I'd like to lead people away from the notions of bend and straighten - and improve instead upon the actions of bending and lengthening when performing any kind of leg movements or exercises - regardless of the method of exercise or the kind of activity a person chooses to perform.
It doesn't matter if you are performing pliés in a ballet class or squats or leg presses at the gym or if you have to lower and raise the body through chair pose in yoga or if you have to perform challenging balances in other yoga asanas or Pilates exercises.
Above is an excerpted sample page from an e-book by Herald now available on iTunes:
Within the e-book are more-detailed illustrations and more-detailed information about how to use the heels to activate the entire length of the back of the leg - or hamstrings.
Gym Squats - Machine Leg Presses - Ballet Pliés - Yoga Poses - Pilates Moves :
Leg exercises from different fitness approaches can involve similar bend-and-extend actions of which the knee motions are most obvious. Less-obvious is how the joint above - the hip - and the joint below - the ankle - are involved in what seems to be simply a back-and-forth knee action. But leading from the knee cap to bend and extend the leg can lead to less-tone, more-difficulty-in-balancing and locking the joint. This blog posting focuses on how the heel opens the joint below the knee - the ankle. A future post will focus more on how the heel helps the joint above the knee - the hip.
If you learn to lead from the heel when you start to bend or when you start to extend, then the ankle joint will become spacious so the shin and the calf flow downward and then the legs won't be pushing back into a straight-hard-locked position, but rather will elongate into a true extension and your legs will be lengthened above and below the knee. This elongated extension of the leg is very different than straightening.
It's easy to become overly-focused on the knee joint when bending and extending the legs, but if the ankle is brought into focus, then what's completely hidden - the heel - can be brought into awareness - and utilized for better leg-lengthening.
I use these photos because the feet are placed on the separate surface of the bar, and you can see more clearly how the heels are activated.
Then you can use visualization to assist you in exercises performed standing upright.
In the initial years of Pilates coming into the public-know, it was a method practiced by many dancers - particularly ballet dancers - because dancers could practice plié-type exercises without having to stand upright at the ballet barre.
This was true both because lying-down is a more gentle way to learn plié - and a safer way for an injured dancer to rehabilitate - but also because in the most basic move of dance, ballet and otherwise - the plié - is not performed by alternatingly releasing the knees forward and pushing the knees back.
A well-performed plié is activated from the heels.
Dancers use the feet with differentiation between the
toes, balls, arches and heels. Differentiation means feeling the parts distinctly from one another.
It's subtle, but powerful, and in terms of mechanics - body mechanics in this case - the heel is a lever.
The heels provide leverage for the lengthening of the legs.
Although you may not wish to be a ballet dancer, if you can still learn to activate a differentiated heel - if you learn to use heels that can separate subtly away from the arch and ankle - then the way you extend the legs when performing any kind of exercise will give you leg function approaching the power of a dancer and give you the long, lean and lithe leg lines also of a dancer.
It's the same process lying or seated or standing upright - the front of the foot must softly flow forward - and then the heels will have the chance to work with leverage. If you lead with the heels - even if the soles of the feet are on the floor or an exercise mat - then you'll lengthen the legs above and below the knee joint rather than straightening the legs back into the knee joints.
In these photos, see the way the feet are placed on the rounded footbar in order to separate the arch and ball part of the foot - which flows forward toward the toes - over the top part of the bar - from the heel, which hangs off the back of the bar.
Even though the arches are touching the bar, the heel has been made prominent by hanging it off the edge of the bar so the weightedness of this substantial part of the foot releases with gravity and creates a levering force. If the heel is thought of as everything behind the arch and below the ankle - then this "whole heel" weightedness - and this whole heel's separation from the arch and ankle will allow the engagement of the entire length of the hamstrings muscles all the way to the stability of the sits bones.
Below is a video, that although shot for women who wear high heels, shows quite well how the differentiated heel, when levered back separately, although subtly, from the arch and the ankle creates the conditions for an elongated knee. This helps take weight off the front of the foot and toes, but also gives better tone to the leg muscles.
You can read more information and see more images throughout the website committed to helping people gain a better understanding and utilization of the feet located at: www.feetforfitness.com
and particularly helpful information which builds upon the heel-levering information which is featured in this blog post can be located on the
or the Knee & Hip Joint Page at feetforfitness.com
Also visit the Heel & Sole for Foot Pain Facebook Page
Also watch for a future video about how the levering action of the heels - or heel leverage - helps the knees to elongate rather than straighten.
There are twelve videos covering everything from walking with comfort & better posture in high heels to improved stretching of the hamstrings and the ITB - or iliotibial band - to learning how to lever the heels for sports, running, Pilates, yoga and any fitness endeavor in the new High Heel Healing E-Book by Herald.
It's not just for women who wear high heels nor even just for women. Both men and women can benefit from the expert advice and illuminating illustrations, photos and videos.
High Heel Healing:
Using the Feet & Legs Efficiently for Improving Posture and Enhancing Exercise & Sports
Thanks so much for reading !
Comments and questions are always welcome.....
Founder and owner of:
Backbone and Wingspan®
and author of Pilates Iconoclast,
Heel & Sole for Foot Pain
and Body, Mind & Spine Align as well as
the High Heel Healing E-Book
Herald be reached at 212-647-8878
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