I received an email in July about a new book on core training and was asked to read it and review it. Normally it takes a day or two to finish a book, however this time I was in for a 7 book reading journey in the meantime from all kind of subjects, while having my daughter home and working my backside off. Actually this chapter by chapter slow chewing allowed me to digest the ideas of the book better.
I am not gonna lie, if I was already telling you that this is a fantastic utility book. However, you must understand that I am coming from a coaching background, I have been an athlete for all my life and I also had a debilitating back injury 15 years ago. When I read or see something interesting, I always ask questions and test out the theories on myself, in conjunction with many other tools and information. In addition to this I am a runner preparing for many different kind of events with proper periodization, from the 1500m on the track to 300km in the mountains. This is just to say, that we are all different and there are facts in the book, that I find interesting, but might be non-sense for you or exercise routines that I have been practicing for 2 decades, what might be totally new for someone else.
Before we delve a little into the book, I’d really like to give a valuable advice to you runners, so you can have a very dramatic change in your approach to running. Read this book in conjunction with the “Becoming a Supple Leopard” from Kelly Starrett and “The Lost art of Running” from Shane Benzie.
I am not gonna detail chapter by chapter what I’ve read, like I would do in a run coaching book. I will talk about the interesting facts and will try to tease you to get the book and read it yourself.
First of all, what I absolutely highly rate is the different functions given to the core. Like Core-stability, -strength, -force, -flexibility, -control, -awareness and much more. Secondly that she describes the core as the central link of the human kinetic chain.
Then what I find fascinating, that till now, nobody really focused on the fact, that the lack of optimal core function is a giant part of sport and everyday injuries.
So basically what the author is proposing, that in order to safely execute any movement, the very first action is always being ready in our core. Being ready means, that actually there is already a preparation before we know that a movement or action is coming. That includes brain, eyes, ears, skin, muscular contractions, neuromuscular readiness and much more. This is totally right. We can find this idea in older books like “The book of 5 rings” or in the work of Bompa in his strength training books, but in modern literature too like “Ready to run” or the Pilates book of Isacowitz. However “Master your core” goes way beyond muscles. This is not a workout book, but a life-guide !
Bracing techniques are there to prime an exercise in order to execute powerfully, properly but very safely in the meantime. However, she continues further, for instance to learn to brace slash activate the core and keep it that way during open chain exercises too. Most coaches and athletes actually avoid these open-chain routines to avoid injury, however in life you can be tackled or surprised when not grounded or holding on to something, anytime. It might not be our preference, but sometimes we must go through those drills too. Now you can learn to do so !
Then there is breathing. Force production for instance in case of a heavy lift must be accompanied by a powerful exhale in order to create a very high intra-abdominal pressure for power transfer and protection. However, we cannot lose all of this ability when arriving to the sticking point of exhale to inhale, nor during the inhale. Imagine an MMA fighter stopping the fight in the UFC because he cannot brace while inhaling or a powerlifter stopping during a farmer walk competition ! No ! For sure that our most powerful state is during the exhale phase of breathing, but we must be ready and protected anytime. Therefore we must do some reps and routines with natural breathing patterns !
She then discusses the opposite side, that we must be able to control our core. We cannot be over contracted all the time and we should be able to relax too. Relax and recover in order to be ready for the next action. Just enough contraction for correct posture and readiness for reaction.
Exhale for the most powerful contractions ! Breathe naturally for life-like practice ! Learn to Relax !
In the book we can find a lot of stuff in addition to these foundational ideas. Meditation, psychology, diet and hydration, sleep and much more all in conjunction with the core. A lot of exercise routines and movement examples too. Trx, pilates, yoga, swiss-ball , martial arts, ball games and so on.
Once we understood how to contract our core musculature anytime and we can put that in harmony with conscious breathing, then any single movement, action or even stillness can become a core training exercise. We can train directly the so called core muscles, but we can teach our core actually by focusing on it, while doing anything. I totally implemented this to my training regime and the results are fascinating. I can ride my motorbike, do construction work, wash the dishes, read a book or simply write this article, while tonifying and teaching my core. Standing, sitting, laying, hanging or even floating in the water !
