By Dr. Mercola
Exercise has been one of my passions for 45 years now. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go to medical school, as I intended to use exercise as a therapeutic modality to improve people’s health. I eventually shifted more to using nutrition as my primary tool, because I realized the fuel you provide your body is really crucial to obtain optimal health.
But you really cannot be optimally healthy without exercise. More recently, I’ve become convinced that non-exercise movement, i.e. the way we move when performing normal everyday tasks, may actually be the most important component of exercise.
Dr. Eric Goodman is an emerging pioneer and superstar in the world of structural biomechanics. The program he developed, Foundation Training, is based on 15 exercises that teach you to optimize your posture and decrease all sorts of bodily pain. Foundation exercises can also significantly decrease your risk of exercise injury.
It’s really an essential part of any exercise program. Dr. Goodman developed Foundation Training while in school to become a chiropractor, and continues to use these exercises daily to treat and prevent his own chronic low back pain. Eric is in the process of writing a second book and is continuously exploring the depth and possibility of human movement.
Why Foundation Training is So Essential for Health
Foundation Training exercises are designed to teach your body to be the strongest it can be and move the way nature intended. Many professional and Olympic athletes use this technique and are big fans of this work.
“I’ve added layers to everything that I have originally taught, as well as a catalog of unique, integrative body weight exercises which I have created over the past two years with the help of Dr. Dustin DeRyke and Brian King.,” Dr. Goodman says. “I’ve established a very distinct line between the original Foundation Training and this version two that I’m working on now... My work has now become much more based on principles, applying these principles to movement, applying these movements to daily life, and applying this [new] idea of the core...”
He recognizes that a major contributing factor to his own back problems was sitting eight to 10 hours a day in chiropractic school and then driving to and from school. This is a pervasive problem—virtually everyone sits too much these days. I recently interviewed Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, whom I’ve since introduced to Dr. Goodman.
Her groundbreaking work demonstrates not only how important normal, everyday non-exercise movements are to health, but also how to use such movements to counteract the damage incurred from frequent or excessive sitting. There’s an amazing synergy between the works of Dr. Vernikos and Dr. Goodman, the results of which I cannot wait to see. In fact, according to Dr. Vernikos, Dr. Goodman’s Founder exercise is “the answer to her research.”
“The first line of defense we have is actively paying attention to both if and how we’re supporting ourselves. Subtleties govern the good or bad results of sitting, standing, walking, and most importantly the way we’re bending our spine or hinging our hips,” Dr. Goodman says.
“I know she has a very deep appreciation for my exercises. And I have a very, very deep appreciation for her science because there’s a woman standing behind a NASA stage, telling me that what I’m doing is right... A long physical life is about manipulating gravity to your benefit. Dr. Vernikos’ work is all about gravity and its effects, or lack of effects on us while we’re sitting. I am so happy to know about her work.
My work is the manipulation of gravity to benefit you while you’re standing, sitting, lying, whatever position you’re in. Our principles will cause you to activate as many muscle chains as possible to support your body against that constant resistance of gravity instead of allowing your joints to just kind of take it.”
Regardless of Where it Hurts, it Can Be Traced to Poor Postural Patterns
Gravity pulls your body downward—you know that. But gravity is also all around your body, so every kind of movement you make—centered or uncentered—gravity is involved. Modern technology has shifted the way we work to where most everything we attend to is now right in front of us, on one screen or another. As a result of this, most people sit (and walk around) with a heavy head in a forward-tilted position, this is not a good thing.
“I preach this hip flexor distance. The rib cage has to be at a certain height above the pelvis, or else you’re really putting a lot of pressure into your lower spine,” he says. “What I’m finding actually is that while that is important, the real plague that we have is this shortening of the suboccipital muscles in the back of the neck and the weakening of the SCM muscles at the front of the neck...
... Back pain is one piece of the puzzle. But it’s all a result of the same patterns. It’s all the same breakdowns felt differently by individual bodies... Some people will feel it in their lower back. Some people will feel it in their right shoulder, perhaps eventually as carpal tunnel syndrome... some people have really bad jaws... headaches... plantar fasciitis, shin splints, anterior knee pain, posterior knee pain, lateral knee pain, or IT band pain – all of these things [are due to] the same pattern. There are of course exceptions to this and they are generally caused by blunt force trauma, systemic dysfunction or some other unique cause and effect relationship.”
I too was guilty of jutting my chin out. And while I’ve been exercising since 1968, I didn’t appreciate that the non-exercise activities and the posture and everyday repetitive movements are far more important to my health than my exercise program. Interestingly enough, when you’re doing Foundation Training correctly, your body will actually respond as if it’s a high-intensity exercise. It may not seem like it, because it’s just a simple isometric pose. But if done right, it’ll actually make you sweat, quickly.
Version one of Foundation Training is all about stabilizing your core and Posterior Chain of Muscles while relearning to move the way your body was intended to. As Dr. Goodman explains, your core is anything that connects to your pelvis, whether above or below it, and this includes your hamstrings, glutes, iliacus and adductor muscles. Foundation Training teaches those muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement, the way you’re structurally designed to move, as opposed to compartmentalized movements like crunches which isolate the contraction of the abdominal muscles, often with little attention paid to the effect on the rest of the body.
