Table of Contents
In this episode, we discuss:
- The origin of Foundation Training
- The mechanics of back pain
- The problem with most approaches to back pain
- The evolution of Foundation Training over time
- How Foundation Training fits into an overall training routine
- How you can get started with Foundation Training
- Foundation Training website
- Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence by Eric Goodman
- True to Form: How to Use Foundation Training for Sustained Pain Relief and Everyday Fitness by Eric Goodman
- Foundations of Health: Harnessing the Restorative Power of Movement, Heat, Breath, and the Endocannabinoid System to Heal Pain and Actively Adapt for a Healthy Life by Eric Goodman
- TEDxAmericanRiviera – Dr. Eric Goodman – The Unexpected Physical Consequences Of Technology
- Shaping Your Baby’s Foundation: Guide Your Baby to Sit, Crawl, Walk, Strengthen Muscles, Align Bones, Develop Healthy Posture, and Achieve Physical Milestones … Cutting-Edge Foundation Training Principles by Jen Goodman
- Find a Foundation Training instructor here
- Add back in what the modern world has crowded out and feel and perform your best with the Adapt Naturals Core Plus bundle. Learn more at AdaptNaturals.com
Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. As some of you may know from listening to the show, I’m an avid skier. In fact, I got 100 days in last season. But about a third of the way through the season, I started to develop low back pain, which isn’t typical for me. And there wasn’t an injury that I was aware of. I had some theories about what caused it, but I wasn’t sure. While it wasn’t debilitating, it was pretty annoying, and enough to keep me from skiing on some days and just make life pretty unpleasant. I started to do some research into current approaches to dealing with low back pain and talking to friends, colleagues, [and] people with a lot of expertise in the area. It was actually my ski coach, Tom Gellie, who I had on the show not too long ago, who referred me to Dr. Eric Goodman’s work, Foundation Training.
I looked up some videos on YouTube of Foundation Training and did some of the simple but not easy techniques for about 10 to 12 minutes a day. Within about eight days, my back pain was completely gone, which was remarkable because I had tried quite a few things prior to that. Some of the more typical interventions [like] [cannabidiol] (CBD) and internal anti-inflammatory botanicals, yoga practice, stretching, [acupuncture], and a bunch of other stuff [were] somewhat helpful, but [they] didn’t resolve [it]. I knew that the back pain I was experiencing was related to something functional, the way that I was holding my body and moving my body, and anything else I did that didn’t address those movement patterns was only going to be a short-term fix. And that’s really one of the foundational principles of Dr. Goodman’s approach and Foundation Training.
He developed the work through his own experience with back pain, which was much worse than mine, and has evolved it over the past 12 or 13 years. He’s written four books, he has a certification course, and an app that supports people in all different areas of life. [Foundation Training works] with first responders, extremely high-level athletes like Kelly Slater, who’s [probably] the best surfer of all time, and Derek Fisher from the Lakers, [and] celebrities like Matthew McConaughey. They [also] work with Olympic-level athletes in a lot of different sports. They’ve gained a reputation for being the go-to training resource for people who [are] not just dealing with pain, but who want to perform at a high level and really move in a more functional and efficient way.
I recently sat down with Dr. Goodman to talk about a whole range of issues like, what is the cause of low back pain? And [it] might surprise you because it’s not the typical answer. What’s the problem with most approaches to back pain? Why do they fall short, including painkillers and surgery? How [has] Foundation Training developed and how [has] it evolved over time as an approach to improving functional movement and reducing pain? What are some of the simple ways that you can get started with Foundation Training, if you’re someone who is dealing with any chronic back pain or pain in other areas, and/or if you’re just somebody who wants to move in a more efficient and effortless and powerful way?
I’ve been practicing Foundation Training on an almost daily basis since I learned about this work, and it’s been a huge game changer for me in how I feel and perform, so I wanted to share it with you. I was really happy that Dr. Goodman was willing to join me as a guest on the show. I hope you get a lot out of this episode, and make sure to share it with anybody that you know [who is] dealing with back pain because if you look in the comments of some of the Foundation Training YouTube videos, you’ll see just how transformative this work has been for so many people around the world. All right, let’s dive in.
Chris Kresser: Dr. Eric Goodman, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
Dr. Goodman: It’s really wonderful to be here. Thank you so much.
Chris Kresser: [I’ve found that] we all have our own story that brings us to this type of work. I’d love to hear your story. I know from reading a little bit about your work that you suffered from pretty debilitating back pain and weren’t finding solutions in the typical places to find solutions. My understanding is that this work came out of your own hard-won experience dealing with back pain. You want to tell us a little bit about that?
