Thursday, 12 August 2021 14:23

The 4 Foundations of Fitness

By Dr. Robert Rehberger PT, DPT, OCS | Families Today
The 4 Foundations of Fitness

One of the most asked questions I receive while in the clinic, is “What do you treat most often?”

My response, although a bit of dead-pan humor is, “humans mostly.”

Yes. I treat shoulders, hips, backs, knees, post surgeries, jaw, and just about any orthopedic condition someone may have who comes through our doors. Although my response may be a bit of dry wit, it is true. Looking beyond an impaired body part and at an individual’s function and quality of life is what I do. 

We are not individual body parts, we are whole people!

Let’s look at an example of a 68 y/o woman who recently hurt their elbow after playing two days of grueling tennis matches in a row. She comes in with raging elbow pain whenever she tries to hold her racket or grab onto the steering wheel. Life is now debilitating, frustrating, and seems like she is stuck in a hole of darkness. Everything in daily life hurts. Time goes on, with hard work, treatment, avoiding activity that makes it worse, activity modifications, the elbow pain is nearly gone. Tennis can be played again, and everything is alright.

She has family in town for the races and her two young grandsons come to visit. The woman is ecstatic that she gets to play with them for the first time in several months. The family heads to the playground. She is carrying her grandson in her loving arms while walking over the grass into the sand. Suddenly she seems quite unsure of her footing and decides to place her grandson down to walk beside him instead. Both little ones want to play in the sand. Slowly and hesitantly she kneels down in the sand placing much of her body weight through her previously painful elbow and realizes how much more difficult the movement really is. After some time playing, it is time to get up...

The above scenario is a great example of how injuries heal, but how narrow focused we can get on specific injuries. We cannot miss the big picture of fitness! Fitness helps us engage in exercises, play sports, move around the house, hold our children, carry groceries up the stairs, and so much more that makes our quality of life better.  Four fitness foundations make up our daily activities: stability/balance, mobility, power, and strength.

If we engage and work on these four movement principles, we will be able to move well and thrive.

Foundations of Fitness

1 - Stability/Balance. A proper starting place should be established before we try to enhance our movements. Stability is our body’s ability to control a movement at or into a specific position.  The grandmother above was unable to maintain safe stability while carrying her grandson through some uneven terrain, thus forcing her to set him down.

All movements in our body come from our brain. There is an intricate and complex highway of nerves that must be coordinated together to make clear and concise movements or to maintain our balance. If we fail to stabilize our body or joints, whether it is moving or trying to stay still while resisting forces, movement dysfunctions or injury may occur.

2 - Mobility. Mobility is our ability (or our joints ability) to move through its entire available range of motion. As our habits and lives change, our bodies will adapt to new, usually smaller ranges of motion. Yes, age does factor into it, but less than what you would think. The tennis player had been out of tennis for a while and developed some stiffness in her knees and hips making her ability to get down to the ground much more difficult than before her injury.

Remember, mobility is different than flexibility. Mobility is concerned with how our joints move, while flexibility is associated with the muscles. Muscles take a long time to improve their length, while mobility can be improved by focusing on several short movements throughout the day.

3 - Power. The importance of power grows as we age. Power is the ability for our bodies to quickly produce force and transmit energy. Our muscles lose power faster than they lose strength with each decade of life. When the lady above felt unbalanced, power would have been important to quickly help her regain balance if she had lost it. Getting off the ground would require power and force to safely and independently rise up (especially if she was carrying something with weight.) She constantly uses power during all her tennis serves and slams! Having muscular power is linked to greater participation in sports and improving our independence with daily activities.

4 - Strength. Save the best for last! Stable and mobile bodies are great, but strong ones are better! Muscle strength is our ability to produce force. The scenarios above have plenty of examples of where strength plays a key role: holding the grandchild, lowering herself to the ground, stabilizing her body on her arm as she knelt, and the ability to get back onto her feet after playing with her grandkids.

Strength builds resilience, tissues in our bodies that are less injured and less susceptible to pain.  Building strength with exercise fights many chronic conditions and keeps our muscles from losing mass with aging (sarcopenia).

The fitness foundations above are vital to long-term fitness and living a fulfilling active life. For the next four articles, I will be taking an indepth look at each of the four fitness foundations and how you can engage in each principle yourself!

Dr. Robert Rehberger PT, DPT, OCS is a physical therapist at Goodemote Physical Therapy serving Saratoga and surrounding communities. He is a Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist and has completed a Board Certified Spine Fellowship  in Ithaca, NY. He also serves as a wellness, fitness,  and strength coach on a private basis.

At Goodemote PT we work with individuals recovering from injury to help improve quality of life and fitness. If you have any questions call 518-306-6894 to set up an appointment or find us at GoodemotePT.com. Dr. Robert Rehberger can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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