People using the Pilates reformers are usually told to push the carriage out away from the springs, then to resist the springs with the movement of the carriage on the way in.
Instead, the springs can be utilized as sensory support and information - the feeling of the body being connected to a carriage connected to an uncoiling spring has the potential to tap a person into his or her own inherent buoyancy or springiness.
This is particularly relevant when teaching someone how to use the heel on the Pilates reformer foot bar to access the springiness of the Achilles tendon. The heel must be drawn down away from the ankle, not hiked up into the Achilles and then shoved down and under the bar, but drawn down with gravity away from the ankle so that whether the person is lowering or raising the heel, the Achilles can remain in a state of constant uncoiling.
This action of drawing the heel away from the ankle is especially relevant in working with women who wear high heels to teach them that the heel of the stiletto shoedoesn't have to shove their own physical heel up into the Achilles, jamming the tendon and tightening the calf.
As is evident in the following accompanying video to this Pilates Iconoclast blog post, the teacher assists the student in levering her heel down towards the floor whether the heel is lowering or raising.
The Pilates reformer is ingeniously designed and the foot bar is particularly useful to release tight calf muscles and to incorporate the sensation of springiness in the Achilles tendons. It is important that the heels be drawn down towards the floor during both the lowering and raising of the heels to teach the calves and the Achilles that when the feet are involved in a walking stride, particularly in high heels, that the calves can connect down into the Achilles tendons and extend a gentle and sustainable springy feeling to the step.
You can notice that the instructor here doesn't pull the heels of the client forward and up for the release - he helps her to lever the heel down towards the floor away from the ankle to create space in the ankle joint, and then she can continue to lever the heel away from the ankle even when she raises the heel, so that when she takes that experience out on to the street, her body can recall the sensory experience of space, release, and spring, and the calves will have less of a tendency to tighten up again.
In the next Pilates Iconoclast weblog post, more on the Achilles: using these tendons as spring loading mechanisms to transfer a springy feeling all the way up into the sacrum ! Watch in the following video a bit about how the springy feeling in the Achilles tendons that comes from levering the heel away from the ankle can create a springy feeling first into the hips sockets and then into the central sacrum and even the spine.
Space in the ankle joint means a spring to your step!(more)