The Origin of Foundation Training
Dr. Goodman: That’s quite accurate. I’m 41 now, at the time of our interview, and when I was 26 [or] 27, I was met with a bit of a choice A or choice B type position in life. And I’m very glad I took what I would consider choice A, which is alternative. I could have gotten, had I listened to a couple of doctors, a fusion surgery at my fourth, fifth, and sacral tip vertebra to avoid some hypermobility. Understand [that] I was literally in my last years of chiropractic school at that moment. So the hypermobility was legitimate. I hadn’t quite learned to strengthen my back muscles accurately, even though I felt strong in my arms, or in my lower legs, or whatever it might have been. Over the years, from about age 19 to 23 [or] 24 was what I would consider the least controllable time of back pain, and that was right when I got out of college and started graduate school. Then by the end of graduate school, it was legitimately debilitating. [I] couldn’t get in or out of a car without pain. I’d be sitting in my classes for six or eight hours a day [at] chiropractic school, then [I’d] treat patients, [and] then [I’d] study, five days a week. It became a very agonizing process. And lo and behold, the chiropractor’s saying, “Guys, I think there’s got to be an active component here. You can’t adjust me and expect my body to just say, ‘Got it, no problem.’”
So my personal journey with my back pain was trying to understand why I couldn’t stay aligned. It started with extension poses that were very open chain. You can see those in the first iterations of Foundation Training from 2010, 11, 12. Then things get closed chain with this sphere of tension [and] this anchoring and decompression protocol that we created. That process is literally my story with back pain. It’s [me] digging myself out of many painful situations because while developing this work, it wasn’t a straight line of, “This feels better; this feels better. Wow, I can’t believe it.” It was, “This feels better; I’m going to build on this until, oh wow, I built too far in that direction. I hurt again.” We had to wrap things from the back posterior chain, which was our entire focus at the beginning, to a more complete whole body mechanistic movement protocol. That’s literally my journey in life from [age] 26 until 41. That’s my last 15 years; every single day, I’m feeling what I’m feeling, trying to get myself out of pain, and then [in] 2007, 2008, 2009, I started really being able to show that to people. I don’t know if it was networking [or] maybe it was because I played water polo in college a little bit and I was somewhat familiar with the sport, but I got fortunately asked to be an intern with the head coach of the U.S. water polo team for the Beijing Olympics.
These kinds of happenstance things truly led to the development of this work in a sustainable fashion. I can talk about a lot of those interesting, serendipitous moments, where all of a sudden I’m treating 25 people my size or bigger, very athletic, and they all have the same pain. This common, chronic lower back pain. Hence, Foundation Training is my answer to it. That’s the story. This is the answer to it, in my opinion.
Chris Kresser: I love that. Of course, I have my own story and how it led to my own work, and I’ve found that work that evolves out of that real need and that authentic experience tends to be more effective because it’s tested by reality and in the school of life, so to speak. I’m curious about your pain and also most of the people you work with. It doesn’t sound like there was any particular dramatic injury that led to your pain. At least you didn’t mention that. Do you feel like it was just a question of too much sitting, over-development of certain muscles and under-development of other muscles or areas of the body? Both in yourself and in [the] many high-level athletes in all kinds of different sports [that you’ve worked with, like] Derek Fisher [from the Los Angeles] Lakers, Kelly Slater, all these incredible athletes who are also dealing with back pain. What do you think is the most common cause of lower back pain?
The Mechanics of Back Pain
Dr. Goodman: That’s a very good question, and my answer has changed over the past decade. It really has. I try to be as open with people as I can about this. I’m trying to understand. I don’t understand, [but] I’m really doing my best to understand. That helps you formulate opinions along the way, and sometimes they can be pretty sharp. My opinion on the cause of back pain is [that] it happens in two places from a physical standpoint and then in numerous ways from [a] non-physical [standpoint]. And I want to touch on both, if that’s okay.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Dr. Goodman: The first mechanism of back pain problematic issues is the head coming off of its linear axis, which is not a downward linear axis; it’s an upward linear axis that is pulled up by the back of the skull and front of the skull. [It’s] kind of a dual pulley system. When this happens, this little break of a pivot point right at the base of the skull where it meets the neck, and at the top of the shoulders where they meet the ribs, those two pivot points are the initiators of back pain in most people. And it’s not because of what’s happening here. It’s because of what happens to balance out the torso at the pelvis and low spine.
Chris Kresser: And does that happen equally while sitting and standing? Because I know that posture you just demonstrated where the neck goes forward, and you lose that extension through the spine into the cervical spine is very common when people are sitting, myself included. I have to constantly watch for that when I’m sitting and readjust my posture, or [else] that is the default that I go into when I’m sitting. Whereas when I’m standing, I find that [it’s] somewhat less common. I don’t know if that’s just me, or if that’s something you’ve observed, as well.
Dr. Goodman: You’re observing adaptation on a micro cosmic scale, a “day-to-day, this is what my body is getting used to” type of adaptation. The body is going to really work hard to get good at that. It’s going to permit itself to get good at that. If what you’re doing is sitting all the time, which most of us do, and I am not of the camp that sitting is smoking, by the way. I’m not in that camp. It’s something we do, and we can do it well. But we have to adapt out of it. Your head is not being pushed up against a closed circuit chain. There’s no wall pressing your head down. But there now is a wall pressing your hips up and pressing your lower spine and sacrum up.
