefully.
1. Remove padding from the Reformer footbar
As a student and teacher of Pilates, you know how Joseph Pilates was before his time. This certainly rings true with the newfound interest in feet and the barefoot movement. He advocated for less is more, and students were to be barefoot when working out in his Pilates studio. If you’ve ever used the Foot or Toe Corrector, you know how important it is to work the feet. Before modern manufacturers “improved” the equipment, the reformer footbar had no padding, and the foot corrector was metal with a strong spring. Today’s students might find the equipment somewhat raw and rugged if working with some of the newer, more cushioned equipment. My recommendation is to go naked and take all that padding off the Reformer footbar. You’ll receive more feedback and self-correct when on a stiff, flat surface.
2. Practice footwork series on all types of Pilates apparatus
In Contrology, there was a big emphasis on the feet, as Mr. Pilates knew their importance. Did you know footwork stimulates all the nerve endings and strengthens your stance in different positions to be used later in the method? The proper foot position and alignment are as essential as abdominal control, and foot-to-core integration is necessary for any movement to succeed. The footwork series is an excellent example of how we work the foot-to-core connection in the Pilates method. It’s no wonder Mr. Pilates gave us a way to practice this series from the reformer to the Cadillac to the Wunda chair.
3. Integrate Foot Corrector and Toe Corrector into your Pilates Lessons
While cueing the position of the pelvis and core control are essential, it’s also important to work on correcting faulty movement patterns from the feet up. Training your feet enables clients to walk and move with better function and eliminates back pain caused by compensations. Break out the Toe Corrector or Foot Corrector so your clients feel the energy you need to improve an exercise. I remember doing a specific toe corrector exercise called “Full Point Down” to help me lift my arches on my Elephant, and it changed how I felt the entire movement. Low back pain and collapsed arches go hand in hand, and those with this condition should prioritize exercises that help to engage the arch, like the towel exercise.
4. Take your shoes off as often as possible
You can take this beyond Pilates in the studio into your everyday life. Orthotics are popular for foot pain but can be a crutch that causes more pain and compensation. Allowing your feet to feel the ground and respond to that feedback can be an extension of your Pilates training. This is true for yourself and your clients. Try taking your shoes off as often as possible, working up to longer barefoot time, and encourage your clients to do so when possible. Because of foot conditions, some students may not be able to walk around without footwear, but they can take their shoes off and move their feet while seated. Try wearing barefoot or minimal shoes when you have to wear shoes. Take time to educate your clients about how footwear can decondition their feet and how important it is to spend time barefoot.
If you have clients with back pain, spend more time working with their feet. Ask them how often they wear shoes and help them understand how less time in shoes can reduce pain over time. Take time to educate yourself more about feet and exercises that can support the feet to support the body further. I’d love to share an exercise I’ve used from Feet-ness that has had profound results with my clients. Click here to learn the “Shake Foot” exercise or watch the video below.
About the Author
Rebecca Sirkel is a Pilates/ Feet-ness (Foot Fitness) Teacher and a Plant-Based Nutrition Coach with over 20 years of experience in the mind/body industry. Rebecca loves to teach individuals who want to enhance their life and movement practice. She specializes in foot health and postural alignment and uses her nutrition knowledge to help women lose weight by eating whole, plant-based foods.