Feets of Strength

If you’ve been to the studio, you know we are a shoes-off, but socks-on, establishment. Part of this is hygiene related to be sure. More importantly, training with our feet on the ground, rather than having our experience mediated by rubber and padding, confers a host of benefits that we otherwise miss out on.

Did you know each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, 10 tendons, and 107 ligaments, with many articulation in each appendage? An excellent article in the September issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal shares a great overview of the form and the function of the feet: “With this complex structure, the feet transmit weight from our body to the ground, allow us to balance in static posture, and propel our body forward, back, and laterally in dynamic activities.”

The article’s author, Eileen Byrnes, suggests that in traditional training paradigms the feet don’t get a lot of love for their own sake, which is a shame; anyone who has suffered from plantar fasciitis, tendon strains, bunions, or fractured toes knows a painful or dysfunctional foot can be instantly disabling.

Thankfully, there are exercises you can do to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet (muscles that begin and end within the foot structure). They include exercises like “short-foot,” “marble pickup,” “toe yoga,” “beginning and end,” “rock and roll,” and “napkin folding”. The sequences help to strengthen both the longitudinal and lateral arches, increased flexion, extension, and spread in the toes, as well as building mobility and stability in your pronation and supination. Click here and scroll down to get instructions on how to do them. Short-foot is hard at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a great strengthener for the longitudinal arch.

Full disclosure: the article is entitled, “Training Toward Fleet Feet,” and is really promoting the benefits of training BAREfoot, and the author notes that wearing socks, while certainly better than training with shoes on, does inhibit some of the proprioception the occurs through receptors in the feet that are activated when the bare feet are in direct contact with the ground.” 

As a method of movement training, Pilates actively attends to foot and ankle joint positioning, and we put a lot of emphasis on establishing proper alignment and weight distribution on the mat and all apparatus. Many Pilates studios allow students to train with bare feet. Joseph Pilates actually wore footies. We stand with Joe, and will remain socks on at Practice. 

Best wishes for a boo-tiful October,

Patrick Przyborowski

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