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How to Work With the Pilates Foot Corrector

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By Dianne Wise

The Foot Corrector is that small, saddle-like piece of equipment you’ve probably seen on the floor in Pilates studios. It was designed by Joseph Pilates himself, just like the rest of the Pilates apparatus, yet it seems not to be used as frequently. After all, how many of our clients ask us to work out…their feet?

Developing a “foot program” for your clients, however, can yield many benefits. A lot of people don’t realize that our bodies’ joint-alignment begins with the feet, which act much like the foundation of a house. If the foundation is not properly laid down, the rest of the structure does not have a stable base of support. To compensate, some parts of the structure might take on more weight than they’re designed to hold and can become damaged, or simply buckle. As the foundation for our bodies, our feet do a lot of work supporting our body weight. They also endure the abuse of walking on hard surfaces all day long. It’s very important to keep them healthy and happy— too often they are ignored.

There are many excellent options for working the feet in Pilates: apparatus exercises such as Footwork on the Reformer or Parakeet on the Cadillac mobilize and strengthen, while props like small hard balls (for tissue release) and Therabands (for spot-strengthening) are excellent for detailed work. The Foot Corrector, however, is the only piece of Pilates apparatus that works the feet in a weight-bearing, and therefore functional, position. (Work on the foot corrector can also be modified for those clients not quite ready for full weight-bearing.)

Key Biomechanics of the Foot
In order to understand the Foot Corrector exercises, it is first important to understand some of the biomechanics of the foot itself. The foot is a very complicated structure consisting of 26 bones, three separate arches, and a myriad of muscles, so its biomechanics are complex as well. For this article, I would like to focus on two key biomechanical principles.

The first is the movement of the talo-crural joint, more commonly referred to as the ankle joint. This consists of the articulation of the talus (one of the tarsal bones), lateral malleolus (of the fibula) and medial malleolus (of the tibia). Because there are no muscles that attach to the talus, it can be said that its primary role is mobility. When the ankle moves into plantarflexion (“pointing” the foot), the talus moves forward in between the lateral and medial malleoli. When the ankle moves into dorsiflexion (“flexing” the foot), the talus drops backward toward the heel. Many clients do not have optimal talar movement. When using the Foot Corrector you, as the instructor, want to coerce more movement from this joint.

Lateral view of the bones of the foot

The second principle I would like to discuss is the movement of the metatarsophalangeal joints, or the MP joints. These are the big knuckles of the feet, right before the toes. The long bones of the feet are called the metatarsals and the toes are called the phalanges. Many clients when asked to point their feet simply scrunch the toes. With the Foot Corrector work, we encourage more movement in the MP joints rather than just the toes. This will get more of the intrinsic muscles (the tiny muscles of the foot) to work.

Injury and Performance
I have used the Foot Corrector for clients with common injuries such as bunions, fallen arches, foot cramps, and for post-injury work on ankle sprains. Often, however, we don’t consider the importance of addressing the feet for clients with knee, hip or even sacroiliac joint problems. Clients with patellofemoral syndrome, osteoporosis, arthritis, and lower back pain benefit greatly from the Foot Corrector. It’s also particularly useful for working with the geriatric population.

Work on the Foot Corrector is also quite helpful to those clients who participate in plyometric intense sports. For example running, basketball, soccer, and dance all require power from the foot. The key to success in plyometrics comes from stability and efficiency in the foot and ankle. Remember, the foot is the beginning of the chain. If the ankle joint is not efficient enough then clients will start to compensate in other areas of the body, often leading to injury. This work is also good for golfers, skiers, surfers, and tennis players. Even horseback riders have gained strength in their sport through a program on the Foot Corrector.