In essence, if you want to transfer that force accurately, there can be no forward motion. There can only be upward lift, and that upward lift starts at the ischium, the sit bones, the butt bones, through the spine, [and] through the skull with no kinks. That’s hard. That’s not the place to fix your sitting. What you do is stand up, and you pay attention to that reality. I like that you mentioned, and I have learned [from] your work and used it for my own benefit over the years, [that] you’re N1. You’re the experience and you’re sharing it. I love that reality that you’re talking about as the test because you can’t fake it. You absolutely cannot fake this. You can’t stick your chest out so far without collapsing the middle of the spine. You can’t pull your chin back so hard without flexing an inaccurate curvature. You can’t fake it. You can only pull the ends apart. And that’s what we’ve gotten really good at in our work.
Is it because of sitting, is it because of shoes, is it because of technology? The reason our body is in these postures is because it’s really good at adapting. That’s why. It’s really good. And that doesn’t really change as we get older, but the desire and the momentum and the inertia and the personal want to adapt does get diminished. But our body’s pretty adaptable while we’re alive. So with back pain [and] with what is the cause of it, I always try to steer people a lot more to what they can do about it, which is a much better place to spend your time when it comes to physical ailments. We’ve talked about [how the] physical structure of back pain is a really easy one to fix. I’ve got to be honest with you. You take the hips and you screw them back in away from that turnout [that] they’re used to, and you take the shoulders and you unscrew them and then wrap them into the lats, and they get this big, beautiful protection, and it’s just instant when you learn it. But the digestive system travels directly in front of many spinal nerves and many discs. Different organs travel [in] very close proximity to muscles that insert into the spine. To be straight with you, I would [say] number one, physical stress on the body is why back pain happens. Number two [is] unrecognized visceral dysfunction, even at a minor scale, yielding chronic inflammation in front of a joint or in front of a nerve root. It’s probably number two. And number three is, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dr. John Sarno. I love Sarno’s work. I think it’s the best way to be a doctor in the world. First, you [have] to get yourself out of your own way mentally. You have to understand that patterns of thought, patterns of behavior, [and] traumatic incidents do get stored in your neurology in one way or another. Whether we understand it or not, it occurs.
So those three things are very important. This is chronic pain, mind you. This is not, “My back hurts today [and] it’s never happened before. Fix it.” This is, “It’s been going on for 20 years, why? I’ve [gotten] the surgery; it didn’t work. I’ve done the exercises; [they] didn’t work.” This is the overall picture of pain. You have to address healthy diet, you have to address healthy trauma release, or just some kind of healthy mental state and being very authentic and honest with yourself. When you address the physical, postural, [and] ailment pieces of this, they really last, and it becomes a perpetuating positive feedback loop.
Chris Kresser: This is great because it makes sense. Most of my listeners are obviously familiar with the Functional Medicine lens, the idea of identifying and addressing the root cause. And back pain seems to be one of those areas where that has really not happened for the most part in conventional approaches. Because you’re saying there are these physical causes of back pain, which are not the typical physical causes that most people talk about. And then there are systemic causes that are not directly related to the back, but impact the back, like visceral dysfunction, [which] leads to chronic inflammation near a nerve root. Or even systemic inflammation, in general. If you think of a bathtub analogy, where the water is inflammation, and there’s a rubber ducky on top as a particular body part, if that water is rising up and up and up, then the inflammation in that local part is going to keep going up and up. I often explain it that way to patients.
Then you have the whole psychological, emotional, neurological component from trauma, and even simple things like sometimes people who lack confidence hold their body in a certain posture. Their shoulders slump forward, and that neck thing happens that you were describing. If you’re in that posture for an extended period of time, you’re going to develop pain. It’s pretty easy to understand all that. Yet, if somebody has pain and they go to an orthopedist, what is likely to happen, and what goes wrong in that situation?
The Problem with Most Approaches to Back Pain
Dr. Goodman: That’s the question. I’ve had a really wonderful opportunity to work with a lot of different types of doctors in my career. And I haven’t had a super long career. I’ve been doing this pretty much more or less daily. I work with patients in pain every day of my life. That’s been going on since [approximately] 2008, [so for] 13 [or] 14 years. I’ve had a lot of really interesting experiences working with doctors [who] prescribe surgeries but want to be less into that. They want to be the conservative doctor. They want the community to [say] about them that they are very good at what they do, but they don’t run to [surgery] with every patient. I find the doctors [who] want to create an inclusive integrative approach where they feel the surgery was truly necessary, [their] outcomes are typically better. So I’ll just give that blanket statement first.
