Pilates Footwork for Misalignments

by Nora St. John, MS on Feb 21, 2013

Pilates footwork: simple yet powerful, it is typically the first exercise series taught on the reformer. Called the “Pilates fortuneteller” by Amy Taylor Alpers from the Pilates Center in Boulder, Colorado, footwork reveals postural patterns and muscle imbalances of the hips, legs and feet and is an effective exercise for correcting them. If you are a Pilates instructor, this basic, functional movement of closed-kinetic-chain hip and knee flexion and extension allows you to help a client

  • correct leg, foot and ankle alignment;
  • develop strength in the hips, legs, ankles and feet;
  • increase flexibility in the lower limbs;
  • create balanced muscle development around the hips, knees and ankles;
  • retrain foot, ankle, knee and hip biomechanics for functional activities such as walking, running, dancing and sports;
  • prevent injury by balancing stress on the joints of the lower limbs; and
  • recover from injuries by training in a closed-chain environment where resistance on affected limb(s) can be carefully controlled.

Closed-Chain Training Advantage

As a training tool, footwork has the advantage of being a closed-kinetic-chain (or closed-chain) exercise with variable resistance. In closed-chain movements, the limbs are stabilized and the body is moving. In this case, the feet are connected to the bar or jumpboard and the body moves away as the knees and hips extend. Closed-kinetic-chain exercises use multiple muscle systems in coordination, creating more stability in joints than do open-kinetic-chain movements. Closed-chain options are therefore generally safer. They also translate well to functional activities such as walking and running.

The variable resistance of the reformer allows instructors to choose a light resistance for an injured or deconditioned client and a heavier resistance for a client who is working on strength and power.

Key Alignment Points in Footwork

When a client first lies down on the reformer, you should observe the alignment of the hip, knee, ankle and foot and correct it as far as possible, given the client’s structure. Good alignment allows for balanced distribution of forces leading to more-even wear on the joints and a lower likelihood of injury.

In good alignment,

  • the pelvis remains in neutral throughout the movement;
  • the center of the hip joint (center of the inguinal crease) is directly over the center of the knee, and the center of the knee is directly over the center of the ankle (both legs);
  • the patellae (kneecaps) and feet are pointing straight ahead and are in line with each other, the femurs are neither internally nor externally rotated and the tibiae are straight;
  • the ankles are aligned over the feet, neither supinated (rolled out to the little toe) nor pronated (rolled in toward the big toe);
  • the weight is in the center of each heel for heel work and is balanced between the first and second toes for ball-of-the-foot work; and
  • the forefoot is in line with the heel (both feet).

Recognizing correct alignment is relatively simple; helping clients achieve it is more complicated. If your corrections are to create long-term change, clients need to understand what they are being told to do, why it will benefit them and how they can identify proper movements in their own bodies. If people can’t feel something in themselves, they can’t change it, so the most effective cues are those that clients can feel.

For cues and tips for addressing common misalignments, please see “Footwork: The Foundation of Pilates” in the online IDEA Library or in the October 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

IDEA Fit Tips , Volume 11, Issue 3

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Nora St. John, MS

Nora St. John, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Nora St. John has been teaching Pilates in rehabilitation and studio settings for 20 years. She has a comprehensive background in dance, acupuncture, massage and meditation and weaves her many passion...

1 Comment

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  • Barbara Bruni

    Great article. Indeed the footwork is the open window to the body alignment - almost everything shows here not just the lower limb asymmetries. We can even see if there is a rotation in the pelvis or spine as well as shoulder issues. Also, there is so much corrective exercise performed in footwork as well.
    Commented Mar 08, 2013

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