Foundation Training with Ben Greenfield: Diving into the Nitty Gritty (Part 2)
In Part 1, I shared small tweaks made in one session with Ben Greenfield. There’s so much more to Foundation Training. As Ben would say, “Let’s put on our propeller hats” and take a closer look at the biomechanics that make FT so effective.
Our modern lifestyle directly contradicts and weakens important core stability, taking our bodies out of correct alignment. Some people say the human body is lazy, while others claim that it is brilliantly adaptive. Both are true. Our bodies try to make whatever we’re doing easier. This compensatory pattern often leads to chronic pain and breakdown of joints. When sitting for long periods of time, the body begins to shut down: muscles become weaker and dormant, no longer supporting the spine. Sitting at desks, spending too much time looking at computer screens, texting, and spending time in undesirable positions all lead to accelerated breakdown of the spine.
When it comes to FT, our bodies still seek the path of ease and familiarity. To combat the tendency of routine movement, each FT exercise is accompanied by 20-30 cues to remind the body how to maximize the effectiveness of each exercise. In order to restore proper muscle function, the muscles must first become flexible enough to move, glide, and contract. The goal with each FT exercise is to pull the muscle long, restoring its functional length, followed by addition of appropriate tension to ignite the muscle.
Adding tension to the right place at the right time helps the muscle avoid slack. Each muscle should act as a pulley, taking tension and compression off the surrounding joints. Before creating this pulley system, it is crucial to learn how to properly use the muscles of the pelvis to create an anchor, giving something to pull against.
This is where the precise eye of a certified FT instructor comes in handy. An instructor knows where muscles attach (anatomy) and how rotational movement (biomechanics) help to restore length to each muscle or muscle group. An instructor identifies any undesirable adaptations the body is making. Most people segregate and compartmentalize when strengthening a muscle. Rather than an isolating exercise like crunches, FT uses combined chains of movement, encouraging core muscles to work together.
Key principles of Foundation Training
· Decompression: Decompression breathing, if done well, acts as a pulley system, increasing tension on the posterior chain and the glutes. Decompression breathing reprograms the axial skeleton to use pulley systems around the ribcage to lengthen and decompress the torso and awaken the deep muscles of the core.
Proper breathing opens and rotates the limbs. Dr. Goodman, in his book True to Form, describes the specific structural effects of deep and expansive breathing:
“When the sternum lifts and expands outwardly it lifts the ribcage, pushing the shoulders into external rotation, opening up the chest and allowing more room for oxygen. Put simply, as air fills the rib cage, the axial skeleton expands, lifting the sternum, rotating the upper extremities externally, which allows space for the lungs to breathe and also helps to lift and support the weight of the head against the downward pull of gravity.
During decompression breathing the front, sides, and back of the ribcage are pulled up and away from the pelvis. On the exhale, the bellybutton is drawn in to brace the length gained on the inhale. The ribcage should lift and expand on the inhale and stay in that position on the exhale, while all of the deep core muscles work to hold it there. When done well, decompression breathing allows much more space between each vertebra. This reeducates the deep trunk (core) muscles to become longer (more decompressed) and stronger, and eventually our muscles begin to remember that part of their job is to hold us up. The new norm allows our spine to be much more decompressed and stable.”
· Anchoring: The muscles of the pelvis, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and iliacus help create an equal downward pull on the pelvis --- an anchor. To create space and tension that supports the entire body, we must have something from which to pull upward or against. We need an anchor in order to maintain expansive posture.
Anchoring happens by initiating a slight internal rotation at the hip, then adding tension by drawing the feet toward the body’s midline, creating an inward and upward pull from the pelvis down to the arches of the feet. This maneuver allows proper circumduction of the leg and corrects legs and feet that may be stuck in external rotation (i.e.: duck feet). This slight internal rotation allows the glutes to be pulled longer, returning to a more functional length.
Anchoring also involves the muscles of the feet, another weak and dormant structure in many bodies. During anchoring, the outsides of the feet push firmly into the ground, pushing against gravity, while the big toes are pulled toward the opposite heels. This creates an upward lifting of the arches. This pull originates from the anchoring muscles of the pelvis. The iliacus muscle (a deep hip flexor and lateral rotator) also plays a huge role. This anchor creates a strong, stable center of gravity.
Anchoring creates a downward traction force on the spine. With breath, FT teaches us to pull away from the anchor (which is pulling downward), creating our own traction force. The result? Decompression!
· Integration and Hip Hinging: When practicing FT, it is never the intent to isolate a muscle. Each exercise encourages proper integration of muscle work, with each muscle playing an important role. While some play a bigger role than others, they never act alone. Shared workload among muscles eliminates the potential for one muscle to become overactive, tight, or dysfunctional.
Hip hinging is an effective way to teach all the posterior chain muscles to work in conjunction with one another to perform the same task. This is the basic foundation of proper movement. Unfortunately, few know how to do it and almost no one can do it well. When this basic movement pattern begins to atrophy, we compensate in a variety of ways, resulting in chronic breakdown of joints and eventually, pain.
The hip hinge should be used for basic movement like bending over to get something off the ground, loading the dishwasher, or brushing your teeth. However, our modern-day lives force us out of this pattern of movement. Sitting results in weak glutes (glute amnesia), weak trunk muscles, tight hips, and tight lower back muscles, which makes this basic movement difficult.
When loaded correctly, the hips act as the axis between the upper and lower extremities. Bending this way takes pressure off discs and places it back in the muscles that brace the spine. The spine is protected, and the posterior chain supports basic movement. Hinging at the hips maximizes the strength in the posterior chain, decreasing anterior chain dominance, protecting the knees and spine, and allowing proper kinetic transfer of energy and force.
In a proper hip hinge, the hamstrings of the posterior chain are restored to their functional length. Tight hips and hamstrings are an epidemic. But why? Again, it’s the way we move (or don’t move). We forget how to move in ways that lengthen and strengthen our muscles. Eventually, the muscles become dysfunctional and tight, losing the ability to glide and contract. The dysfunction grows as the muscles tighten in an attempt to add stability.
Several FT exercises contain a hinging component. During this portion of the exercise, the glutes and hamstrings are pulled long, restoring their functional length. The deep muscles of the trunk support and stabilize the spine. The anchoring muscles (adductors and iliacus) support the pelvis.
The posterior chain provides most of our power --- if we harness its potential correctly. Back pain results from the inability to hinge at the hips with a stable spine and improperly use of back body muscles to transfer forces as they were designed.
Foundation Training is unique and if done well, highly effective in treating all kinds of common aches and pains (plantar fasciitis, piriformis syndrome, back pain, shin splints, and tension headaches).
Ben recognizes the value of a body that moves well. He researches, seeks out the best innovations, and looks far and wide for the greatest therapies in the health and wellness world. Ben details his commitment to FT in his article: “How To Turn On Your Butt, Activate Deep Breathing, & Decompress Your Spine (And Why I Completely Changed My Morning Routine).”
If Ben Greenfield uses FT every morning and promotes it as one of the most effective programs for low back pain, chances are it could work for you. And, in my experience, it truly will!