Correct alignment with toes on the Foot CorrectorThe Set-Up
Here are instructions for the beginning position. Let’s assume we’re setting up to work the left foot. Place your left foot on the Corrector. The left knee is bent. Your right leg can be back in a lunge position or just underneath you for more support. You can also sit on a stool or a long box turned on its side for a non-weight-bearing position. The pelvis is in neutral and the inner unit* is activated. Pay attention to the alignment of both the standing and the working leg. The knee should always remain over the second and third toes and in line with the hip. (*Inner Unit Activation refers to the co-contraction of the abdominals, pelvic floor and multifidi coordinating with movement of the diaphragm in breath. Choose the breath pattern that works best for you or your client. When in doubt, it is always good to exhale on the exertion.)

Body Alignment
Watch to see where you are (or your client is) compensating. Is more weight falling on the lateral side of the foot than the medial side, or vice-versa?  Is the movement truly coming from the lower leg and foot itself? Or is some other part of the body compensating? As with most Pilates exercises, attention should be paid to the intricate parts that are working and also the global perspective of those supporting. Remember, exercises on the Foot Corrector require good alignment not only in the working leg and foot but also in the pelvis and the supporting leg.

Four Foot Corrector Exercises
For best results do the exercises one leg at a time. Before switching to the other side, stand on both feet and note the difference. All of the exercises can be done one after the other, changing only the placement of the foot on the apparatus. The progression is similar to that of Footwork on the Reformer. They all can be done in parallel, external rotation, and internal rotation. Changing the foot position changes the different small muscles that are worked. When performing the rotated positions, make sure the rotation is coming from only the femur bone and not the entire pelvic half.

  • Toes on the Foot CorrectorToes (Moving the MP Joints) Start in the beginning position detailed above and place the toes only of the left foot on the “saddle”. The MP joints should be just on the saddle while the heel rests on the base. Remember inner unit activation. Push the saddle down trying to flex only the toes while the metatarsals (or long bones of the foot) should stay still. Notice which toes want to do more pushing and try to work them all evenly. Many clients will scrunch the toes here instead of getting good MP joint movement. Complete six high-quality repetitions.
  • Ball of the foot on Foot CorrectorBall of the Foot (Getting the Talus to Move Back) Start in the beginning position detailed above and place the left ball of the foot on the “saddle” with the heel resting on the base. Before moving, remember inner unit activation. Press down into the foot corrector with the ball of the foot. Resist the urge to use your entire body weight to press, articulating only from the ankle. Encourage both sides of the foot to move evenly and watch for supination or pronation. When the foot returns, allow the foot corrector to push the ball of the foot up. If you can see the wrinkles on the front of the ankle, you know the talus is dropping back toward the heel. Many clients will take the movement in the knee or the hip rather than the ankle, so make sure to work evenly throughout. Complete six high-quality repetitions.
  • Arch on Foot CorrectorArch of the Foot (Working Evenly in “Neutral”) Start in the beginning position detailed above and place the arch of the left foot on the saddle. Toes and heel are off of the base. Remember inner unit activation. Like a mini version of footwork, press down with the left leg, trying to get even movement in the ankle, knee, and hip. Resist the urge to use your entire body weight and articulate from the hip down. Notice if you are pushing more from the toes than the heel. Many clients will compensate through the pelvis here, hiking one hip or the other. Work evenly throughout. Complete six high-quality repetitions.
  • Heel on the Foot CorrectorHeel of the Foot (Talus Moves Forward) Start in the beginning position detailed above and place the heel of the left foot on the “saddle” with the ball of the foot on the base in front. Remember inner unit activation. Press the heel down, trying to isolate from just the ankle not the entire body. On the return, allow the saddle to push the heel up, allowing the talus to move forward. Many clients will allow the ankle to roll out to either side when the heel lifts up. Work evenly throughout. Complete six high-quality repetitions.

The Final Reward
Start in the beginning position one more time and place the arch of the foot back on the corrector. Gently move the foot forward and back with a decent amount of pressure for a nice mini-massage on that hard-worked foot!  Don’t rush this part; take it slow and coax some release in the foot. Your foot (and your clients) will thank you later!

Dianne Wise is a Pilates instructor at Kinected and The Kane School in New York City, where she received her Pilates teaching certificate. Dianne has also taught Pilates in Italy, Spain and England.

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