It’s really hard to [truly] cure pain with chemistry. That’s not what’s happening in most of the circumstances, unless for some reason, your body cannot make enkephalin, your body cannot make anandamide, your body cannot make these endogenous opiates or cannabinoids or pain relievers that are there for pain relief. Then you might need a painkiller. [And] pain medicine truly makes sense from a chemical standpoint. But if I would have had a painkiller for my back, [I would imagine] I’d still be in much worse pain. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but man, you see it working in pain management—there’s a dissociation of patients from, first, themselves, [and] second, their community. That happens all the time. When somebody goes in for plantar fasciitis, when somebody goes in for a frozen shoulder, for general sacroiliitis, [or] low back pain, they are given a chemical solution for a physical problem. This is where my intonation changes every time I talk about it, I can’t help it, because it’s backwards. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t get my head around it. You are asking a patient to become dependent on a pill because their sensation is a little bit overwhelming for them. That’s such a bad education.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and we know now through recent discoveries in neuroplasticity and [better] understanding the neurobiology of pain what the purpose of that pain signal is and how that pain signal can become either amplified or persistent inappropriately because of those neurobiological dynamics. Taking painkillers is never going to address that root cause, as you’ve pointed out. It seems almost similar to the idea of taking aspirin every time you have a slight temperature. The fever is there for a purpose, and it plays an important role. Pain is there for a purpose and plays an important role. I don’t say that to be insensitive to people who are dealing with chronic pain. I’ve had chronic pain myself, [and] I know how debilitating that can be. I think we need to be real about the role that pain can play in directing our attention to a particular problem area and inviting us to explore solutions that are going to fundamentally shift our biomechanics and lead to resolution of that pain. And you lose that opportunity if you rely solely on painkillers.
Dr. Goodman: It’s an abusive relationship. Immediately. It’s [a] benefit at [a] major cost. And it’s not talked about that way very often. Let’s go aside from painkillers, though, because what’s interesting is those painkillers do provide a wonderful window for certain acute patients in which they can work on the root problem.
Chris Kresser: Yes.
Dr. Goodman: So they can [be used] beautifully. But they’re not prescribed that way. They’re prescribed as needed instead of as ordered. For the next four days, when you don’t feel your pain, you’re going to work on this process and you’re going to eat better, you’re going to hydrate yourself, and you’re going to sleep. Then we’ll address pain management, you know? That’s totally different. Surgeries are a great mechanism of healing the body in certain instances, but most spinal surgeries that aren’t laminectomies [don’t] occur at the spinal level. Most spinal discrepancies [are actually] pelvic discrepancies and [latissimus dorsi] discrepancies and transversus abdominis discrepancies. They’re not spinal discrepancies.
Muscles pull joints, left, right, center, up, down, forward, backward. Joints don’t work of their own accord. The pelvic platform is where most spinal joints go awry because the base that they’re moving from is forward or backward or tucked or untucked. There’s a platform-like shift that occurs. Even when we’re talking about surgeries or painkillers, where you feel it very often is not where it’s coming from. There’s an inaccuracy that’s a real problem around the diagnosis of chronic pains in the body. We have a certification course in Foundation Training that teaches perspective, and we’ve been doing that for almost 10 years now. This is our ninth year of certifications. We’ll be crossing 1300 instructors after our Utah [certification] next month, and I’m really excited for that. We’ve worked hard on it. But the perspective has changed the entire time. It’s refining, refining, refining, refining. And one of the biggest things I’ve taken into account is [that] every single body is so different. The pain people feel is so different.
So you don’t necessarily need to teach steps so much as translation of somatosensation. Anybody in the field that really gets by [learns that] there’s communication that occurs within the body. The more tuned in you get to that, the more you’re provided a roadmap of what’s happening within your body, especially when it comes to pain-like sensations. So what we teach is movement, breath, decompression breathing, [and] pelvic anchoring, but through the sensation of what it feels like. The pathways [and] the muscles, when wrong [and] when accurate. That skill of somatosensation with patients has been, by far, the best medicine I could ever practice. I don’t adjust patients; I’m not a practicing chiropractor. I’m educated as a chiropractor, I have the degree, [and] I’m very proud of it. But I practice with education and movement. Getting people to feel and recognize what’s happening is a greater skill than anything I can treat them with, or offer them with supplementation, or anything like that. You [just] need to be able to feel what’s going on.
Chris Kresser: [I’ve found] that’s a real challenge for a lot of people, and it’s something that has to be cultivated. Really, it’s an awareness practice. Tuning into your body and understanding the signals that are sent, especially when they’re intense signals. If somebody’s in a lot of pain, I think our natural tendency is to back away from that and turn our attention away [and] distract ourselves. While that’s understandable, it can do us a disservice because then we miss out on the information that we get from that.
Dr. Goodman: It’s like a skip over. It’s a mistranslation. In any discussion, you’re trying to understand each other. But within your own body, you gotta have that translation down pretty well, I believe. You really do.
The Evolution of Foundation Training
Chris Kresser: If we were to boil [down] the current 2022 version of Foundation Training, understanding that it is in constant flux and evolution, which I really appreciate about your work and about you because there’s a reason they call it a practice, how would you describe the 2022 version of Foundation Training in a nutshell, given the evolution over time? I watched that initial YouTube video that has millions and millions of views. Was that 10 years [or] eight years old now or something?
Dr. Goodman: Yeah, it’s a full decade now.
Chris Kresser: I imagine there’s been a lot of evolution since then.
