Training (whether it’s for an upcoming marathon or long-distance backcountry hike) is typically a lot of work. It involves calculating lots of minute details – alternating going hard with recovery, properly fueling your body for performance, and the list goes on.
But what if there was something you could do that required little-to-no thinking or planning and took only a few minutes of your day? And what if this something was arguably one of the most important things you could do to reprogram how your body moves and supports itself?
This is what Foundation Training is all about. The program is designed to strengthen and protect your joints against the negative effects of gravity, which is what causes us to get out of alignment – the most common precursor to injuries when doing all those active things we love.
I stumbled upon Foundation Training serendipitously. The studio where I train was hosting a weekend workshop and with interest piqued, I inquired into what it was all about with a level of skepticism that most would assume when someone tells you that only a few minutes of work per day can make a change. What was this program? Was it yoga? Did it have elements of cross training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? Or was it a combination of those things?
It turns out it’s none of the above. Instead, Foundation Training is more like a series of micro-adjustments to the movements we already do in our daily routines – things like sitting at a desk, looking at your phone, long commutes, and even simple things like slouching on the couch or standing in line at a coffee shop. These may not sound like harmful movements, but over time they add up for everyone … no matter how great your physical condition is.
Dr. Eric Goodman, a chiropractor, learned this first hand. He founded the program when he was only 27 years old, after a doctor recommended he undergo invasive spinal surgery to repair years of back pain. But Goodman, who says he doesn’t believe in spine surgery, instead began aggressively pursuing the root of the problem: compression of the body’s joints.
Looking to identify ways to decompress the spine and other key joints, Goodman began tweaking some of the postures learned in yoga and other fitness classes, mainly focusing on creating length in the spine (predominantly in the low back).
“I started playing with the poses until my back didn’t hurt, which meant a lot of low-back extension,” Goodman tells ASN. “Extension is sort of frowned upon in the rehabilitation community, but with my back – oh my God, did it work! [It was] A night-and-day difference from when I started.”
Unsurprisingly, the program caters to many types of athletes, from NBA players to pro surfers, who are performing at max capacity and searching for ways to stay free from pain. The series of body movements have been adopted by some of the most elite athletes in the world, including pro surfer Lakey Petersen, well-known East Coast surfer and surf coach Brad Gerlach, and the likes of Kelly Slater, Dane Reynolds and the late iconic climber Dean Potter. The method is currently being taught in 30 countries to health care practitioners, fitness trainers and everyone in between by roughly 1,000 certified Foundation Training instructors.
“These athletes use it the way it’s designed to be used: as an accessory to your training that allows you to keep doing what you love to do,” explains Goodman. “This is not a cure, but it is a set of accurate biomechanics that, for the majority of people, will get them further in their pursuits.”
You may think that the small motions you do everyday are ancillary, but they add up – and they can have a cumulative effect on our bodies over time, according to Tish Gehringer, a North County San Diego-based fitness vet and Foundation Training instructor.
In the workshop I attended, Gehringer took us through a series of seemingly simple (yet fairly challenging) exercises. She explained that just by learning how to activate a few key muscles – what Foundation Training calls the “posterior muscle chain,” or the shoulders, back, glutes and legs – you can take the burden of supporting your body away from your joints and place it in the muscles, where it belongs.
I proceeded to learn how to activate my interior thigh muscles, while also anchoring my hips and zipping up my abdominals from the obliques inward. The chest and upper body stays lifted and together as a group, we took some deep breaths into our diaphragm – or the area just above the solar plexus where your ribs wrap around your front and back torso.
At the same time, we were instructed to tilt our pelvises down, stick out and activate our glutes (an unnatural stance for almost everyone in the room) and pull our chins and necks back (think of creating a really bad selfie where you have a double chin, and you’ll nail this posture). The movements are subtle, but accomplish one big thing: lengthening your spine from the tail bone to the crown of the head, removing compression created by hours of sitting in front of a screen or commuting.
Sound simple? Trust me, it’s not.
These minor shifts in the way we stand and move are actually a major reprogramming for many of us who have spent years cycling, running or training in a gym. Why? Most of the movements necessary for these activities include shortening or creating tension in the torso or working the hips in unnatural ways (think tucking the pelvis under to activate the core in yoga, pilates, spin class or just typical “crunches” at the gym). This throws the body’s balance and alignment out of whack, explains Gehringer.
Because our bodies are designed like a series of pulleys, our muscles need both lengthening and tension in order to get strong. Foundation Training is about creating strength in areas that are typically weak in most people (e.g. your mid-line, including the inner thighs, pelvic floor and obliques) by cinching this mid-line up the center and taking pressure off the spine and other joints in the body. At the same time, the postures create space and length in the spine, neck and torso, where compression tends to wreak havoc.
It’s amazing how much of a difference can be felt just by making such small shifts. When Gehringer came by and tapped on the back of my rib cage during one of the standing exercises, I instantly activated this area and could feel an abundance of space being created in my mid-back. It felt great – but I had to keep reminding and coaxing my body back into this positioning, a practice that Dr. Goodman describes as a “tug of war” that is constantly at play between different muscle groups in the body.
Foundation Training advocates that these adjustments to our every day movements and posture is the way our bodies are naturally meant to work, but because of our daily lifestyles, we have adopted other not-so-great posture habits for holding our bodies’ weight against gravity. But as Gehringer and Goodman point out, studies show it only takes 3 minutes per day to reprogram our brains and create new habits. This can be achieved simply by adjusting your stance while brushing your teeth in the morning, or standing in line for your afternoon smoothie.
“It’s not because one recipe works for everybody, it’s because there are a couple principles that work for a lot of people,” Goodman explains. “Expanding the torso works for a lot of people; it’s something that doesn’t make sense when I say it out loud, but it makes a lot of sense when I teach you how to do it.”
Other techniques, such as hinging at the hip joints with accurate alignment, create a perpetually strengthening pattern that works for most bodies and will help most athletes perform to their fullest physical capacity. “I’ve seen it [work] across the board from snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding, mountain biking, climbing, basketball, hockey, golf, and the list goes on,” Goodman tells ASN.
Anchoring his time between Santa Barbara and the North Shore of Oahu, Goodman is steadily expanding the program’s awareness through a series of workshops and trainings, and also plans to open two new headquarters in these locations by 2020. The first, on Oahu, will cater to all athletes but lean into surfers and water sports enthusiasts because of the natural crossover the training has with these disciplines, he explains.
From his perspective, the teachings require a learning curve and take time, but ultimately allow people to make real changes by getting them out of their heads and redirecting their awareness to the areas of the body that need attention.
“I could never have dreamed of what this could be in any way, shape or form,” Goodman said. “But it is that thing, and it is helping people.”
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