The Foot: The House Built on a {Bunch of} Rock(s)

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“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”   - Leonardo da Vinci

Why am talking to you about the foot? Aren’t we obsessed with feet enough in Pilates?! 

My interest in the anatomy of the foot and its importance in Pilates stems from my personal experience with my own feet and from working with thousands of feet in my Pilates sessions as a teacher. I have had many breaks, sprains, and strains on both of my ankles and feet. Each one, a trauma to the body, left an imprint on my physical body in terms of alignment, balance and strength. The most recent incident occurred in 2014 doing the most banal task of laundry. It is almost laughable the way it happened. I was carrying about 4-5 loads of laundry and made my way down the 3 precarious flights of stairs to the basement of my building. I had three more steps to go into the basement and I put my right foot down on the floor as I pivoted around to turn on the lights. At that moment, my right foot rolled out and I fell on the floor. I almost passed out from shock. It was winter and I got hot and nauseous. I took off my puffy winter coat, collected myself and put my laundry in. Within 10 minutes of walking back upstairs and sitting down, my foot puffed up like a balloon. When I got my x-rays, it turned out that I had not sprained my ankle again, but I sprained my foot this time. I also partially tore my peroneal tendon and wrecked my spring ligament. 

My foot the day after the laundry accident three years ago.

My foot the day after the laundry accident three years ago.

Check out this cool bruise!

I am still dealing with this injury and its repercussions. I have lost the elasticity in my right foot (scar tissue replaced healthy tissue) and my running career is now over. I work on it everyday and it gets better little by little, but it really made me realize how our small accidents and falls can impact our body for good even after the injury has healed. Ida P. Rolf writes of injuries:

To Johnny, one leg felt longer than the other, not because the bones were longer, but because the time he fell down the stairs (or off the bicycle, or off the roof), he rotated his pelvis. One hipbone therefore is slightly forward of the other…In addition to the primary problem, compensatory distortions have occurred throughout the body…


As Pilates teachers know, the foot is the base of your standing posture. Joseph Pilates put footwork in the beginning of the reformer work for a reason. He knew that many of the compensatory problems in the body started in the feet. Some folks have genetically inherited conditions (most of which can be corrected slowly), others have had injuries that they do not remember from childhood that they may not even remember, and yet others have compensations from injuries elsewhere in the body or repetitive activities.

There are 206 bones in the human body, and together, your two feet contain more than a quarter of all the bones in your body. Each foot contains 26 different bones, 33 joints, and approximately 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Can you identify these bones? Do you want to learn what you are touching in your own foot and your client's foot and how you can align and organize them to provide better organization throughout the whole body?

Just like an individual hand, everyone’s foot has a slightly different organization of the bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles to create a unique structure for that person. My own foot problems aside, I have seen big toe bunions, pinkie toe bunions, hammertoes, turf toe…you name it, I have seen the foot with the problem. Have you seen ankles like this? I’m sure you have...

Do you see what I see? Do you see the angle of the heel and the angle of the malleoli (ankle bones)? This is a very typical overly pronated foot. I can teach you easy, simple, non-anatomical lingo cues to teach this client to align their own feet!

Do you look at your clients from behind, up and down? Do you know what to do about what you see or do you silently say to yourself, "well, that is weird?" There are simple cues and strategies for creating balance and strength that you can give your clients to carry a vocabulary throughout training. I will teach you how to see the foot and how it translates up the chain. Once you teach your clients about their feet, they can implement these strategies in every Pilates exercise as well as outside the studio.

In my early experiences with Pilates, I dutifully did my footwork at the beginning of every session and, honestly, for years did not feel much going on with my feet. It was only after I became a teacher and took advanced training with Madeline Black and Deborah Lessen that I felt the muscles in my feet working. This new awakening brought new connections to the rest of the muscles up through my legs and into the posture and alignment of the rest of my body. I went on to discover the inner workings of the foot in Gil Hedley’s dissection lab. I chose my cadaver for his size 14 foot and proceeded to discover that the tendons, ligaments, and nerves in the foot were so much more complex and interesting than I had previously thought. I took my time examining this foot and saw, for instance, how the deep layers of the plantar muscles branch out like tributaries of a waterway. The bones, muscles, and ligaments are so dense and compact inside this small area. It is important to understand how small changes in weight-bearing and muscle activation can affect the arrangement of the structures above. By increasing foot posture health, you can increase the firing of important muscles in the whole body!

If you want to know more, catch my upcoming workshop on May 20th, 1-6pm at Studio 8 Pilates!