In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, Dr. Eric Goodman teaches us how we can apply Foundation Training’s basic principles to everyday movement for a pain-free and optimized life. #chriskresser #foundationtraining #movement
Dr. Goodman: It’s so crazy. That was the first video we made. We made that one for Lance Armstrong and for a guy named Doug Ulman, who at the time was CEO of Livestrong. Then Lance came clean about a lot of stuff, and that was an interesting moment in life for him. But luckily, we snuck in there, helped him return to the Tour de France, and he really helped my old partner and good friend Peter and I grow our initial thing. That video was kind of a representation of that.
Now, [I’ve] made a life out of it. With that video, it wasn’t even Foundation Training yet. It was just becoming what it was [and] figuring it out. We put our first book out that year in May 2011 called Foundation. In 2016, I put out True to Form, which was the theory of Foundation Training. If you look at True to Form, you will see the most accurate physical expression of Foundation Training. I would consider it more or less still true. It’s really lasted the test of time. I’d say that is as far as I could evolve those movements. That’s as far as I could get them; that’s as good as I could get them. There [are] 13 or 14 movements in True to Form, and we’ve been developing advanced layers and movements, so now when you look at Foundation Training, there [are] 25 movements. Each one of them is based completely around two principles, anchoring the pelvis and decompressing the torso. Creating as much space around the spine, the nerves, [and] the visceral organs, [all] the different reasons I was expressing [why] pain occurs in people. We’re now teaching to create as much space as possible throughout the entire torso.
[In] January of this year, I put [out] my first more narrative-style book, which is my perspective on pain management in general. That’s called Foundations of Health. That one goes into the 25 movements of Foundation Training [and] more why they exist than how to do them, and it goes into the anatomy and physiology of chronic pain. The three things that I recommend in that book are movement practices like Foundation Training, heat therapy—and I recommend traditional saunas. I really don’t recommend infrared in the same way. I say go to the real heat; go to the tried and tested source. It’s been around for generations. So, real heat saunas, moving with breathing exercises, and any way that a patient can naturally stimulate the endogenous cannabinoid system as long as it’s fed as healthfully as possible with enough omegas [and] enough of the building blocks to make anandamide [and 2-arachidonoylglycerol] (2-AG).
I’ve really gone down the rabbit hole of why adapting to Foundation Training feels so good in the body and blended the two with research we found [on] the endogenous cannabinoid system, or, [as] I call it, the endogenous homeostasis system, versus adapting your body intentionally to very powerful positions. That’s where it is now. [We’ve] got certification courses, we have apps, we have books, [we’ve] got a real thing, man.
Chris Kresser: It’s an amazing evolution. It’s great to see that happen, and it’s great work. We were chatting before the show [that] my ski coach, Tom Gellie, who I’ve had on the show, as well, sent me your 10-year-old initial video on YouTube about 25 days into the [last ski] season [after] I started to develop some low back pain, which is not typical for me. I did it for eight or nine days straight, and the back pain completely disappeared. So even the old-school variations are still working very well. But I’m curious now, if I would have picked up the phone and called you in that situation, how would you [have advised] me to get started? Would it be with the foundational movements?
Dr. Goodman: It would have been through the current iteration of what I call supine decompression. This is my acute back pain recipe for patients. We’re going to take gravity as much out of the equation as we can, so you’re going to be horizontal, supine, [and] we’re going to anchor the pelvis as the hip joints move inward. Hips are [typically] way outward. So we’re going to twist them back in and create an elongated glute, and we’re going to wrap the sacrum. Usually, the sacrum is thrust forward when the glutes contract. So we’re unwrapping that, wrapping the hips forward into internal rotation. Kind of zipping the knees together, zipping the toes, [and] you’ll even see, if you’re looking at it accurately, [that] the toes touching the heels are separated while the knees are touching. So what we’ve done is we’re basically taking the muscles and using them to unwrap tension at the nerve level, at the spinal level. We’re then doing something called decompression breathing, which is taking the front and back of the ribcage and moving it away from the lower spine uniformly with our inhalation through the nose, creating an eccentric diaphragmatic contraction. For anybody [who] doesn’t know, that means we’re training the diaphragm to feel the force it has to absorb under tension before we ask it to generate any force. That breathing, that tethering of the hips from below, and expansion and expression of the torso from above creates this beautiful decompression along the spine.
We’ve been able to test that with a lot of different types of people, and I am so looking forward to researching this with anybody [who] will do it with me. All I want you to do is tell me what to test against in chronic pain, and I will put Foundation Training against it and we will work our butts off. You can test it. We will stand back and just make sure the poses are done well. Because [in] the small tests we’ve done with [the] Los Angeles County Fire Department, with a couple of teams, with anecdotal evidence from doctors and physical therapists, and many, many PhD students writing their thesis on us and things like that, we’ve had incredible outcomes, but no real double-blind studies. That will really make a difference in our work. So I’m really looking for that. I’ve done a few interviews with Joe Mercola over the years, [and during] my first one back in 2012, I was like, “Somebody please do research with us.” It’s a hard thing to come across, especially as a chiropractor.
Chris Kresser: Well, we have a lot of researchers in our audience, PhD level, and practitioners, as you know. Maybe someone will hear this and respond to the call. Hint, hint.
