Whether you call it double leg work, footwork on the reformer or any other name, it’s an important part of Pilates. Often performed at the beginning of class, but it should not be mistaken as ‘just the warmup’ phase. Footwork on the bar can show us and teach us many important lessons if we tune in and let it.
We often begin with this work because it is a great place to assess how the body is feeling and moving on that particular day. Laying on the reformer, we can feel our spine including our head and neck, our pelvis, and our scapula in relation to the reformer. With our feet on the footbar, we can assess how our feet, ankles and legs feel. This set up is wonderful position to take stock of the full body before moving and applying weight. What we notice in our body will influence the rest of our work.
Once we begin to move, footwork shows us many more clues about our body. Do the feet roll in or out? Do the knees tend to turn inward or hyper-extend? Is our pelvis level and stable? Can we engage our abdominals as we move the carriage? All of these little clues should inform the rest of our work and guide us to what we need to focus on. One of my teachers wisely said, “If you can’t get your feet to align properly while performing double leg work on the bar, you will not land properly when you walk, run, or hike.” It’s true – the little tells that we see with leg work show us our tendencies and imbalances. The bar is where we come to work on symmetry, balance and proper foot position for the rest of the activities we wish to do in life. The footbar teaches us how to move ergonomically, efficiently, and safely.
Footwork is also very much about the core. At times we can miss this connection if we are treating it like a warmup. Paying attention to our inhales and exhales and the engagement of our tummy and pelvis muscles makes this work so much more. Running, a favorite of students, should be performed without the pelvis rocking. Having the ability to stabilize the pelvis when we need to is key to preventing low back pain. Footwork is an excellent place to learn and gain this control and strength.
Next time you begin Pilates class pay attention and assess during the double leg work. It is an important part of your class not just the warmup or catch up portion! You may be surprised by what you feel and notice.