BOOK REVIEW: JUNE 2015

Title: Conditioning to the core
Authors: Greg Brittenham & Daniel Taylor
Publisher: Human Kinetics Australia 2014, ISBN-13: 9781450419697
Details: Paperback, 384pp
RRP: $30.95 OR $26.31 for Network Members when buying online HERE and entering the Promo Code network2015.

Review by Peter Lawler
One could argue the usage of prepositions here: should the title be Conditioning of the Core? No matter, it is another book devoted to the sacred site of the CORE.

This co-authored book invites you, the reader, to 'unleash your core potential...to build your centre of power'. There are 300 exercises on offer in this new publication to unleash and exhaust! Author one is Greg Brittenham. He has had a varied career in the strength and conditioning domain. Greg was involved in player development for the New York Knicks for 20 years. Thence onto Wake Forest University for basketball. Thence onto a directorship at the Center for Athletic Performance at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport. He co-authored Stronger Abs and Back with his guru father, Dean, and also wrote Complete Conditioning for Basketball, both published by Human Kinetics.

Daniel Taylor is the head coach for strength and conditioning at Siena College where he constructs programs for 18 Division 1 Varsity sports as diverse as lacrosse, soccer, basketball and water polo. His dedication to his wife is cryptic: 'For my beautiful wife Erin, who I know will always meet me where the flame turns blue’.

Moving on... the co-authors make a salient point in their preliminary chapters regarding the inadequacy of the varied branches of medicine:

‘Chiropractors tend to know a lot about the spine, but not much about progressive overload. Strength professionals know about progressive overload but usually not as much about quality of movement and preventative movement. Most physiotherapists intimately understand quality of movement, but sometimes avoid pushing global strength and spend too much time on isolated or regional development. Doctors and athletic trainers can excel at healing the body but might lack understanding of the process of athletic development, even at elite level’.

They comment further about the failure of collaboration between the medicos and the subsequent confusion and possible conflict as to treatment that ensues.

The list of Contents reveals there are 21 chapters, five of which espouse the benefits of core training. But, just what is the Core? The authors' response is...'the myofascial center and the muscles that attach to and around the lumbar spine and pelvic girdle are considered to be the core's foundation...together they are referred to as the lumbo-pelvic hip complex (LPHC)'. Basic core anatomy and physiology are fully explained as to location and function, which incidentally has remained unchanged for at least 40,000 years! (author's note, page 31). But still the story must be told.

The authors identify five exercise categories for core development.
1. Anti-extension. This means face down planking.
2. Anti-rotation. This means planking in alternative planes, e.g. side planks
3. Scapulothoracic. Obviously exercises for the scapula 'wings'.
4. Lumbo-pelvic hip complex. Self-explanatory.
5. Total core (strength phase only).

The objective for core work is to restrict rotational movement. Specifically, restrict movement in the lumbar spine but promote it in the thoracic region of the spine. This is essential to safeguard the spine. The thoracic vertebrae is capable of 70 degrees of movement. However, its near neighbours may only have five degrees of flex. Following the charting of 24 specific benefits of the presented exercises, you have joyfully reached Chapter 6 'Anti-Extension Exercises' the first of the famous five!

My incessant comment regarding format prevails once again! On this auspicious occasion, each exercise is named, specific benefits of each are listed, the degree of difficulty is identified and the equipment required is named. Every exercise is modelled competently in lush coloured photographs. Each page glistens in the overhead light. Perhaps it is the blue flame? Actually, the models are flogged because they have to demonstrate the base exercises plus the progressions available. Many of these are subtle. There is one small problem with this text. The array of exercises is dependent upon the availability of an array of equipment. No matter! There are enough equipment-free options presented for any austerity program. Be advised there is not a single barbell/dumbbell exercise selected anywhere in this book – now, that is a change! Chapter 6 is planking, planking, planking in all its glory. Professional pirates may gorge themselves on this cornucopia!

Chapter 7 is the sibling, 'Anti-Rotation Exercises'. This is planking, the sequel. Here numerous side planks are offered for your selection. Chapter 8 focuses on the scapula. This is an ultra-slim chapter for there are a slim few to pick from. Imagine you are diving from a high tower. Your arms are straight and pointed behind you – this is a scapula exercise but without the dive. Chapter 9 is 'Lumbo-Pelvic Hip exercises’. It concludes the stabilisation quartet. Here you will find an array of pelvic lifts and unilateral balance squats.

Part III is ‘Core Strength Training’. This repeats the same pattern as above – anti-extension, anti-rotation et al for five fulsome chapters. There is a progression to complex exercises that require specific equipment or partner assistance. Simply put: these are harder, more challenging. Many are familiar – the roll out, the elbow plank on a Swiss ball, friction-free matting for friction free exercises...push up variants...dangling exercises...and many are new. And so it goes. The pattern of this book is choose an item of equipment, then devise as many exercises as possible to use it to the full. The TRX apparatus is now well established, so too the hefty sand bags. Both make strong appearances in Conditioning to the Core. The complex exercises have a strong inference of elementary bondage when varied apparatus is used. Exercising can be fun you see.

The concluding phase (and we must conclude) is Part IV 'Core Power Training'. Following the usual explanation of what is strength and power, the last array of exercises appear. Med ball slams dominate this selection. The spotlight is shared with box jumps and elementary plyometrics. The final chapter is testing protocols, a serious chapter for coaches and athletes who want to get things right.

Strongly recommended to coaches and athletes who love exercise diversity.