Dr. Goodman: Back pain is a plague. It’s a real thing. It affects so many people. And some truly unfortunate people are otherwise completely healthy. A small change occurs in their back, and their life changes forever because of how the reaction occurred. Not because of the problem. But because of the advice they were given and the steps they took. That’s what we need to help people avoid.
Chris Kresser: Right. It can lead to painkiller addiction, surgeries that go wrong, and cause a real structural problem that wasn’t there prior to the surgery. I’ve seen so many examples of things [going] south very quickly and very dramatically from mismanaged back pain. I fully agree, it’s a huge problem. Just from reading a little bit that you [wrote], I’ve found this phrase in a few places, “Everything we do is either building us up or breaking us down.” What do you mean by that? I mean, I have a guess of what you mean by that. But I’m curious what that lens brings to the work for you.
Dr. Goodman: If you go all the way back to November 11, 2011, I got to give a TEDx talk [called] “The Unexpected [Physical] Consequences of Technology.” The net impact of that talk was meant to be the idea of complacent versus active adaptation. Complacent adaptation being [that] your body is going to adapt no matter what because it is a beautifully wired, perfect adaptable mechanism. It will improve at what you’re asking it to do, even if what you’re asking it to do is passive, relaxing, minimally metabolic, and potentially bad for it. It will make itself better at doing that at an effort of efficiency. You take that energy [that’s] being used anyway, and you focus it a little bit like we do in corrective exercise, or like you do learning a language, learning an instrument, learning a new skill, learning a martial art, learning to dance, [or] learning to communicate with friends and partners better. Each one of these is a buildup of that same adaptive mechanism that only was more refined, more focused, more patterned, [and] more practiced.
Patterns are what our body knows, and it’s always trying to improve the patterns, from a microcellular level to a macro existence level. It’s trying to improve the efficiency within itself of those patterns, and the gift of the human body is this adaptability [until] we die, to some degree. You hear of people learning jiu jitsu in their 70s, and having wonderful times in that process. The idea that it’s either building us up or breaking us down is that we’re not given the choice of whether or not we adapt. But we are given the choice of taking a subtle pattern and [controlling] that, and not getting hard on ourselves if we miss a day or two or three days, but keeping the pattern alive of trying to do good things. That’s the idea.
Incorporating Foundation Training into Your Overall Routine
Chris Kresser: On that note, how does Foundation Training fit into an overall training routine? Let’s say, at this time of year, I’m mountain biking, I’m hiking, I’m kayaking, wakesurfing, doing a bunch of other stuff. I do strength training, squats, and deadlifts and that sort of thing.
Dr. Goodman: It fits in everywhere.
Chris Kresser: Just to give people who are less familiar with it [an idea], how often do you suggest that people do it? Is it something they incorporate within their routine? Or does it ebb and flow depending on their needs and what’s going on? How do you work with people to incorporate it into their life?
Dr. Goodman: That’s a good question, and it’s not a set answer. We have a lot of instructors in different types of lives and different demographics. We have some instructors [who] only work with 60- to 85-year-olds. We have some instructors [who] are college swim coaches, and that’s where all their instruction fits in. We have some [who] are young kid dance or gymnastics coaches, and we have some [who] are master-level jiu jitsu coaches. So all across that board, we have entry points, [and] those entry points [always] look like a little bit every day. Always. For some people, a little bit is okay. I did my little bit today. It’s better than nothing. For some people, it’s 30 [or] 40 minutes [of] a very focused, very intense Foundation Training, which is hard.
You see, this is me at the end of every interview I do. I start sweating because I get into it, and I’m starting to move and I get pretty excited about it. It works to make your body active a lot. When you do decompression breathing, if you do it well, while you’re doing it, you’re kind of shaky. Your body’s working very hard. But then when you go to your activity, [like] your skiing, what you’re not doing is this hyperextension that your body is used to because that shaking that you were experiencing during the warmup activated the protective muscles around the ribs. And that’s not unique to skiing. That’s using the right muscles for big movements and using those big movements to prime the exercise.
You want to be able to have a very powerful hip hinge, so one of our primary exercises, the Founder, is an isometric hip hinge and then a practiced dynamic hip hinge that is obsessively, compulsively detailed. That will translate to any sport you do because your body needs the hips to be the power center of the body. If you’re not hip hinging, you’re spine bending, and if you’re practicing spine bending, your hips are kind of turning off. They’re not as available for you as they were prior, and you don’t want that. You want the hips to be the absorption and power production centers at the bottom.
Chris Kresser: That was a big one for me. After being exposed to it, I understand the biomechanics of it and why it makes sense. But I think, at least in certain types of athletic training, there’s an idea that having that structure where the lower back is arched is dangerous and [if] you’re lifting heavy weights or something, that’s going to lead to injury. But it seems like it’s the other way around.
Dr. Goodman: It’s both. Because you can go too far.
Chris Kresser: Right, you can hyper.
Dr. Goodman: Hyperlordosis is just as bad for you as a hypo because both of them take force instead of being driven through the spine. There’s a breakpoint in one direction or the other.
