It's no secret that I am a fan of intricate, somewhat OCD morning routines. From waking up to take HRV measurements and gratitude journaling to lovingly filtering my coffee through a stainless steel filter, to performing intranasal, in-ear and retinal light therapy to using a squatty potty, an infrared sauna and a touch of Kundalini yoga, my morning routine has continually evolved as the science of beginning one's day with an optimized body and brain gets better and better.
As I highlight in my last article on my morning routine, I used to do a 10-15 minute series of yoga and calisthenic moves as the hot water brewed for my coffee: a seemingly perfect way to get the breath and blood flowing.
But I don't do those moves anymore.
Instead, I now have a far more effective way to “turn on” my butt, decompress my spine, activate deep diaphragmatic breathing and much more, and in this article I'm going to tell you exactly what I've added into my morning routine.
The Problem With Gravity
It all starts with gravity.
Just think about all the different things that happen when gravity hits your body: specifically when it comes to the ability of gravity to adversely affect processes in some or all of the following physiological systems:
Your respiratory system, because a compressed rib cage limits the lungs' ability to expand and diminishes your breathing capacity…
Your digestive system, because squashes organs don't function nearly as well as they should and that burdens the body's ability to gain nourishment from food..
Your circulatory system, because squeezed blood vessels are not as efficient or as effective as they ought to be transporting nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, and blood cells to where they need to be transported in order for your body to perform or fight disease…
Your nervous system, because a compressed spinal cord and constricted neural pathways slow the progress of all those neurotransmitters trying to communicate from the periphery to the central nervous system – and back again – and can undermine the brain's ability to coordinate and influence all the activities of your body…
Hunching all day at a keyboard, tilting our heads forward over our phones, commuting long hours, and slouching on the couch simply magnify and aggravate these problems, resulting in poor posture that throw our bodies out of balance, causing unnecessary stress and strain that compromises our joints, restricts organ function, and weakens our force output.
So the reasoning goes something like this: if you can wake up in the morning and do something that fights all the effects of gravity and restores your body to a decompressed state that theoretically allows you to feel better and stands taller all day long, with better digestion, no low back pain, and enhance circulation…
…why not try it?
Enter Dr. Eric Goodman
Enter Dr. Eric Goodman, who you may recognize from the TEDx Talk – The Unexpected Physical Consequences of Technology and from the podcast I recorded with him on Why Your Back Is The Most Important Part Of Your Core Workout, And What You Can Do About It.
Dr. Goodman has spent years studying human physiology and movement, and has helped people of all ages and occupations heal and correct lifelong debilitating pain using something called Foundation Training. His program trains your posterior chain muscles, specifically your shoulders, back, butt, and legs, to shift the burden of supporting your body to where that burden belongs: the large posterior chain muscle groups.
Foundation Training was birthed through necessity when Dr. Goodman began suffering repetitive back problems while in his mid-20’s. He had blown out L4-L5 and L5-S1, and was told at 25 years old, that he needed back surgery. Instead, Dr. Goodman, who was in chiropractic school at the time, became a man obsessed. He used his anatomy knowledge, his deep understanding of exercise and his drive to banish his back pain to figure out how to actually decompress the spine and restore nerve and low back function.
Now, many professional and Olympic athletes use his system every day to enhance performance and force output while maintaining the health of the entire spine, including Chad Reed (motocross and supercross world champion), Lakey Peterson (women's surfing champion), Tour de France cyclists (including Lance Armstrong) and many more.
Foundation Training is all about your core, and, as Dr. Goodman explains in his new book “True To Form“, a book that systematizes his entire approach, your core is anything that connects to your pelvis, whether above or below it, including your hamstrings, glutes, and adductor muscles. Foundation Training teaches all those muscles to work together through specific full body movements and breathing patterns.
Every muscle that directly connects to your pelvis should be considered a piece of your core and your functional movement capacity, your athletic ability, flexibility, balance and strength are all dependent on a powerful core. To accomplish that, in the Foundation Training Program, Dr. Goodman includes moves that target the following muscles:
-Glutes. Properly activated glutes, AKA a “turned on” butt is crucial for correct movement patterns and posture.
