Picture the stride of a strong runner. Is it fluid and energy and efficient or choppy and wasteful? Chances are it is characterized by vertical alignment from the ears to the ankles, feet landing below the body, relaxed shoulders and steady breathing. A strong runner stabilizes from the core, moves forward landing on the mid-foot and minimizes up-and-down and side-to-side motion. Now envision the stride of a struggling runner. Does she break at the hips, lean too far forward or bounce up and down? Does she run with tense shoulders, clenched fists, a swayed back or practice shallow breathing? Chances are good that more energy is being expended, thereby causing more impact. The quality of a runner’s posture, fitness and breathing can mean the difference between a fluid and efficient stride and one that leaves her hobbling. How we use our feet can mean the difference between tapping into a core that supports proper body alignment, rather than one that leads to injury. From the time of toddlerhood, most people spend more time wearing hard soled shoes than being barefoot. With the exception of martial arts, dance, yoga and Pilates, virtually all other exercise is practiced wearing shoes. Since running begins with the feet, improving foot strength, flexibility and function go a long way toward preventing problems down the road. Faulty foot biome- chanics can lead to injuries not only to the feet but also to the knees and hips. Bunions, iliotibial band tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, pir- iformis syndrome, sciatica, shine splints and SI (sacroiliac) dysfunction can result from foot misalignments. Foot problems create muscle imbalances and place excess tension on the soft tissues of the joints. Likewise, the strength and flexibility of your legs, hips and core impact how the feet function. Here are three Pilates exercises that are sure to help you improve foot, leg and hip strength and flexibility. For best results, practice these exercises 3-5 times per week. These exercises and others can be learned by attending Barre-Elevate at Evergreen Pilates. Barre-Elevate is a standing Pilates-based workout that not only strengthens the feet, but improves balance, strength and flexibility in the entire body. Foot WorkPurpose: Improves foot, leg and hip strength, while strengthening the core. Begin standing with your feet and knees together. Think of each foot having a tripod beneath it. Make contact across the entire ball of your foot and under your heel. Level your pelvis by letting your sit bones drop straight to the floor. Pull your navel to your spine. Rest your ribs directly over your hips, and your shoulder and head on top of your ribs. Lift your heels off the floor. Keep them touching and the inside of the legs zipped together. Bend your knees. Pretend you are sliding about six inches down a wall. Then press through your feet and squeeze the legs straight. Maintain good alignment from your feet all the way up through the crown of your head. Do 10 repeti- tions. Repeat exercise with your feet and knees rotated outward at a 45 degree diagonal (also known as Pilates-V). Take care that your knees stay in line with your toes. Do 10 repe- titans. Pilates-Style RunningPurpose: Strengthens and stretches feet and calves. Helpful for avoiding plantar fasci- itis. Stand on the edge of a step with the balls of your feet parallel and hip width apart. Allow your heels to extend from the end of the step. Alternate reaching one heel down as the other knee bends. Maintain good posture with a level pelvis, shoulders down and back, and head balanced. Do 10 repetitions per foot. Foot Work with Stretch BandLie on your back with a stretch band or strap over the arches of both feet. Hold onto both ends of the strap and press your legs upward toward the ceiling. Relax your shoul- ders and lengthen your spine onto the mat. Flex and point both feet in the strap, keeping feet and knees parallel. Take one foot out and lengthen your leg along the floor. Flex and point the foot in the strap. Switch feet and repeat. Practice 10 repetitions per foot.