What I tell people is [that] you don’t fix that by nutating or counternutating, [and] you don’t fix that by anteriorly or posteriorly rocking the pelvic joints. You fix it by inner rotating the pelvic joints [and] broadening the expanse of where the foot hits the ground so that it’s very even. The foot controls the leg muscles, so the more of the foot on the ground, the more muscular activation of the leg all the way to the hip joints [and] to the pelvis.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Dr. Goodman: That switch is a fixed anterior and posterior pelvic tilt. Whereas if you’re anteriorly tilted and you just posteriorly tilt, you’re creating hypermobility instead of fixing the problem.
Chris Kresser: It sounds like it’s a lot also about aligning the skeleton so that force is being translated or communicated through the skeleton in the best possible way so you don’t have breakpoints, and you’re using physics to translate that force in the most efficient and supportive way.
Dr. Goodman: That was perfect. That was it. People should listen to that because that’s what we’re trying to do. You shouldn’t have mechanical interruptions because through mechanical interruptions come other interruptions. Very rarely does a nerve shorten its tension and that’s why something changes in the body. You don’t really hear that. But muscles can adapt if we shorten under the weight of the body, and it changes them until you change them back. Each of these things is very real. That’s what I want people to understand. People think, “Oh, my back hurts,” and they get upset when it doesn’t go away because they think they should be able to just take Advil for the next 10 years and they’ll never have it again. There [are] so many other problems that come with that desensitization [to the] ecosystem in your body that it’s just not worth it. Experience your pain. Feel it.
Chris Kresser: This is so fascinating, and I love this approach because there [are] so many synchronicities between the work that I do and a functional approach to health and this very functional approach to [pain]. [And] it goes so far beyond pain. Pain is probably the thing that brings people to it, for the most part, but it really seems to me to be about what is the most powerful, efficient, effortless, and enjoyable way to be in a body. Whether you’re talking about just being pain free and being able to go through your day and feel good in your body, or whether you’re talking about being able to perform at a super high level because you’re not being impeded by any kind of obstructions in the body in the way that it’s aligned, and you’re using your body, or whether you’re [a] firefighter holding a fire hose in a certain position for a long period of time or doing other kinds of repetitive mechanical activities all day. It seems pretty amazing.
Dr. Goodman: Let me give you a quick rundown of what happens with firefighters. We have a really interesting close connection with firefighters because my brother-in-law, [Coach Jessie Salas], who is my partner in Foundation Training, is [as] strong as an ox. He was a 17-year heavy rescue firefighter in Orlando, and then six [or] seven years ago, we yanked him out of there, and he became my main partner in Foundation Training. He and I have treated people all over the world together. He’s told me a lot of what this does for him, and he was one of our main people pushing this into fire departments initially.
With firefighters, we found the first major [component was] the skeletal structural strength component. From carrying packs to sitting in the truck on the way to a fire, to a rescue, to whatever it has to be. Over five or six years of working with firefighters, we pulled more in. One of them is on our core educator team. His name is Evan Halquist, and he’s a captain at Los Angeles County Fire. More interesting is [that] for years, [he trained] all their recruits, and for years, he got to add in 10 minutes of Foundation Training [each] day to each recruit class. It was substantial and it [was] felt. We were able to see some reports and see the significant reduction in injuries. Much more interesting [were] three things: decompression breathing and pelvic anchoring was able to show an improvement in lung volume, a decrease in reported mental stress, and an increase in grip strength. In there, we have two mortality markers, in grip strength and lung volume. That was the most interesting. We did not anticipate that. We understood the lung volume thing because you are practicing very big breathing with decompression and eccentrically, in particular. But the pain part was [that] we figured it was going to help with pain. It makes sense. We’re strengthening the posterior chain, [and] we’re aligning the body; of course it’s going to help with pain. That’s not rocket science.
The grip strength thing just shows the integration of the body that our poses provide. That’s it. And the lung volume thing is just, “Hey, everybody needs better lung volume.” Not just the ability to breathe quickly or shallow[ly], you need to really express both directions of inflation and exhalation. You have to be able to do that. So it was very promising, and I know we’re leaning into that a little bit with some of our styles of teaching lately. Again, we’re hopeful, and I know we’re going to have more research. Our business has been growing, our notoriety has absolutely been on an upward trajectory for several years now, and I feel that the research is around the corner.
Chris Kresser: It’ll come. I love that you’re doing that work with first responders. At my former clinic, [California Center for Functional Medicine], we did a lot of programs for firefighters, and it’s such an underserved population when it comes to supporting their health and well-being because it’s hard work. They’re exposed to a lot of really challenging situations, everything from having to share meals in the firehouse and not having control over what you eat, to being in difficult physical situations.
Dr. Goodman: If there’s any community in the world that needs [it], every fire station on the planet should have a hot sauna for when these guys and girls get off of calls [so] they can detox all those environmental toxins there. Cops, too. People [who] have to experience both environmental toxicity and trauma-style toxicity, you need to be able to purge that. Take Foundation Training completely out of the picture, whatever. Those people need to purge. They need their lymphatic systems to drain, and I think you’d see a huge impact on the mental well-being and overall health of first responders with the simple addition of a traditional sauna at each station.
