If you’re looking for ways to help female clients strengthen and rebalance core structures, The Core Program (ISBN 0-553-80139-2) is a solid resource. The author argues that many of the nagging pains and discomfort clients experience are actually the result of core muscle imbalance. The book combines a very doable series of exercises with solid wisdom about how female structure and physiology affects health and fitness. Look for case histories, detailed photographs illustrating each exercise, and self-tests for rating balance, flexibility, and strength.
If you’re tempted to jump a chapter ahead and sample the exercises, be my guest. But when you’ve sated your curiosity, make sure to flip through the earlier chapters. Chapter Two is a real gold mine, a very readable discussion of how women’s bodies, designed for childbirth, are distinct in terms of structure, hormones, and muscle distribution, and the fitness challenges that result. For example, women’s ligaments are looser than men’s. Normal hormonal changes cause ligaments to relax even more. Consequently, women rely on muscle tone even more than men to keep joints stable.
Early chapters provide a lot of basic theory about core health and function. Although I occasionally felt information a bit rudimentary or disagreed with a theoretical point about body use, overall I felt the text brings a lot of information together in an extremely usable format. The compilation and organization of material makes it easy to incorporate with structural integration work and simple to teach to clients.
Brill introduces “Hot Spots”, common problem areas including the neck, back, pelvis, hips, and lower extremities. Simple Self Tests are used to determine dysfunctional areas. She builds on this Hot Spot theory with brief case histories, anatomical discussion, common signs and symptoms of dysfunction, and standard diagnoses. Margins are filled with sidebars containing additional information, related research, and practical tips and advice.
Although she organizes theoretical discussion around common problem areas, Brill’s methodology is one hundred percent whole-body. Half of the pages are devoted to the Core Program exercises, which are designed to “reestablish a positive relationship” with gravity.
The text presents three series of core exercises: Foundational, Intermediate, and Ultimate levels. Mimicking the sequence o,1 neurological development, each series o exercises challenges the user to move muscles in the order they were developer to sit, stand and walk. Brill recommend,, performing each series for three weeks be fore moving to a more advanced level. This: ensures that core myofascial structures are balanced and strengthened before morn challenging moves are introduced.
Brill devotes an entire chapter to each series of exercises. Careful descriptions, user friendly photography, and bulleted summaries are provided for each exercise. Margin exhibit ways to check for form, advice and tips, and even images and descriptions o what not to do. Somehow the layout pull; it off without getting too busy. Chapter design allows the reader to explore as much or as little detail as necessary – a rare quality in exercise texts.
Brill demos all of the exercises herself. If she looks like she could afford to lose a few pounds in some pictures, it’s because she was pregnant during many of the photo shoots – a convincing argument for the work itself.
Exercises are heavy on yoga with a good dose of Pilates and strength training. Exercises are meant to be performed slowly, with keen attention to the breath. The Foundational and Intermediate series contain 14 and 15 exercises, respectively. The Ultimate Core workout only has eleven exercises, but the first one consists of repetitions of the yogic Sun Salutation, which is a workout in itself.
Adding hand and ankle weights make the Ultimate Core exercises even more demanding. Exercises can all be performed on the floor with hardly any additional equipment required.
I introduced the book to an active 70-yearold Rolfing client who has struggled with posture all her life. Over the last decade, her hyperlordosis has become extreme with the progressive development of a dowager’s hump, mild osteoarthritis, and protruding belly.
She has been using the Core exercises for approximately twelve weeks, is currently performing the Ultimate Core series, and shows a noticeable easing in her lumbar curve. She has always been extremely active, walks several miles every morning and performs over twenty five push-ups (military style!) among her morning exercises. But the Core Program is the first exercise approach that has significantly affected alignment. She reports a “flatter” stomach and reduced gastric distress. I look forward to our future sessions because I believe better fascial relationships are possible with her improved muscle tone.
15 MINUTES A DAY THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
Yes and no. With a little practice, the Foundational core routine can probably be completed in fifteen minutes. But when performed correctly (slowly and with attention to breath) fifteen minutes is going to be cutting it pretty short. Expect to tack on an extra five minutes for each successive level. But can they change your life? My client thinks so.
ARE THEY FOR EVERYONE?
Obviously, the client I described is unusually self-motivated. Not everyone is going to be as zealous. But I appreciate having the book as a resource. I consider myself an informational clearinghouse for clients and this will be a valuable direction for some.
Many of the exercises are particularly valuable stand-alone, such as Brill’s Head-toToe exercise – a subtle sequence of isometric movements at the neck, shoulder girdle, ribcage, pelvic girdle, and knee / ankle. Users activate each area separately, then simultaneously. The Head-to-Toe exercise seems to discourage rotations, introduce variety to entrenched front/back relationships, and wake up forgotten core musculature. It’s simple and safe enough for any client, yet surprisingly powerful. One male client says it’s one of the best tools he has for curbing occasional back spasms. I use several of the exercises on their own for targeting specific areas that chronically weaken (such as transversus abdominis).
Brill combines the solid wisdom of an accomplished physical therapist with a holistic approach to health. She has a practice in Manhattan, an on-site office at Morgan Stanley for employees and family, and also helps high-profile clients who include the nationally-ranked Duke University basketball team. But this highly successful P.T. started out as a sickly kid. After bouncing from doctor to doctor, she eventually overcame years of serious health problems through a holistic wellness approach. This experience is imbedded in her teaching.
Brill argues that a lot of the nagging physical discomforts many women endure can be overcome with better core strength and balance. In my practice, I often wonder about this and in terms of my ability to organize and lengthen. connective tissue. I find my Rolfing particularly effective when my client is engaged in activities that wake up forgotten or underused parts of their body. The Core Program can be a powerful tool to this end.