Build strength and endurance in your feet for noticeable head-to-toe benefits.
by Blossom Leilani Crawford
We use our feet constantly, and yet too often, we ignore them. After having children, I started to suffer from plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the connective tissue running the length of the sole, and struggled with the stability and awareness of my pelvis. After some experimentation, I created exercises to help my own feet improve, and eventually shared and developed them with my clients. These sequences have since become a regular part of my routine.
As we know, the inherent strengths and weaknesses of our feet affect how they impact the ground, which reverberates throughout the body, so helping your feet will benefit its every structure. This series of exercises is for strengthening the feet, but it will also help you build awareness of the connection between your feet into your lower legs and everything above. When doing these simple movements, you may choose to use props or equipment to assist your alignment or enhance the prehensile movement of the feet. In all cases, these exercises are a great add-on to your Pilates routine. A little attention to the feet and variation on some traditional Pilates exercises can go a long way for both mind and body.
If doming or curling your feet makes them cramp, start slowly. Do what you can until your feet get stronger and gradually build endurance. Remember that your eyes are great tools to help your mind get used to what your feet are doing—use them. Sometimes what the feet do is nothing like what you “ask” them to do (like my children). Just be patient and put your best foot forward.
Misery Foot Circle
This exercise was named by my client who’s a professional dancer. She loved and hated it, and inadvertently called it the Misery Foot Circle—the name stuck!
Purpose: strengthens the feet; helps to align and stabilize the pelvis
Setup: Lie on your back, with your knees bent hip-width apart and feet flat on the floor. Extend your left leg to 90 degrees, intertwining
your fingers behind your thigh and pressing the back of your leg into your hands without rotating your thigh.
1. Point and flex your left foot, breathing naturally. Do 3–5 reps.
2. Point your foot, imagining that you’re grabbing a pencil with your toes and the ball of your foot. Keep your big toe and little toe as equally curled as possible.
3. With curled toes, pull the top of your foot back toward your shin, and draw a circle with the ball of your foot. Do 3–5 circles.
4. Flex your foot, and think of spreading your toes to release your foot before you repeat the circles to the opposite direction.
5. Repeat the entire sequence on your other foot.
Tips: Curl your foot as much as you can manage. As you curl the ball of your foot back, make sure your big toe isn’t any closer to your shin than your little toe. For pelvic stability, press your leg slightly forward while you pull with your arms to create oppositional force.
Modification: Place a pillow under your head if the position is uncomfortable, or if it helps you to see your alignment.
Advanced: Do the exercise with your leg in tabletop, paying special attention to the movement of your knee and lower leg—there can be a tendency to move the knee while circling the foot.
Footwork with a Pad Between the Feet
Prop: headrest pillow or yoga block
With Feet Flexed:
Purpose: increases abdominal strength while promoting proper alignment of the legs
Setup: Lie on the floor with the pillow between your feet, from your big toes to your heels, and knees bent toward your chest. Bring both hands behind your neck, supporting the cervical curve of your neck, and come into an upper-torso lift.
1. Inhale, flexing your feet as you reach your thighs away from you.
2. Exhale, returning to the starting position. Do 5–10 reps.
Tips: Watch the alignment and movement of your knees, especially as you bend them. Think of moving your thighs away from you, rather than just extending your legs from your knees.
Modification: Keep your head down, gently pressing the back of your head onto the floor to work your cervical extensors.
Advanced: Add ankle weights, allowing your heels to move slightly away from the pillow.
With the Ball of the Foot Curled:
Purpose: works on doming the feet with the connection to moving and bending the legs
Setup: Same as With Feet Flexed.
1. With your gaze focused on your feet, curl your toes and balls of your feet. Pay extra attention to curling the little toe side of your foot while flexing your feet.
2. Inhale, reaching your thighs away from you.
3. Exhale, returning to the starting position. Do 5–10 reps.
Tips: Drawing up the little toe side of the foot often makes people want to knock their knees together as they bend their legs. Watch the
alignment and movement of your knees throughout.
Modification: Same as With Feet Flexed.
Advanced: Same as With Feet Flexed.
To read the full story—and get the complete workout—check out our March/April issue. Get instant access to Pilates Style on your tablet or mobile device—packed with more great features—by purchasing our app edition!