The more I learn about and teach at BEYOND, the more I keep coming back to the feet. To make corrections in the feet when people come in for help with knee, hip, and back pain. Pilates himself seemed to emphasize the feet in workouts. Always starting with footwork on the chair or reformer and inventing interesting gadgets like the toe stretcher and foot corrector, which has saved my flat feet and corrected imbalances all the way up into my hips.
80% of us have foot pain at some point in our lives. The major culprit of foot pain is shoes that do not fit properly or that force our feet into unnatural shapes. Our feet are very small compared to the rest of our body so the impact of each step we take exerts a huge amount of force on those poor little guys. This force is about 50% greater than our body weight.
On average we take between 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, this means that our feet support a combined force equivalent to several hundred tons every day!
The foot has many jobs:
- Supports our body weight.
- Acts as a shock absorber.
- Serves as a lever to propel our leg forward as we walk.
- Helps us to maintain our balance by adjusting the body to uneven surfaces.
The foot is a very complex structure of 26 bones, 33 joints, and is layered with an intertwining web of more than 120 muscles, ligaments, and nerves. I myself am going to purchase a foot corrector because I heard it is helpful in bringing awareness, strength, and flexibility to your feet.
Most of us don’t have a sense of where the pelvis is in space when we walk. Focusing on neutral pelvic alignment with good posture while doing footwork on the chair is a great way for clients to learn good posture while walking, which will, in turn, help with their confidence, strength, and balance.
Once a client has enough abdominal strength to hold neutral spine with legs up in the tabletop position then I progress them to footwork on the reformer. I love to watch them do running and to cue them to lift out of the hips keeping the muscles of the pelvis and lower abdomen “zipped up.”
As we age our feet experience major changes. These changes in the feet can affect our whole body if we do not do things to correct and keep them strong and flexible.
- Women have more foot flexibility due to varied heel height throughout their lives.
- Men’s feet become more stiff and rigid due to stiff soled shoes and less movement in the foot over time.
- The soles of our feet lose padding.
- Arches can drop.
- Circulation weakens causing neuropathies.
- Proprioception diminishes dramatically causing decreased balance.
Below are just a few of the exercises I use to help keep my aging population on their feet and well balanced.
KNEE BENDS are especially good for foot and ankle flexibility and for awareness of proper weight placement in the foot.
They also help to strengthen those “getter- upper” muscles, the quadriceps muscles in the upper leg.
Exercise: Sitting on the front edge of a chair, line your feet up so they are spaced hip width apart and directly under your knees. Feel weight equal from big toe to pinky toe and into your heel. Bring weight forward (nose over toes) and press straight up evenly through your feet as you stand up. When you sit put most of your weight back over your heels to slowly lower yourself.
Note: Keep your knees and toes pointed straight forward. If you find the knees want to bow in or out place a small ball or pillow between them to keep your alignment and to strengthen the medial thigh.
HEEL LIFTS is a great exercise as it helps to strengthen the feet, ankles, and calves in the lower leg, while improving flexibility.
Exercise: Standing with weight placement equal from big toe to pinky toe and into the heel. Slowly and deliberately roll your weight forward through the middle of foot to the ball of your foot making sure the weight stays even (no rolling in or out), then continue up to toes as you lift your heel off the floor as high as you can stay balanced. Hold for a second at the top, and then slowly lower. Repeat 10-20 repetitions.
TOE LIFTS (Dorsiflexion of the foot) is one of the single best exercises you can do to improve your balance!
As we age the muscle on the top of the foot weakens and it causes us to shuffle our feet along. This weakness causes us to trip on cracks, rugs, or whatever else may be in our way because we are too weak to lift the foot over the object.
Exercise: Sitting or standing with heels directly under knees. Tap your toes together or alternating to point of fatigue. You will feel the work on the top of your foot and into the shins. 50-100 taps to the point of fatigue in the muscle.
I also like to do this exercise manually with my clients lying down with knees bent and feet flat. I sit over them with my hands resisting on top of their feet. Then, while they keep their heels anchored on the mat they try to pull their toes and ball of the foot up against my resistance. I have them do this to fatigue.
WALKING GAIT promotes awareness of the mechanics of walking to correct habits that affect the whole body.
Exercise: Imagine your foot as a lever that propels the body forward. Step forward on your heel first, and then roll your weight through the arch to your toes, propelling you forward.
Pull your toes up as you step so it moves the knee up and forward. The foot acts as a lever engaging the whole leg to move from a fluid hip joint.