A little more than three decades ago, a group of high school athletes from Southern California came to Pete Egoscue with a request. They had been working with Egoscue to improve their athlete performance. His fitness program called the Egoscue Method promised to return human postures to their intended design, and thereby not only free people from pain, but also reduce the likelihood of injury while increasing the body’s athletic potential. An aligned and symmetrically balanced body is simply more capable of performing at a much higher level. Having experienced the success of this program firsthand, the young athletes—including future NFL player, John Lynch, who most recently become general manager for the 49ers —then asked Egoscue for one more favor: “Could you design some workouts to get us in better shape?”
The question came as a bit of a revelation to Egoscue. Instinctively, he knew he could improve their conditioning. Years of experience studying all of the body’s joints and muscles and how they’re interconnected had long prepared him to create the exact fitness plan they needed. Yet, it hadn’t occurred to him to devise an exercise program using his extensive knowledge of the anatomy until right then. Without much hesitation, he responded, “I think I could. Follow me.”
They walked about three-quarters of a mile from Egoscue’s first clinic in San Diego (he now has 26 clinics worldwide) to a horse show park, an outdoor space where equestrian and dressage riders practiced hurdling over both permanent and temporary obstacles with their horses. A former Marine, Egoscue was well-versed in how obstacle-course training can make you fit and strong. So to him, this place was perfect for what he had in mind, especially since it was set outside (nothing like fresh air and mother nature to inspire you to move).
“It was very challenging, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. You felt good when you were done. And no matter how tired you felt going through it, you felt energized, too,” Egoscue recalls of his fitness regimen for the military. Back then, however, Egoscue didn’t see the obstacle course as much more than a means to an end. It took him a few more years to connect the dots—combining his later acquired knowledge of the anatomy and unique insights on the role posture plays in our health—to fully understand why those courses were so effective.
“It’s all about negotiating obstacles in various positions and circumstances. It’s an inclusive, holistic way of conditioning that compels the body to work in the way it was designed to work. Bicycling, jogging—these are beneficial, but they don’t promote balance and strength in a varied array of positions. They don’t promote the health of joints and full range of motion, and therefore, don’t boost the metabolism as much. That’s what makes people feel energized—that metabolism boost,” Egoscue explains. That experience maneuvering obstacle courses as a Marine was exactly what Egoscue aimed to replicate with those high school students at the equestrian show park. And he hit a bullseye.
Watching the boys, Egoscue realized he had stumbled upon an ideal means of exercise: An enjoyable way to produce balance, strength and endurance. Of course, he knew he had discovered nothing new. After all, he was only harking back to fitness techniques he had learned in the military. But during a time when so much fitness had turned (and continues to turn) to the specialization of skills, isolation of muscles, repetition of routines and reduced range of motion, he had been reawakened to the importance of full functional movement in our conditioning.
“Word spread about what I was teaching these kids,” Egoscue remembers. Soon enough, he started training others in the show park, devising exercises and arranging them in a specified order—and people were loving it. Some even asked him to design and build a unit of obstacles that they could do anywhere, anytime. For those who couldn’t meet in the San Diego park, Egoscue created a structure—a series of bases and beams (pictured above)—that people could go over, under and around anywhere.
Over, under and around make up a key concept for functional movement, which is the element that makes the Patch—as Egoscue’s new exercise program later became called—such an effective workout. The young boys had come up with the name for the stretch of commercial tomato patches dividing Egoscue’s clinic from the show park.
“Functional means allowing the human body to fall into its natural groove of movement. If you get on the ground, go over things, under things and around things, you’re eventually going to get more functional. You coax the body to perform natural movement patterns,” says Brian Bradley, director of Patch Fitness. These are the same patterns that may have been lost or neglected due to a sedentary lifestyle.
It all harks back to one of Egoscue’s earliest claims, fully explored in his first book, The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: The more we move our bodies in ways that promote full range of motion, the healthier those bodies will be. Even folks who hit the gym regularly are often not as healthy as they could be.
“So much of what we do in the gym is about trying to be perfect in our form,” Bradley says. “First, that’s just not natural. Second, and ironically, by striving to be ‘perfect’ and even symmetrical, people in gyms are losing their natural balance. They’re inadvertently strengthening and working one side harder than the other. With the Patch, people naturally achieve balance through their bodies working as a unit.”
It’s that whole-body aspect that makes the Patch so efficient. Many forms of exercise, especially in the gym (think bench pressing, squats, even lunges or rowing) utilize just parts or peripheries of the body.
“Every single exercise we use in the Patch tires every muscle,” Bradley says. “That’s why a 15- or 20-minute routine from the Patch is worth two days of normal training. It’s also a great warm-up for any type of training you might do afterward. It centers your balance and makes you a hip-driven mover. By using your hips, your body gets twice the result with half the effort.”
And it doesn’t stop there. “As your day unfolds and you do the activities of normal daily living, your body continues to get more functionally strong and balanced because of the changes that occurred in the Patch workout that you did earlier that day or a couple days prior. Every step you take after the Patch enhances the effects of the Patch.”
While there is an actual Patch apparatus, a series of plastic, portable bases and beams that Egoscue designed and that can be moved inside or out if you happen to own one, the fact is, a Patch routine can be done anywhere. It does not require a specific space or a specific setting. “It just requires you, your imagination and your surroundings,” says Egoscue. “Any outdoor setting with a bench or stairs or playground becomes a Patch. Any indoor setting for that matter, with tables or benches or chairs.”
The cherry on top: Doing the Patch is actually fun—though you won’t catch Bradley using that word to describe it. Making the program sound too playful has its disadvantages. People might be less inclined to take it seriously. But Egoscue is often quick to point out that originally, all forms of what we have come to call exercise were predicated on the notion of play and fun. It’s only in recent decades, and largely in America, fitness has become an obligation more than a joy—for adults, that is, not kids.
“Watch a group of kids running around a playground. They’re exercising like crazy, but they don’t know it. They just think they’re playing and having fun,” notes Egoscue. “Same with the Patch. It’s a hell of a workout, but it’s all disguised as pure, unadulterated, childlike fun.”
Photo by Hailey Wist
By Erik Simon