My favorite and most powerful movement in the gym was the deadlift, when weighing over 100kg and bodybuilding. I practiced a lot that back in the day, as this exercise trains the whole body and releases a lot of growth hormones. I was playing around periodization for hypertrophy and maximum strength all year around and had enormous gains. In addition to this, I highly rated the benefits of the straight leg or romanian deadlift. On the outside I was looking like a pro while executing, but I am 100% sure that my bracing technique, breathing, core control and even muscular activation was not totally correct.
This deadlift mania also imprinted bad habits I guess. When doing any lifting I was bending over way too often, instead of squatting. That can include simply lifting up a box, peeling vegetables bent over or tying my shoelaces. Since I started implementing the core principles of the book, I kind of naturally learned to contract my glutes and quads in harmony and gained ankle flexibility too. I use now squatting as my primary pick up movement. This lets me keep any weight closer to the centre of mass of my body as my torso is more upright, so I put less strain on my back. I still do deadlifting motions time to time as the gluts are way more powerful than the quads, but it is surely a bent leg deadlift. In case of static positions like being bent over or holding onto something or picking something up from the ground, I exclusively do squatting. If it was a simple motion like tying shoe laces, I prefer to lower myself onto my toes to a half-squat, kneeling or to a lunge.
I also did not really find this in other literatures, that despite our movements were perfectly executed, we could still stress the body negatively. If possible fragility is present, that can be causing injury. I talk about lever lengths. As we move the lever-end further out from the center of mass, the stress will travel to the weakest areas. I am 198cm, my lever lengths are way longer than somebody with shorter torso and shorter extremities. This is why I found that this book can be life changing to the taller population. It is not just your regular exercise routine type of fitness book. Volleyball players, basketball, handball, tennis or water polo players often suffer from back pain. Actually because of the fear of injuring the spine, they often get into compromised movement patterns and injure themselves elsewhere in the kinetic chain. Ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, neck and so on.
Of course, the book has also an impact on my running performance, as my posture is constantly being reinforced in every second of my life. I can stay upright and execute perfect running biomechanics even when being very lactic during track intervals. I can protect my spine when bent over “hands on knees “climbing, but also keep up high cadence due to the powerful core-mind connections. What I also learnt during the read, that digestion, bowel control and the health of the intestines, are not only about what you eat. The surrounding muscles and the breathing has enormous impact on your guts. Every time you train your core with impact exercises like running, skipping roping, jumping and plyometrics, you also train your guts, but other organs too, like your heart, kidneys and liver ! They are surrounded by your core !
As I mentioned at the beginning, I always try pairing up information from multiple sources, with experiences and science. Would this final idea mean, that proper core training could be a big part of the solution for ultra-racing gut issues, kidney failure and even heart mur-mur ? When we run, our organs are moving, sloshing around and chaffing !
My routine and the daily gains
I have been doing morning yoga / pilates routines very well for over 2 decades. Now with the newly added core focus, I really benefit perceivably more from these priming routines. I am ready straight away in the morning for whatever the day brings !
The running drills I practice before each track workout are not anymore just part of a warming up habit. It is training. They make me better for the current interval training session and strengthen me longterm too. I bizarrely can say, that since I have been implementing the ideas from the “Master your Core” book, running became a total anabolic activity for me.
The core activating, sensing and training principles are not only for a short training period, but something that should be followed up for life !
I have to thank TCK publishing and Maria for the book and the experience it brings me daily. You can get your own copy and find more info here:
- Master Your Core: Dr. Bohdanna Zazulak
PS.: In the ‘Conclusion’ section Bohdanna talks about her visit back to Ukraine. As hungarian I can relate a lot and have a very similar experience when I travel home. Simply living, happy, family centred people.