When Joseph Pilates developed his exercise methodology, he was influenced by gymnastics, yoga, martial arts, boxing, bodybuilding and diving, as well as Eastern and Western philosophies. Pilates believed a healthy body should be the normal — not the exceptional — condition, and that "physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness." Whether you practice on the mat or the various pieces of apparatus, proper attire, from head to toe, is of primary importance to your Pilates workout.
Form and Alignment
All Pilates exercises are founded on the principles of precise movement, control and correct muscle activation, which is why it's best to practice Pilates under the direction and watchful eye of a certified trainer. Proper form and alignment of every part of your body are critical components of each movement. Instructors guide and correct spinal, head, shoulder, pelvic, limb and extremity position. In many exercises, improper foot alignment can create postural abnormalities that lead to musculoskeletal compensations throughout your body. The Achilles tendon of a neutrally aligned foot is perpendicular to the floor. Bare feet allow instructors an unobstructed view of foot alignment.
Going shoeless on the mat enables full articulation of your feet and ankles in addition to giving trainers a visual on your alignment from the foundation up. Movement in Pilates incorporates flow, so it's not unusual for your feet to be in a neutral position; plantarflexed, or toes pointed; or dorsiflexed -- toes pulled toward your shins -- a single exercise. The need to be able to freely move your feet becomes even more pronounced on the universal reformer, one of the most widely-used pieces of equipment. Footwork is a fundamental apparatus exercise series that many trainers opt to practice with their clients while warming up on the reformer. Footwork draws focus to pelvic, spinal, leg and foot alignment.
Although bare feet are the norm for both mat work and apparatus training, there may be situations in which you'd prefer to cover your feet. In colder climates, for example, it can be uncomfortable to work out with bare feet during the winter months, especially in a drafty studio. Some practitioners prefer to cover their feet as a matter of personal hygiene. Socks made specifically for Pilates or yoga are the most ideal way to cover up since they don't inhibit foot movement. These socks hit just below the ankle so your instructor can still check your alignment, and are rubberized for better grip. Manufacturers also produce Pilates shoes, which are similar in profile to the socks, but made from soft, pliable leather.
You don't necessarily have to don a pair of socks or an expensive pair of Pilates shoes to give yourself some peace of mind about the hygiene of bare feet in a group mat class or on an apparatus. Wear your shoes to and from class, and bring your own mat. Because Pilates equipment is expensive and requires expert guidance to use, most trainers and facilities take good care of it, which usually entails cleaning it off with disinfectant wipes between clients. If the studio staff where you work out doesn't wipe down its equipment, ask someone to do so before your training session.