The Minimalist Guide to the Foundation Back Exercise Program

When you have back pain, you want to be out of pain and to be stronger so it never happens again. It’s about getting out of that pain and never having it again. Back pain can linger. It can be all the way up to level 11 and then hover around 3 or 4 for days. Sometimes, it seems like it will never go away. Sometimes you know what caused the pain, but often you don’t. It’s a mystery. Maybe it was when I carried the trash can or maybe when I twisted in the car to get something out of the back seat? Switching to the detective mindset is very common for back pain sufferers.

When a friend of mine recommended that I check out the Foundation Training program to help with back pain. I bought the book on my kindle and read it front to back the very same day. I wrote down the exercises on a 3×5 note card along with the protocol and did it every day for 6 weeks. I got very familiar with each and every exercise and did them all. Here’s a shot of the book on Amazon.

Image of the Foundation book on Amazon

I had back surgery 14 years ago and did physical therapy, acupuncture, active release technique, chiropractic care, rolfing, yoga, stretching, strength training and all kinds of foam rolling. Nothing got me as far as the Foundation program.

If you’ve ever worked on your posture where you’d try to sit straight and then realize you were slumped, then this is something that will completely surprise you. It surprised me because after about 3 weeks into the exercises I’d check my posture and find that my posture felt perfect. I wasn’t even trying. Also, any time I felt my back feeling a bit weak, I’d do the exercises and come out able to move more freely and without pain. Nothing I had done before ever worked this well.

If you’re suffering from constant back pain, here’s the fast path I recommend.

  1. Get Ok’d by a doctor and read this post on the steps to end back pain. 
  2. Get the kindle version of the book and jump right to chapter 4 and read it to get the main principle of the S-curve.
  3. Read chapter 5 on the Basic Workout.
  4. Get a 3×5 index card or sheet of paper and write down the exercise progressions.
  5. Pick up a yoga mat if needed.
  6. Do the exercises every morning for 15 minutes for 6 weeks.
  7. Refer back to chapter 5 often as you will refine the movements as you get more familiar with them.

Make the workouts practical

I wish the book had just this basic workout on one page with the progressions laid out. If you try to do the workout from the book, you’ll end up flipping through the pages back and forth as you try to remember what move comes after the one you are doing and how long you do it.

Essentially, you can get stuck trying to remember the name of the exercise and the progressions. To overcome this, I made this terrible set of drawings for my daughters. It’s not pretty but it works. You can do the same or download the cheatsheet.

An 3x5 index card with foundation exercises

Here’s a list of the exercises.

  1. Foundation Pose Progressions
    1. Foundation pose with arms back 20 seconds
    2. Foundation pose with arms up 20 seconds
    3. Hip hinge 15 seconds
    4. Back to Foundation pose with arms back 15 seconds
    5. Foundation pose with arms up 15 seconds
  2. Back Extension 15 reps with hands by rib cage and elbows pulled back
  3. Back Extension with legs off the ground and knees and ankles pressed together 20 second hold
  4. Child’s pose for however long you want
  5. Kneeling Foundation pose with arms back 15 seconds, arms up 15 seconds
  6. Iliopsoas stretch both sides 20 seconds

Stick with it!

Often the exercises can be painful to do, do them anyway as they say. The exercises are very uncomfortable. Still, It can be very uncomfortable to get the low back into an S-curve. Follow their advice and stick with it. Refer back to chapter 5 for tips on the exercises. You always learn more about an exercise once you’ve done it and then reread the instructions. Really, in 6 weeks time, you will have a much improved back!

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