Pilates Ankle Dorsi- and Plantar Flexion Exercises on Reformer, Trapeze Table and Chair

Comparing Ankle Dorsi- and Plantar Flexion Exercises on Reformer, Trapeze Table and Chair

tutorials Sep 03, 2018

When your goal is to strengthen and correct your (student’s) feet and ankles, you have lots of apparatuses and exercises to choose from. But which would be best? Why should I do Footwork on the Trapeze Table instead of the Reformer? Let’s compare ankle dorsi- and plantar flexion exercises on the Chair, Reformer, and Trapeze Table. We’ll discuss their differences in purpose and application.


Footwork: Point+Flex on the Trapeze Table

  • Since you can see your feet in Footwork on the Trapeze Table, it should be primarily used if the ankle or foot issue is poor alignment. By watching your feet, you can control your alignment easily via the visual sense (once you’ve learned what to look for).
  • You might pronate, for example (have more weight on the inner edge of the foot) or supinate (have more weight on the outer edge of the foot). This exercise allows you to first, become aware and second, to correct the alignment by watching your feet and keeping the center of the ankle in line with the center of the forefoot.
  • The two-leg variation is easiest to start with and you can progress to the single-leg variation, simply by resting the other foot on the table.
  • This is categorized as a pseudo closed chain exercise, and technically a bit more difficult than the closed chain exercise on the Reformer. But the fact that you can use your visual sense to self-correct, makes it probably easier.
  • With your hips in approximately 90-degree hip flexion, you can additionally work on lengthening your hamstrings and calves.

Footwork: Point+Flex on the Reformer 

  • In the basic version of the exercise, you can’t see your feet, so the awareness has to come through the proprioceptive sense of feeling where your feet touch the bar.
  • You have two ways of helping correct ankle alignment. In parallel, place a pinky ball between your heels, specifically the small indent between the inner ankle bone and your heel. If you choose a small Pilates V, with the heels staying together, then the sensation of your heels touching can give you feedback as well as activate the muscles on the inside of the ankle, lower leg and thigh.
  • As long as you don’t have a neck issue or a flexion contraindication (such as osteoporosis) you can lift your head (or perform a chest lift) to look at your feet. In this case, you can correct your alignment by watching your feet. You’ll get a great abdominal workout as a bonus.
  • If the double leg version gets easy, progress to the single leg version. This is more difficult that on the Trapeze Table, because the non-working leg has to be held up in the air (preferably in a table top position).
  • You can make the springs heavier than on the Trapeze Table, thus strengthening ankles and feet much more, especially when only working with one foot against the bar.
  • There are also more complicated movement patterns possible, such as the Running variation.
  • With your hips in neutral when the legs are straight, this exercises counteracts the many hours we spend in hip flexion on any given day.

Footwork: Ankle Pumps on Chair

  • Seated Ankle Pumps include more than just your feet and ankles, so it is a bit more challenging than the previous ones in terms of whole-body integration.
  • Legs, trunk, and spine have to be kept stable, while the ankles are doing their work. On top of isolating the ankle movement, you also integrate the rest of the body.
  • Holding and squeezing a pinky ball between your ankles can help with the alignment of the ankles and feet and prevent supination.
  • Using the pedal stopper, it can be a closed chain exercise where the pedal is kept down with the balls of the feet, while the heels raise and lower. The knees will raise as well, so make sure that your hands are not restricting this movement. Instead of placing the hands onto the knees or thighs, they might be better by the side of the chair or around the poles (if present).
  • It can also be an pseudo closed chain exercise, by holding the legs and heels in the same position while pushing the pedal down and up with your feet. Make sure the knees don’t change height. You could consider placing your hands onto the thighs so you notice if they move or not.
  • If you have a split pedal chair, then this allows you to push with one foot at at time, which should show you if one foot is stronger than the other. Even by pressing both halves of the split pedal down simultaneously you will notice if one foot pushes down faster than they other, which shows you that it’s the stronger foot. The split pedal is fantastic to find the stronger and weaker side in many other exercises as well. Without the split pedal, the stronger side will always do more or most of the work compared to the weaker side, without you ever noticing.
  • Even without a split pedal chair, you can perform single leg movements, but you’ll have to hold the free leg up in the air. As we’ve seen on the Reformer, this is much more challenging, and doing it in a seated position is even more challenging for the quadriceps and hip flexors. Please remember, that more challenging is not always better. If you’re hip flexors cramp and do all the work, then you won’t have the mental focus to do good work on your ankles and you’re contributing to an old or bad pattern. Please don’t create a new problem while trying to fix another.


Standing Ankle Pumps: Single Leg on Chair

  • Standing Ankle Pumps are particularly helpful to build strength in your ankles, especially eccentric strength for walking or running downhill.
  • It is probably the most accessible exercise for pretty much anyone. It doesn’t require a lot of hip mobility, nor core strength. You don’t have to lie down on a machine which can be difficult for older students. You can start with light springs (but not too light, or you don’t get enough feedback from the machine) and work your way up to heavier springs, when you feel ready (and the muscle trembling stops).
  • The movement should be slow and controlled in both directions, but especially when the pedal comes up.
  • Since you can’t see your feet (without craning your neck and compromising your posture) this is not an ideal exercise to choose to correct foot or ankle alignment.
  • Your teacher can help guide you by looking through the opening on the backside of the chair, where you attach the springs.

Related: Pilates exercises to improve ankle mobility and stability

Check out a detailed discussion of the ankle, including the muscles of the ankle, how to assess proper alignment, cueing, and suggested exercises to improve the ankle's function in the Pilates Encyclopedia membership.

Which is your favorite ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion exercise in Pilates? Tell me in the comments.


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