Title: Developing the Core
Editor: Jeffrey M Willardson
Publisher: Human Kinetics Australia, Sports Performance Series (NSCA) 2014
Details: Paperback, 215pp
RRP: $26.95 OR $22.91 for Network Members when buying online HERE and entering the Promo Code network2014

Review by Peter Lawler

One never tires from reviewing any publication that emanates from the National Strength and Conditioning Association – the fabled NSCA. There are two concurrent series being published. The first is the hard-covered 'NSCA Guide to...Program Planning; Tests and Assessment; Sport and Exercise Nutrition'. In the second, the paperback ‘Developing’ series: Endurance...Agility and Quickness... Speed... and now the Core has arrived for a comforting review. All NSCA texts should be essential fodder for illuminated coaches.

'Developing the Core' follows the long-established practice of the NSCA of gathering a battalion of contributors who miraculously all seem to present their information with admirable consistency of clarity and depth. This is obviously due to disciplined writing and editing. Jeffrey M Willardson, PhD is currently an associate professor of kinesiology at the Eastern Illinois University at Charleston, where he teaches biomechanics, exercise physiology and the principles of strength and conditioning. He is the editor for sixteen contributors in this publication. Surely this is overkill? No, as the Contents list clarifies. Part I contains five theory and practice chapters while Part II 'Sport-Specific Core Development' has salient advice for eleven specific sports, each with a specialist coach/ author: baseball/softball, basketball, football (US), golf, ice hockey, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball and wrestling.

Part II chapters are all short and sweet. Following preliminary notes which define the unique requirement of each sport, specific core programs are provided to confront the specific demands.
It’s time to visit Part I: 'Essentials of Core Development.' As mentioned previously, there are five advisory explanatory chapters provided. The first chapter is 'Core Anatomy and Biomechanics'. The author distinguishes between the popular media pursuit of the aesthetic 'six-pack' and the potential functionality for sports performance. Total body integrative exercises performed in a standing position and not seated on crunch machines may facilitate greater transfer to sports performance. But, what are core exercises? This text propounds:
"A core exercise is any exercise that stimulates neuromuscular recruitment patterns to ensure a stable spine while allowing powerful efficient movement." (page 6). This definition is very liberal. Coaches must be conscious of the fact that core is more than the mirror abdominals. Page 11 of this chapter contains a chart of global, local, upper and lower extremity categories of core exercises and their function. It is whole body linked! Another definition describes the core as the kinetic link between upper and lower body. Subsequent chapters continue the toil of defining THE CORE. Chapter two addresses the issue of testing core efficiency. Essentially, there are three variables that contribute to core stability – intra-abdominal pressure, spinal compressive forces, hip and trunk stiffness. Testing can be dynamic, static or isometric. Planking tests the latter whilst dynamic requires forceful movement.

Eventually, erudite books such as this one must 'show me the money'. Chapter four stretches from page 41 through the nether regions to page 116. Within these numerical walls of 'Core Development Exercises and Drills' are a vast array of core exercises. Once again the authors enunciate the need to meld the core work to additional barbell/dumbbell work such as Olympic lifts, squats and deadlifts. Each exercise description is photographically supported. Consulting each exercise is essential because names now are not exclusive. This problem is expanding. One exercise contained is the 'reverse pendulum' also known as 'wipers'. Which is universally recognised? Neither! It's a similar story with other exercises like: open book rib cage ...starfish with resistant bands ...three point samurai ...bully – and so it goes.

There is a variable menu of exercises available in this chapter: floor exercises, utilising the Swiss ball, the versatile medicine ball, cable machines for the popular chop exercises, dangling, twisting... they are all here ready for action.

Chapter 5 is ‘Core Programming' – and it’s one of the strengths of this book. The author, James Di Naso, has devised an astute progression of core exercises and drills. He moves patiently through basic crunch, side bends and twists to complex multi-plane movements which utilise an array of training implements. He addresses common issues of muscular imbalance and injured populations. Tabulated programs insert this fine chapter. All in all, another outstanding NSCA publication.