“It’s a very simple exercise. But what that simple exercise is doing is the key... You have the anchoring muscles stabilizing the pelvis from below, the decompressing muscles pulling the torso upward from that stable base. You’re creating this tug-of-war among muscle chains which protects the spine, braces the abdomen, increases space for visceral organs. All of this good stuff is happening while elevating and expanding the rib cage so that you can take a full breath. We have created a template which allows you to always return your body to stable. With that template you can explore, strengthen and learn about your body while performing simple every day tasks. You get to understand what’s happening. You get to feel very profound results if you continue.”
Three Principles Should Be Present In Daily Movement
The three principles are:
- Anchoring. This process takes place at the base of the pelvis to the arches of the feet. Your feet, in most cases, have very little grip strength or flexibility, and you’ll want to work on that. Your feet are not useless lumps of clay you slap on the ground. They are anchors for your entire body within a sea of gravity. So push back. Stand as big, broad, and as tall as you can.
“Grab the ground with your feet. Get your arches and toe muscles to work. Get your ankles to work with a strong foot and you will have strong ankles. All that has to be strong to help you push back against gravity. This is regardless of your age. The older you are the more you likely need to learn this process, just take it slow and be steady.,” Dr. Goodman says.
- Decompression. The basic principle here is to actively lift and widen your rib cage, while simultaneously strengthening the muscles required to keep it there. Breathing into your rib cage is of tremendous importance and many people have nearly lost their ability to efficiently expand and contract their ribs, and ultimately their lungs.
- Integration. This is where the exercises begin to show off. As you develop the strength to effectively Decompress and Anchor your body, you will naturally be able to integrate this process in to daily moves. This term also describes our important process of integrating muscular chains to better support the body all around.
According to Dr. Goodman, most people will notice a difference in their body within a week or two. Within three weeks, you should notice profound differences, provided you’re doing the exercises five to 10 minutes every single day. You don’t need to worry about recovery here, as you’re not exercising your muscles to failure, where you’re breaking down microfibrils in your muscles that would need time to repair.
“You’re simply re-patterning and repeating a better pattern. You’re not trying to break an old pattern. You’re just repeating a better one and eventually getting there,” he says.
Postural exercises such as those taught by Dr. Goodman are critical not just for properly supporting your frame during daily activities. The movement retraining process will stabilize your body so that you can safely perform high-intensity exercises without risking injury due to poor postural movement.
The Importance of Standing Up Properly
One of Dr. Vernikos’ remedies is to stand up every 10 minutes, in order to engage your body with gravity to counteract the microgravity situation caused by prolonged sitting. However, it’s equally important to stand up correctly, or else you may not get the full benefits. Dr. Goodman recommends paying careful attention to where your chin and chest are, prior to standing up, because typically, your chin will be jutting out and your chest will be caving in.
“Before you stand up, you’ve got to pull the chin back and expand your chest. Pull [your chin] back toward your neck, check out the term occipital glide to see the motion... Press your heels into the ground. Reach your hands forward. And then your torso comes over your hips. You just reach up, and it just takes you up.”
This movement is actually a mini-Founder exercise, the Founder is demonstrated in the video below. You’re leading with your torso, not your chin. And your arms act as counterbalance as you stand up from your seated position. As you pull your chin back, simultaneously open your chest, lifting your sternum. This engages your lower back muscles and lengthens your hip flexors.
If you want to go into a full Founder posture, just bring your arms behind you, expand your chest, and turn your thumbs out. Now you’re engaging your posterior chain muscles. You should feel muscle tension along your lower back and a slight tension in your hamstrings. That’s when you know you’re doing it correctly. You should also feel like your chest is being pulled wider as your thumbs turn away from each other.
Hold this posture for 10-20 seconds, repeating five to 10 times, each time you stand up. The full Founder, demonstrated below, helps reinforce proper movement while strengthening the entire back of your body by dispersing your weight through the posterior chains. As a result, your weight shifts back toward your heels and “untucks” your pelvis. By doing so, you lengthen your hip flexors, gaining length at the front of your body.
Now You Can Get Certified in Foundation Training
Dr. Goodman's work is continuously evolving. The process of exploring movement patterns and adding layers of depth to many of the exercises from the earlier versions has kept the Foundation family busy. The wide application and acceptance of the work has pushed the team to create an advanced training program that enables instructors, trainers, practitioners, and other providers to become certified in the method. Additionally, anyone from elite athletes looking to improve their performance, to an individual's suffering from pain and looking to better understand their body, condition, and how they can become empowered enough to heal themselves can attend these intensive programs.
The complete basic Foundation Training program takes about 20 minutes once you have learned the exercises, and is ideally done daily. You can purchase the Foundation Training DVD from my online store. FoundationTraining.com also offers free videos you can peruse, and the companion book available called: Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence. You will also find information about his certification courses on his website, which are open to anyone.