Top 10 Benefits of Correct Toes

Enlisting the right gear can help integrate the entire body to boost your performance in the studio—and keep you injury-free everywhere else.

ONE OF THE FIRS T THINGS I D O WHEN WORKING WITH SOMEONE NEW IS A SSE SS AND ADDRE SS THE CLIENT ’ S BA SIC SKILL SE T, NO M AT TER THE BODY IN FRONT OF ME

For example, can the client get down to the ground? What about up off of it? Can they get a good grip with their feet or hands? Can they stand tall for more than a minute? Are they able to focus on doing one task well? These are important skills at any age. Depending on what I see, I can make the workout challenging or focus on finessing the basics. Together with the client, we explore how all these skills are connected during a session—to do that effectively, I have a few often-neglected props in my arsenal.

Top 10 Benefits of Correct Toes Photo Gallery



I always spend time on footwork, especially since other forms of fitness typically don’t; the focus on the feet is one of the things that sets the Pilates work apart. Footwork is so critical because it’s a chance for people to understand the ways in which the feet can move, and how the feet can adapt to surfaces to ultimately function better. Foot issues, such as weaknesses in the arches, toes and ankles, can result in problems up the chain of the leg and body; likewise, weaknesses above the ankles can put great demands on the feet.

You’ll notice that as people age, bunions can form and toes can become misaligned (it’s even worse for people like ex-dancers and highheel lovers). Outside of the studio, and during Pilates if you’re not careful, this misalignment in the toes can be intensified. A quick solution is working with toe stretchers: I do simple proprioceptive and mobility exercises wearing toe stretchers, and leave them on for much of the workout to bolster better alignment throughout the foot.

Props can also enlighten the connection from distal to proximal, like the feet to seat (hips) or hands to shoulders, or they can help to better organize the joints in any given exercise. I like to play with squats, hand and wrist fitness, shoulder and back mobility and overall strength. The idea is to integrate the body with good feedback that translates to improved performance in the moment—and beyond the workout itself.

Footwork with Toe Stretchers

DO THIS IF…you have foot weakness or stiffness, or can’t get a good grip with your feet.

WHY IT WORKS

• Promotes better alignment of the toes, specifically the big toe, while articulating through the ankles and joints of the feet

• Mobilizes the toes and strengthens the foot muscles to enhance overall gait

• Brings awareness to the feet

SETUP Sit on a Sitting Box that’s on the floor with the toe separators on your toes, knees bent, and your feet parallel and flat on the floor hipwidth apart.

1 . Flex your feet up, and then return them to the floor. Do 5–8 reps.

2 . Flex your feet up, and then “wrap” your toes over the toe stretcher; extend your toes. Do 8–10 reps.

INCREASE THE CONNECTION

When wrapping and extending your toes, think “jazz toes”— spread them wide.

MODIFICATION Do this exercise without the toe stretchers. You can also perform it while sitting

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROD FOSTER; HAIR BY TIFFANY LEE, MAKEUP BY MARLA NYAMDORJ; CLOTHES BY PILATES NERD on a regular chair or Reformer

Footwork with High Heel Rescue Loop

DO THIS IF…you need to improve ankle/foot mobility and strengthen the feet.

WHY IT WORKS

• Strengthens the outer hips and the muscles that rotate the upper leg

• Brings awareness to the connection between the feet and the glutes

SETUP Same as Footwork with Toe Stretchers, but place the Loop around your feet below your toes and flex your feet up.

Squat Progression on Box

DO THIS IF…you can’t lower your body from standing to the mat or vice versa, or if you need help with the fundamental squat.

WHY IT WORKS

• Works on alignment while deeply flexing the hips and knees

• Enhances muscle pliability, joint articulation and
fascial fitness

• Provides a cardiovascular challenge

SETUP Stand tall in front of the Long Box with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Holding onto a dowel, extend your arms forward at shoulder height. Footwork with High Heel Rescue Loop DO THIS IF…you need to improve ankle/foot mobility and strengthen the feet.

WHY IT WORKS

• Strengthens the outer hips and the muscles that rotate the upper leg

• Brings awareness to the connection between the feet and the glutes

SETUP Same as Footwork with Toe Stretchers, but place the Loop around your feet below your toes and flex your feet up.

SQUATS

1 . Bend your knees to come into a squat, bringing your hips back over the Box.

2 . Return to standing. Do 3–5 reps.