-Adductors. Your inner thigh muscles are your built in traction system. When this muscle group remains strong, you have increased hip stability, stronger arches in the feet, and a pelvic brace that protects your back with a couple of the strongest muscles in your body.
-Deep lower back muscles. These facilitate the proper integration of the posterior chain muscles and the “talk” between your glutes and pelvis.
-Abdomen and hip flexors: Think of these front muscles of your body as a window that shows what is happening at the spine and pelvis. If the front is too tight, the back will not work properly.
-Transverse abdominis: These deep ab muscles are your built in bracing system, and when the transverse abdominus is tightened against the other muscles among this core group, the entire system becomes stronger.
Every exercise in Foundation Training is designed to add as many muscles into a given movement as possible, disperse more force throughout your body, and take friction away from your joints by placing that tension into the proper core muscles instead. Every exercise lengthens the front of your body (the over-tightened, over-shortened muscles in your body) and strengthens and lengthens the back of your body, allowing you to stand tall and to move very powerfully, very gracefully, and with a lot of flexibility.
For example, the most popular Foundation exercise is called “The Founder” (as shown in this video). “The Founder” helps reinforce proper movement by strengthening the entire back of your body and dispersing your weight through the posterior chain muscles. As a result, your weight shifts back toward your heels and “untucks” your pelvis, which lengthens your hip flexors, giving you length all along the front of your body.
So what exactly is happening to your body when you implement moves like this?
1. You turn your butt on.
The contract-and-hold nature of Foundation Training is technically a form of “eccentric force dispersion”, especially among the posterior chain muscles such as your glutes and hamstrings. Improved muscular tone, muscle chain integration, and more efficient muscular contractions are all consequences of this type of eccentric training. When you stimulate a muscle's ability to absorb force before you ask that muscle to generate force, it will help it learn efficiency and proper posture throughout the rest of the day. In short, you turn your butt on so that you use your glute muscles well throughout workouts, standing postures, sitting postures, etc. the rest of the day.
2. You breathe more deeply.
When it comes to oxygenation, your mitochondrial health and overall nervous system strength, there is no more important a thing you can do than maintain the ability to inspire well. Your serratus muscles are of key significance to rib cage expansion during inspiration, and during the Decompression Breathing that accompanies every Foundation movement, you train your serratus musculature, particularly during the exhalation of every breath (important note: your lungs are in your rib cage not your abdomen). Considering you breathe 12,000 to 22,000 times per day, it's pretty dang important that you execute this repetitive pattern properly.
3. You open blood and nerve function to your skull.
You have very important neurological and vascular tissue traveling through the area on which the base of your skull rests. To open blood flow to these areas, you must actively lengthen and increase space along the backside of the neck as well as the front side of the chest. The cranial nerves deserve more respect, attention and space than they can receive in the postures associated with anterior head carriage, such as sitting at a desk or driving in a car. Foundation Training lengthens the spaces around these nerves and pulls your head and neck into a more appropriate position.
From improved digestion to increased force output from the powerful glute muscles, there are a host of other benefits to Foundation Training, but you now know everything you need to explain to your loved one or neighbors why you're sticking your butt out and breathing with your hands clamped across your rib cage every morning, right?
My New Morning Routine
So although I've been somewhat familiar with Foundation Training for a few years now, two months ago, Core Foundation trainer Kate Murphy came to my house to give me a quick refresher on the Foundation moves and to ensure I was doing them with laser-like precision and accuracy. Here are a few photos of her correcting my form and putting me through the ringer…
And I'm proud to report that I now have not missed a single morning of Core Foundation training for the past 47 days. Every morning, I simply complete either the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine from Dr. Goodman's True To Form book. Here's a screenshot from my phone that show which moves I do on those days:
As a result, I'm stander taller, I'm breathing deeper, I'm thinking more clearly, and yes, my butt is definitely more “turned on” during all my activities of daily living.
So what do you think?
You game to try?
I dare you. Just give this a go for the next 30 days, assess how your body responds, then report back in the comment section below.
Do you have questions, comments or feedback for Kate Murphy, me, or Dr. Eric Goodman, or your own thoughts about foundation training or the True To Form book? Leave your thoughts below and one of us will reply.
Also published on Medium.