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Understanding the Block System® – Leg and Footwork

This is the third article in a series on the BASI Block System by Theo van der Riet, one of three BASI principal instructors and owner of Body Intellect studio in Pretoria, South Africa. The studio is also the headquarters of BASI South Africa. An internationally-recognized BASI Pilates teacher, Theo has two bulldogs, Minimus and Maximus, and loves to ride bikes.

The footwork in the BASI Pilates Block System is a continuation from the warm-up. The benefits of the whole footwork series on all the apparatus is far reaching and has more benefits than typically understood. The leg and footwork block gives the instructor valuable information, e.g. foot-ankle-knee alignment, muscle recruitment patterns, foot and leg strength, pelvic-lumbar stability, flexibility, control and much more which can then be corrected and retrained in a functional manner.

Because leg and footwork consists of a series of about 9 different positions, it challenges the lower girdle and extremities from different angles and different muscle groups. In many cases it highlights muscle imbalances and dominance on either the right or left side of the body.

In Pilates leg and foot work, the emphasis is often placed on the eccentric control of the movement, a concept often ignored in traditional strength training. This is so valuable in the retraining of incorrect movement patterns and the stability of many joints in the lower girdle and extremities.

The muscle focus in leg and footwork is the hamstrings. This in itself is considered contraindicated as focus is typically placed on the knee extensors (Quadriceps) in traditional leg and foot work.

This is the ideal opportunity to tune the client and the exercise to focus on quality and control of movement. Often in this instance it is ‘Mind over Muscle’. In Pilates the focus is shifted to control over this movement and the stability of alignment in whatever position it is used with relatively light resistance in comparison to traditional gym equipment.

Training with light resistance enhances proprioception and neuromuscular patterning, resulting in effective use in motor control training. Research have shown that the more effective and correct motor control training is, the more effective higher load exercises will be. It is all about mind over muscle and a progression to higher load exercises specifically in leg and footwork.

The different Pilates apparatus also contributes to different aspects in leg and footwork and each piece has a unique quality towards leg and footwork.


In a supine position, gravity is eliminated and resistance can be set to the need or objective of the client’s class. Often the Reformer is introduced first in leg and footwork and common misalignments are picked up as the client progress through the different foot positions. Pelvic-lumbar control is also noted on the reformer and often the heavier the setting the less control in the pelvic-lumbar region. Single leg and foot work is so valuable to pick up muscle imbalances and dominance.

The jump board series is a natural progression from Reformer leg and footwork.

Wunda Chair

In a seated position, this series is the most functional because the spine is weight bearing and most people spend long periods in a seated position. Postural correction is the ultimate contribution in this position and the control thereof. Again the eccentric control of the legs needs to be focused on.


The obvious positioning lends it for the contribution towards flexibility. This position gives the client the opportunity to view the alignment of the ankles and legs and therefore can correct it, indirectly training neuromuscular control. Note that the positioning of the pelvis is of utmost importance and will determine the effectiveness of the exercise. Teach the client that in order to create a stretch, two points need to move in opposite directions. In this case the pelvis towards the floor and the feet towards the ceiling.

In the Block System the most time is spend on the leg and footwork, around 15 to 20 minutes in an hour class because of the many different positions. This block is of utmost importance when constructing a well balanced class and establishing alignment, focus and control. Never underestimate the value of the leg and footwork even after you’ve taught it for the millionth time.

Have fun teaching.

Theo van der Riet – Botha
BASI Pilates™ Principal Instructor

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