Earlier this summer I stumbled across an interesting training program called Foundation Training. I say stumbled because it was purely by serendipity. Foundation Training is relatively new and certainly undiscovered by the majority of active people.
At first glance it looks a lot like yoga but Foundation Training, or as I’ll refer to it in this post – FT, claims to help relieve back pain by safely and effectively treating dysfunctional movement patterns. It was created by chiropractor Eric Goodman to treat his own chronic low back pain by utilizing a series of exercises designed to reintegrate the body’s kinetic chain.
Here is a good video to give you a little more background:
As you may expect, Goodman had me at movement patterns ( 🙂 ) so I took it upon myself to learn more about this new method and try a few of the poses and workouts.
What I did
Firstly, I should note that in the grand scheme of things my FT experience is very minimal. However, I had a very thorough introduction to the program as instructed by both Katherine Shoulders and Gili Wolf. Both Katherine and Gili had suffered back pain and despite trying many different methods, they claim FT is what really worked for them.
“I had already been living with chronic back spams for about 12 years…I found a lot of relief with the [FT] exercises, and it seemed to help stabilize my back…it also taught me to be conscious of my daily habits (i.e. sitting at a computer for hours) and to notice how my body is moving even while attending to mundane activities,” says Gili.
The two of them took me through the majority of the 12 postures, but due to my inquisitive nature, there were more than a few questions (read: atypical rest periods). Consequently, Shoulders offered to instruct me in an outdoor FT workout. This turned out to be approximately 30 minutes.
For the purposes of this post I’d like to highlight (3) things out of my experience with FT. The following (3) techniques or exercises were similar to things I’ve done in the past, but the FT coaching cues got me thinking in a new direction.
1. Decompression breathing
Now I consider myself to be very familiar with the prevailing breathing methods out there. And I think the one that most of us can identify with is the yoga method of exhaling through the nostrils (pranayama). But FT looks at breathing in a different, and I think more practical, manner.
The whole idea is to decompress your spine and if you’re any sort of office worker, then there’s a good chance your spine could use a little decompressing.
Katherine and Gili had me stand tall with my palms open and then instructed me to take a deep breath. Then they gave me a coaching cue that I really liked – to imagine on each inhale that my vertebrae were extending ever so slightly away from one another. Then on the exhale, I was to maintain that separation. So the idea being that with each subsequent breath I was actively lengthening my spine and in theory decompressing my discs.
After a couple breaths I started to feel all sorts of subtle muscles growing fatigued – a precursor of things to come.
2. Founder’s position
If there’s a fundamental pose to FT, it’s the Founder’s position. Here’s an explanation:
One thing I really like about this pose is that it forces you to weight shift. And what I mean by that is when you position your knees slightly behind your ankles you’re forced to shift your upper body forward – or risk falling backwards. This sounds obvious, but fact is, many people have lost their sense of balance and the simple act of hinging from the hips is almost foreign to them.
3. Eight Point Plank
This variation on the familiar plank is one that I really liked. Because let’s be honest with ourselves, the basic old plank is pretty boring.
So here’s a nice change. Lie prone and position yourself like you would in a forearm plank position. Place your elbows so that they are inline with your shoulders and a little bit out in front of them. Now flex your feet and keeping your knees on the floor, press your hips up. You should have (8) points of contact with the floor – your hands, your elbows, your knees and your feet – hence the namesake.
Those of you that remember Jack Lalanne (if you don’t know who he is, you should!) may be reminded of his impressive push ups with his arms extended out in front of him. That’s what came to mind when I did my first eight point plank. When you position your hands (elbows in this case) out front of your shoulders the intensity goes up to 11.
Admittedly, it is easy to compare FT to yoga. After all, many of the poses are indeed very similar and the nomenclature of some of the postures is even derived from the natural world – just as in yoga.
But after going through my 30 minute workout I don’t feel that it is fair to see FT as just being another branch of the yoga tree. I do think it’s in the same ballpark, but it is a different game. For instance, you can put me through any yoga class out there and I’ll walk away feeling fine.
But during my FT workout there were times when my glutes were screaming.
Times where my leg was beginning to get the shaky-shakes. And then the day after was eye-opening as well. My right glute felt like I had been doing barbell hip thrusts to exhaustion the day before, when in reality I had only been training bodyweight poses.
And interestingly, did you notice that I only said it was my right glute that felt that way? My left was sore, but held up much better than the right. So right there I was able to identify a weak point in my physique that hadn’t reared it’s ugly head through yoga or strength training.
Where’s the assessment?
This is a big component that I feel is missing from FT. Back pain can be the manifestation of many things and if it’s a clinical issue, then no amount of posterior chain strengthening may help. So having an appropriate and well designed assessment in place would be a smart addition to the system. Especially when we talk about improving movement patterns. How can we measure something so subjective?
Regardless, be smart and always check with a medical professional if you’re experiencing back pain. Rule out medical problems first.
All in all, I think FT can have some real benefit in my own training. It did help me to identify some weaknesses (come on glutes!) and remind me that I’m not as strong as I think I am.
But it’s definitely only a part of a well rounded exercise program. I agree that the posterior chain is generally weak in most office workers, but I worry that some will focus exclusively on their backsides and neglect their anterior chain. That being said, I think FT could be a great break from typing on a computer for so many of us. It’s something you can do in your office without attracting too much interest from your neighbors and when combined with a little stair climbing (2 steps at a time) I think your glutes would be wide awake again.
Do you have experience with Foundation Training? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!
By Ryan Wagner
Correction: Sept, 11 2014
An earlier version of this post misstated that the eight point plank was performed in a supine position. It is performed prone.
Yoga Journal – How to exhale in pranayama
Foundation Training homepage
Foundation Training (YouTube) – Movement Basics
My experiment with Foundation Training by Ryan Wagner