The Sole of Pilates™ – Part One: The Miracle of Foot Rolling
I saw it with my own eyes. With just a few minutes of foot work, my client’s gait was transformed. He walked across the room without pulling his knees together. “Walk some more,” I asked him, still trying to grasp that such a substantial adjustment could take hold instantaneously. He continued to walk around the room with newly balanced hips, smoothly rolling through his feet, and feeling lighter and less fatigued. As a Pilates teacher, I am continually in pursuit of balance in my client’s bodies and my own, and this confirmed why my latest focus is on feet.
Feet tell a story of our overall health. When a foot hits the ground, everything is affected. And conversely, pelvic imbalances place strain on knees and ankles and can be seen in our feet, even when they are not weight bearing.
Flexibility of the foot helps reduce the impact of postural imbalances and improves stability when we walk and move. But as feet become less flexible with age, there is increased susceptibility to ankle sprains, knee and hip pain, and to falls due to diminished balance. Repetitive movements – usually in the sagittal plane such as walking and running, the shoes we wear, and postural imbalances all contribute to this loss of flexibility. Fortunately, we can improve flexibility in our feet by incorporating foot work into our fitness routine. And happily, it feels good to do so!
I recently attended two workshops on feet – one with Pilates elder Lolita San Miguel and the other called Anatomy in 3D of the Lower Leg and Foot with Cari Riis Stemmler, owner of Paragon Pilates and Physical Therapy. In Cari’s workshop, we created the muscles of the foot using clay. After applying layer upon layer of clay to the bottom of my skeleton model, I could visualize the complexity of the foot structure, with its twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, and more than a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Once we built our clay feet, Cari shared some techniques to develop and maintain foot strength and flexibility. I appreciated her imagery of thinking of the sole of the foot as we do our spine, and learning to articulate through the toe, ball and heel. After performing the entire series of exercises on one foot, we walked around the room and could all feel a difference in the foot that we had worked. Mine felt lighter, the arch felt lifted, and I could feel all of my toes hitting the floor with each step.
Foot Rolling Exercises
These exercises to maintain foot flexibility feel great and are easy to do. Relaxing tension in the feet can affect the legs and hips because the muscles of the calves run all the way down into the feet and connect via fascia to the muscles of the upper leg and hip. As I incorporate these exercises into the beginning of Pilates sessions, my clients are better able to maintain proper foot alignment which brings marked improvement in muscle recruitment in the rotators of the hips, pelvic floor, and abdominals throughout their sessions.
You can use any type of small ball for this series. I have tried several and my favorite is the Franklin Textured Ball™. I find its pliable nubby texture massages the foot without feeling too firm.
OPTP Franklin Textured Ball Set (Set of 2)
Use slow, controlled movements to release tension as you roll the ball along your feet. Don’t roll the ball over an acute injury and avoid injured areas. You may feel some soreness over tight areas, but there should not be sharp pain. Please feel free to hold onto something, such as the back of a chair, for support and balance. “Imagine your muscles melting over the ball as you perform these exercises… separating out the different muscles and spreading the connective tissues. Movement produces synovial fluid which is nourishment of your cartilage,” according to Eric Franklin, founder of the Franklin Method. Repeat each exercise 5-10 times.
Wake Up Your Foot
Stand and place a ball underneath your foot. Press down and roll the ball continuously along the bottom of your foot all the way through the length of the toes to the heel. Repeat. Then roll the ball along the inside and then the outside of the foot. Repeat.
Flex and Point
Place the ball beneath the toes with the heel on the ground. Wrap your toes around the ball and press down, pointing your foot. Depress the ball and flex the toes, while maintaining the heel on the ground. Repeat.
Place your heel on the ball and the ball of your foot on the ground. Press your heel down into the ball, then lift your heel, pointing your foot and maintaining contact of the ball of the foot to the floor. Repeat.
Because much of our activity is done in the sagittal plane, our feet lose flexibility and strength in side-to-side movement necessary for moving over uneven or unstable terrain.
Stand with the ball of your foot on the ball and your heel on the ground. Move the front of your foot from side to side over the ball, trying to touch the inside of your foot to the floor, then the outside of your foot to the floor, while keeping your heel on the ground.
Stand with your heel on the ball and the ball of your foot on the ground. Move your heel from side to side, trying to move the inside of foot to the floor, then the outside of your foot to the floor, while keeping the ball of your foot on the ground.
TLC for the Top of the Foot
Hold the ball in your hand and roll it back and forth along the top of your foot.
Test it out
Take some steps and see if you feel a difference between your feet. Then repeat this series on the other foot. Continue this series at least several times a week. I am doing it everyday!
I hope you enjoy these exercises. Please feel free to share this post with others who may benefit from foot rolling! This is the first of several posts I will share about feet. I would love comments and feedback about your experience. Please join our mailing list to automatically receive new posts. Wishing you happy, healthy feet!
I want to thank Cari Riis Stemmler, PMA@-CPT for the wonderful course. Cari is the owner of Paragon Pilates & Physical Therapy in Edina, Minnesota and she is a senior faculty member for Balanced Body.
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Julie Cheifetz, PMA-CPT, is the owner of Lifted Pilates™. She has been teaching Pilates since 2003 and is certified in BASI Pilates, Pilates Method Alliance and PhysicalMind. To learn more about Julie, click here
Dianne McDermott-Crampton - May 12, 2015
A great article, really clear & visual, I have just done a course for adapting exercise for older people & there was a section on feet & ankles, we were all amazed at how stiff our feet were! I will definitely give these exercises a try, thank you for sharing 🙂
Julie Cheifetz - May 19, 2015
I want to thank all those who shared this article. It has already been seen by 8,500 people and I am receiving truly amazing stories of improved balance, stability and decreased pain from people all around the world. I am inspired by your stories and would appreciate any you wish to share about your experiences with foot rolling. Thank you!
jodie - May 19, 2015
Love this article. I start my clients sessions with some rolling. Looking forward to more posts.