"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Core Conditioning," by Patrick S. Hagerman, Ed.D.

Pros: Safe, effective, clearly-explained exercises to strengthen your core
Cons: Many exercises do require some equipment
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 5/9/2006
Review copy courtesy of Alpha Books.

I’m always looking for good ways to get exercise. I want to be healthy, but there are a couple of things I tend to allow to get in my way. One is the tendonitis in my hands and arms–many exercises are off-limits to me. Another is the restlessnesss and difficulty focussing that comes with having ADD and bipolar. The more variety I can give myself, and the more effectively and efficiently I can work out, with as few barriers to entry as possible, the more likely I am to do it. Thus, when I heard about core conditioning, I decided it was worth checking out.

The idea behind core conditioning is that most of the exercise programs out there, particularly body-sculpting and weight-training, focus on the muscles in your extremities. However, these muscles are supported by the muscles in your “core,” or your torso from roughly neck to hips, and if these muscles are weak then your other muscles are working from a flawed foundation. As a concept this certainly makes sense to me, particularly when you read through the anatomical material here and get a good sense for the muscles in your core and how they connect up to the rest of the body.

Some core exercises use your own body weight to provide resistance, while others use resistance tubing, inflated stabilization balls, or small weighted medicine balls. While these items are certainly cheaper than a gym membership or a complex piece of weight training equipment it can add up a bit, particularly if you have more than one person in your household who wants to try it, and even more so if you’re both of radically different heights and strengths (necessitating different sizes of stability ball, strengths of tubing, and weights of medicine ball). Luckily there is a reasonable range of body weight-based exercises, but I do wish there were more.

If anything, many of the core conditioning exercises strike me as being Westernized modifications of certain types of qigong and yoga postures, sometimes involving more resistance or faster movement. They look like the kind of exercises where you see someone doing them and think, gee, like you’re going to get anything out of that wimpy exercise, but I don’t think I’ll ever think that again–these exercises are harder (not so much in the sense of being difficult to do, but in the sense of really giving you a workout) than they look!

There’s a great deal of fantastic information in here. There’s plenty to help you understand the point and usefulness of core conditioning and how it can work together with other sorts of exercise such as weight training and cardio. There’s information to help you figure out when to do your stretching, how to track and measure your progress, how to be safe, and more.

The directions and photos provided for the exercises are particularly good. I had no trouble following them. Steps are brief, clear, and easy to understand. Photos are illustrative and clear. Precautions and warnings are ample and appropriate, and make it quite clear at what point there’s a problem and you should stop, not to mention which exercises have potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Much like qigong and yoga, it doesn’t take long to start feeling the effects of core conditioning. It might not give you the body of a supermodel or a body-builder, but it’s designed to give you a sturdy foundation for all the rest of your exercise endeavors. And it’s certainly a great foundation for a healthier body.

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