Do the footwork!


Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the time of year, but I feel like I’m in a bit of a slump. Our bodies naturally downcycle after intense periods of high activity, so it’s normal to hit a wall, and it might mean that a reset is necessary. While I may benefit from time to rest and recover, it can also help to get back to basics, and focus on my craft. Simplifying my goals, even in Pilates, can bring renewed energy and interest. What is an essential exercise that I can always be working on? Footwork.

As a Pilates teacher, I’ve learned that it takes several minutes for clients to settle into a class. There are always one or two late arrivals, and once people start their workout, they often realize that the footbar isn’t in the right position, or they forgot to change their spring settings, or they need to remove a sweater or grab a sip of water or turn off a phone. I try not to take it personally when there are endless adjustments and distractions at the start of a class, but I am acutely aware of clients zoning out during Footwork. I find myself repeating instructions over and over, often falling on deaf ears, and if you’ve been in my class, occasionally losing my mind trying to explain the difference between “toes wrapping” and “high half toe” (they’re not the same!). Footwork is typically one of the first exercises a person learns on the Reformer. As a training tool, Footwork has the advantage of being a closed-chain exercise–this means the limbs are stabilized and the body is moving. In the case of Footwork, the feet are connected to the footbar and the body moves away as the knees and hips extend. Closed-chain exercises create more stability in joints than open-chain movements, and are therefore generally safer–which makes Footwork a great place to start for people who have never done Pilates or have no experience using the Reformer!

Like so many other aspects of Pilates, however, you get out of Footwork what you put in. If your foot positions lack specificity, your movement will suffer and you won’t reap the benefits of the exercise. The different positions of the feet activate different muscles in the legs and challenge stability in different parts of the body. I’ve observed a few clients who just want to load up on springs because they want to feel heavy resistance in their squat or plié, but they can’t keep their heels lifted or knees aligned. I saw a video posted by another Pilates instructor, Danica Kalemdaroglu, last week that said, “It’s called Footwork, not Squats.” In other words, the very name of the exercise tells you what the focus of the exercise should be.

Footwork can help correct leg, foot, and ankle alignment. Not only does it build strength in the hips, legs, ankles and feet, it helps balance the muscle development. Footwork can increase flexibility in the lower limbs, but it can also retrain biomechanics for functional activities like walking and running. Plus, Footwork is particularly useful in recovering from injuries because the resistance can be controlled and training is in a closed-chain environment.

This month, Retrofit Pilates is zooming in on how staying focused on your Footwork can improve your overall performance! How can Footwork improve your gait, reduce foot pain over time, and impact the alignment of hips, knees and feet? Follow us at @retrofitpilates for exercises, tips and information for anyone who’s brand new to Footwork on the Reformer, and discover how you can increase the challenge and stay engaged as your practice progresses!

Pam Ferguson
Retrofit Master Instructor
Lead Instructor/Operations Associate