Chris Kresser: I agree. So Eric, if somebody’s listening to this [and] they’re really interested [and] they want to get started, what’s the best way to do that?
How You Can Get Started with Foundation Training
Dr. Goodman: We have entry points of various types. Absolutely, go try it out on YouTube. We have a great YouTube page [where] you can see samples of our work. You can get a tutorial in decompression breathing, you can get a tutorial on anchoring, [and] you can get all these different bits and pieces that help you understand Foundation Training for free on either YouTube or on our streaming site. Once you get to the streaming site, there’s a few things for free, [and] then there’s our baseline program, which is 14 weeks, every single day. We walk you through 112 days of daily Foundation Training. From there, you can go into any of our myriad programs. There [are] hundreds of workouts on there. We have workouts from myself, Jessie Salas, Nicole Medas, Allison Cost, Sean Yeager-Diamond, Evan Halquist, Matt Wiest, and Lorena Lee. We’ve got a lot of different doctors [and] a lot of different trainers and practitioners [who] add their perspective on Foundation Training there. So there [are] many entry points, from the older people to the younger people and everything in between.
We have three books on the subject that I wrote, and then my wife wrote Shaping Your Baby’s Foundation, which enters into the first year of life for new parents and really walks them through it beautifully. She is a pediatric physical therapist and has a really remarkable mind. There’s a lot [of] information that surrounds this, and we’ve been around [for] a bit now, so you can find some credible information about it. Once you’ve looked at what Foundation Training is, [and] you decide, “Yeah, I’d like to give this a try,” [check] if there’s an instructor nearby. We have over 1200 instructors around the world, [and] you can find a trainer on our page at FoundationTraining.com. If you have the opportunity to learn this in person, it’s the best way to learn it. Some of them teach on Zoom, but if you can learn in person, learn in person. That’s always better. We’ve got books, certification courses, we have the app, [and] we have in-person instructors. Other than that, you’re going to have to come up with it yourself.
Chris Kresser: I think that’s a really great suite of tools for people. I like learning through as many different mediums as possible. I like books [and] video[s]. It’s good to have all those different entry points for folks. And it sounds like also for different populations who have different needs and are coming from a different place in life. So, [I’m] super excited to get this work out there. Like I said, it’s been transformative for me, and I’ve already told a lot of people about it because I don’t often encounter work that I feel like is really addressing all the different angles that need to be addressed. Some people or bodies of work tend to do one thing really well, but neglect other things that I feel are really important and need to be included in the equation. It’s hard for me to recommend those bodies of work, at least without some significant qualifications and caveats and things like that. But I really love the holistic way you’re approaching the physical causes of back pain, [and] the emotional and trauma-related causes, and then the way that your work brings together breathing and movements and other practices to address it. It’s really remarkable, and I applaud your continued willingness to grow and evolve the work and not just rest on the accomplishments you’ve had so far. And I’m excited to see how that will continue to transform.
Dr. Goodman: That’s really cool to hear. Thank you, Chris. Again, I’ve been a fan of what you do for a long time. I’m always trying to dial in my own physiology. As you can see, I sweat like an ox. So I’m always trying to dial this in a little bit and figure out my electrolytes and aldosterone and all these different things. I’m kind of quietly behind the curtain paying attention very much to what you’re putting out there. Thank you for the platform and for letting me talk about Foundation Training. This is my life’s work. I live it and breathe it every day, and I really hope that people [who] are listening to this get some benefit from it if they try it.
Chris Kresser: Great. Everybody, make sure to check out Eric’s work, FoundationTraining.com, the books on Amazon, and the streaming platform is really slick. I’ve been using it myself the last couple of weeks and really getting a lot out of it. So don’t suffer unnecessarily with back pain. This is another thing that I’ve found, and I’m sure you have, as well, [that] a lot of people just feel resigned. They feel like, “I’ve had back pain for 15 years, or 20 years or whatever. I’m always going to have back pain. There’s really no point in doing anything about it.” But I think that, again, while it’s understandable to be discouraged, there’s always room for movement and shift and transformation. So I hope this encourages some of you to get out there and make an effort.
Dr. Goodman: Let me give one little statement I’ve made to a lot of people over the years that has resonated with a lot of them, myself included. You’re going to have to surrender to something in pain. Either you’re going to surrender to being in pain the rest of your life, or you’re going to surrender to the reality that you have to work on it for the rest of your life. One of them is active and builds you, builds confidence, builds your personality, builds your character, builds your body, [and] builds your brain. The other one pacifies you, disconnects you, makes you a victim, and hurts like hell. Please choose to surrender to the reality that you have to work on your body for as long as you have it because that’s what we have to do. Everybody. Nobody gets out of it.
Chris Kresser: Love it. That’s a great way of looking at it. Thank you, Dr. Goodman, for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure. And all of the listeners, thanks for listening, and keep sending your questions to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion.
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