“Believe it or not, foot flexion has a big impact on which muscles will fire during a core exercise,” says Floery Mahoney, founder of Board30. According to Erika Bloom, founder of Bloom Pilates, the positioning of your toes in Pilates core work (or any sort of core work) creates a chain reaction that fires up the muscles throughout the rest of your body. Pointing them lengthens the front of your ankle, which is connected to the fascia in the front of your body and therefore encourages engagement along your front line, while flexing them lengthens the plantar fascia and has the same effect in the back of your body.
“When pointing the toes, you will focus the work up the front of the legs, particularly your quads,” says Mahoney, adding that this facilitates the engagement of your hip flexors and your core. “If you flex the foot up towards the shin, the legs will power through the glutes and hamstrings up the back of the leg more, which will help support your back.” In other words? With your toes pointed, you’ll hit the muscles in the front of your body, and with them flexed, you’ll target the ones in the back, which means that when you change up the positioning of your feet during an abs workout, you’ll be able to fire up all 360 degrees of your core.
The best way to test this tiny toe tweak is through Pilates core work that requires some sort of leg engagement, like teasers, swimmers, and leg lifts (which is to say that it doesn’t matter as much in moves like sit-ups, crunches, or planks). Try a series of each move with your toes pointed, then again with your foot flexed. “Try to notice the way in which it affects the exercise,” says Mahoney. “In this way, you can create more intensity and add some extra support for your core.” It will be as if you’re getting two moves for the price of one, and the only thing that needs to change is your footing.
3. Leg lifts
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