ROLLING LIKE A BALL

1. Squat all the way down to the Box, set the dowel aside, and prepare for Rolling Like a Ball: Rock back on your sit bones with your feet in Pilates stance (heels together, toes apart), and hands on your ankles with your elbows wide. Gaze at your naval, coming into a C curve, and scoop your belly.

2 . Rock back to the tips of your shoulder blades, and then rock back to your sit bones. Do 3–5 reps

IN CRE A S E THE CONNECTION

Focus on minimizing your knee movement— when you open the spring, feel your outer seat muscles engage. Try to keep stable throughout your legs. Don’t let your toes flex more than your feet.

1 . Open the spring, keeping your heels fixed on the floor and feet flexed upward; return to the starting position. Do 5 reps.

2 . Do 3–5 foot circles in each direction.

ROLLING LIKE A BALL JUMPS

1 . Rock back again, and then as you come forward, land on the floor with bent knees and your arms reaching to a high diagonal.

2 . Add a little jump, pointing your toes in midair and reaching your arms toward the ceiling.

3. Squat back down, and then lower back to the Box. Do 5 reps.

INCREASE THE CONNECTION

As you squat, don’t allow your knees to come forward of your ankles. Your weight should it be in your heels to enhance glute activation—your seat is your power here. While lowering to the floor, stay lifted in your body—aka defy gravity. Allow the momentum from the rolling to give you a burst of energy for the jump! MODIFICATION Instead of jumps, do gentle heel lifts (relevés).

ADVANCED For the jumps, roll on a mat instead of the Box.

BeanBagSeries

DO THIS IF…your hand grip strength is lacking, or if you have stiffness in your fingers and/or weak wrists.

WHY IT WORKS

• strengthens the hands, fingers, forearms and back

• increases wrist mobility

SETUP Stand with your feet hip-width apart and legs engaged (without locking your knees) on the Box. Holding onto the bean bag dowel shoulderwidth apart, reach your arms forward to shoulder level. Prep by isometrically squeezing and pulling outward on the dowel for a few reps.

ROLL UP AND DOWN

1 . Keeping your arms straight, begin to roll the dowel toward the floor, reaching the knuckles of one hand toward the floor and wrapping them under, as you flex through your other hand and separate your fingers.

2 . Reverse the roll up of the dowel to bring the bean bag back up to the starting position. Do 1–3 reps.

SQUATS ON BOX

1 . Repeat Roll Up and Down, adding a squat as you roll. Do 1–3 reps.

INCREASE THE CONNECTION Make sure to fully flex through your hand and pull your fingers back as you roll the bag up and down.

MODIFICATIONS Remove the beans or sand from the bag, or just use a dowel. Take breaks if needed. Omit the box.

Back Extension with Dowel

DO THIS IF…you need to improve posture and back strength.

WHY IT WORKS

• Promotes shoulder alignment while strengthening the back body

• Enhances posture

SETUP Lie facedown on the Box with your shoulders at the edge while holding onto the dowel behind your thighs with straight arms. Keep your neck neutral, and legs together and active.

1 . Keeping your legs lifted, gently grip the dowel and guide your shoulder blades together while opening your collarbones. Do 5 reps.

2 . Continue the effort with your shoulders, but add more upperbody extension and reach the dowel toward your feet.

3. Allow your entire body to rest, and bring the dowel to the floor overhead with your arms straight.

4. Lift and reach your legs and arms. Do 3–5 reps.

INCREASE THE CONNECTION

Prep by placing your hands behind your head at the base of your skull, and gently push up on your hands to help activate your neck muscles.

KAREN ELLIS is the owner and an instructor at Prana Pilates in Costa Mesa, CA. Her love of movement began in ballet, and she ultimately earned a BS in dance from Indiana University and a master’s from University of California Irvine. After her professional ballet career concluded with injuries, a passion for healing the body—and a new vocation in Pilates—was born. For the past two decades, Karen has been teaching and evolving as a Pilates teacher. Her first Pilates training course was with BASI and she later completed the Power Pilates Bridge Certification, which set her on a continuous course of exploring other beautiful lineages and the insightful people who bring Pilates to life.

In 2013, Karen created Pilates Nerd®, a line of clothing and accessories now sold internationally and by Balanced Body, Inc. The Pilates Nerd brand aptly depicts the love and enthusiasm she has for Pilates. One of her greatest joys is connecting people through the awareness and benefits that Pilates has to offer. Karen is also currently a faculty member at Orange Coast College. For more information, visit pilatesnerd.com or Karen’s Instagram page, @pilatesnerd.

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