Unleash your tootsies and let’s get the lower limbs working with foot Pilates!
We live in our shoes, and when we are not in our shoes, we are very often in flip-flops, sandals, or slippers. Thinking back though, when last did you walk barefoot, feeling the texture of the grass or the oozing of mud through your toes?
While shoes are a fantastic tool in our daily running kit, paying attention to exercising the lower limbs – and bare-naked feet – is an important part of a runner’s training repertoire. My physiotherapist challenged me to run barefoot, on grass, for 20 minutes. My feet were super stiff the next day!
The Pilates footwork series is often done on specialised Pilates equipment, but translates just as easily to an intense quick workout on the mat done anywhere. You may be forgiven for thinking you are doing ballet – there is a reason many ballerinas include Pilates in their daily training!
Focus on form and stability: like all Pilates exercises, quality over quantity is key.
Lower limb strength
Done barefoot, these are fantastic basic exercises for foot, knee and hip alignment and stability, ankle strengthening, and stabilisation.
The footwork series works the muscles in the feet (which are often forgotten), and can help prevent and treat plantar fasciitis.
Pelvic stabilisation is also a key factor.
As they are done standing, are they are great for assisting and developing balance and proprioception. The series may seem too simple, but done correctly, will nail your legs. They should be shaking when you are done.
Foot Pilates workout guidelines
Some key points to remember when executing these exercises:
- Keep your core engaged (tummy pulled in) at all times.
- Never stick you bum out or backwards – always err towards an anterior tilt of the pelvis.
- When on your toes, never lock your ankles. Always opt for a halfway bend to ensure you are building ankle stabilisation.
- Always keep your back straight and upright – as though you are sliding down a wall.
- Only go halfway down when bending the knees.
- Do the full series, slowly, with 10–15 repetitions per exercise.
- Use a foam roller if you need assistance with balance initially.
- Stand on a thicker mat, yoga block, or BOSU to challenge yourself.
Please don’t attempt these foot Pilates exercises if you have knee or ankle pathology of any type.
Powering you from the foot up, these movements should be a part of a weekly routine, along with some soleful barefoot running!
1. Raised Heel Parallel Foot
A. Lift yourself onto your toes – heels about tennis ball height off the mat.
B. Lower into a squat and lift back up to a straight leg, ensuring your heels remain at the same height throughout. Keep your ankles as still as possible.
2. Lift and Lower Heels
A. Remain in position 1.
B. In a squat position. Lower and lift your heels while keeping your pelvis in the same position (no bouncing). Aim to get your heels as high and as low as possible on each rep.
3. Flat V-Foot
A. Turn into a V-position with
B. Bend down into an open-knee squat. (Your heels may lift off the mat.) Make sure to push your knees to open the legs as far as possible. As you come up, push your heels into the ground.
4. Raise V-Foot
A. Remain in a V-position with your feet.
B. Lift your heels and bend down into an open-knee squat. Make sure to push your knees back to open the legs as far as possible. Come up, keeping your heels at the same height throughout.
5. Flat Wide V-Foot
A. Keeping the V-position, move your feet wide.
B. Keep your heels on the ground and squat, pushing the knees wide and back, and the pelvis forward. As you stand up, drive your heels into the mat to activate the posterior muscular chain.
6. Raised Wide V-Foot
A. Return to final position of movement 5.
B. Raise your heels and repeat as per 5.
7. Lift/Lower Wide V-Heels
A. Following position 6, lower one heel while the other stays up.
B. Swap for 20 reps. Again, aim to get as high on the toes as possible and drive the heel into the ground on the way down.
This article was originally published in TRAIL 32.
Sasha Ehlers is a registered BASI Pilates instructor, trail runner, and
adventurer operating in the Sandton and Waverley area.