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Fitness Tip of the Day!
Walking and Dementia
A 9-yr study of elderly adults (mean age 78 yrs) showed that those who walked the most (on a regular basis) had a reduced risk of cognitive impairment. (source: Neurology, Oct. 19, 2010.)

Master Your Core

Author: Zazulak B
Category: Exercise / Fitness
Audience: Consumer
Length: 256 pages
Publisher: TCK Publishing
  Year Published: 2021
List Price: $19.99® Rating: Worth A Look

Master Your Core explains and illustrates a core-training exercise program. Mind-body aspects are also presented.

Recommended for: Anyone at any fitness level.


Bohdanna "Billie" Zazulak obtained a BS in Physical Therapy from the State University of New York, an MS in Orthopedic Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac University, and a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) from Temple University. She has 3 decades of experience as an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS). She is the recipient of the prestigious Rose Award from APTA. She is currently a researcher at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Zazulak's main interest is in promoting core stability to prevent injuries. For more info, see: Dr. Zazulak's web site.


This 256-page book is organized as follows:


  • Chapter 1: Understanding the Core
  • Chapter 2: Core Biomechanics
  • Chapter 3: How Does Your Core Stack Up?
  • Chapter 4: How Your Sex Impacts Your Core Health and Injury Risk
  • Chapter 5: Mind-Core Connection
  • Chapter 6: Heart-Core Connection
  • Chapter 7: Core Holistic Nourishment
  • Chapter 8: The Floor of the Core


  • Chapter 9: Breathing
  • Chapter 10: Awareness
  • Chapter 11: Stability
  • Chapter 12: Empowerment: The Core-Flourishing Phase
  • Chapter 13: Personalize Your Core BASE



The Foreword by Timothy Hewett, PhD, is succinct. He points out that Dr. Zazulak looks at core training and core stability from a global, holistic perspective.

The Introduction by Dr. Zazulak is useful. Here, she explains that far more women suffer ACL injuries than men do. This illustrates why men and women should not be considered equivalent when designing core training programs. The author also introduces her "BASE" concept for core training: Breathing, Awareness, Stability, and Empowerment.

Chapter 1: In this chapter, the author states that core stability depends on core awareness and core control.

Chapter 2: In this chapter, titled "Core Biomechanics," the author explains that imbalances in muscle groups -- either side-to-side, or, front-to-back -- can increase the risk of injury. She points out that simply doing sit-ups and crunches is not very smart. Overdeveloping the stomach muscles while ignoring posterior muscles in the back, the glutes, and the hamstrings is a major flaw in training that athletes and regular people alike often make. This chapter provides an important perspective.

Chapter 3: This chapter focuses on maintaining anatomically correct spinal posture. Dr. Zazulak discusses proper and improper posture while sitting and while standing. Some good tips are presented.

Chapter 4: Here, the author explains that women are more prone to some injuries than men are. She states that hormonal differences are not the cause. Rather, it is due to a collection of anatomical changes that occur as girls mature into adults: widening of the hips, a higher center of mass, weaker muscles and bones, and looser ligaments (see p. 61). Genetic factors, earlier puberty (in girls), and breathing patterns are also discussed.

Chapter 5: This chapter discusses mindfulness and meditation. This will be a new concept to some readers; they may struggle to understand the relationship between meditation and injury prevention.

Chapter 6: This chapter attempts to relate aerobic exercise and core training to heart health. Here, loose associations are made. While aerobic exercise clearly improves heart health, how core training/fitness contributes to that relationship is vague. The author doesn't identify any specific athletes or sports that support these conclusions. An oscillating left side - right side contraction of core muscles occurs during running, walking, and swimming, but how this aspect of muscular training might improve heart health is not explained. Is it independent and/or additive to the known cardiovascular benefits of aerobic conditioning? Maybe all of the heart health benefits are due to an improvement in aerobic fitness? Exercises that require much less involvement of core muscles (eg., biceps curls) can also boost HR and can therefore produce cardiovascular benefits (Moreira OC, et al. J Strength Cond Res 2017). On p. 88, a resting HR of 60-100 is identified as normal. This is outdated and misleading: a 2005 study revealed that resting HR above 75 is associated with a nearly 4-fold increased risk of sudden death (Jouven X, et al. NEJM 2005).

Chapter 7: The title of this chapter is "Core Holistic Nourishment." To appreciate the author's perspective here, it is important to understand the words "holistic" and "nourishment." In this chapter, the author focuses on factors other than the strength/fitness of the muscles in the torso: diet/nutrition, hydration, sleep, rest/recovery days, and, what appears to be the author's major emphasis: a positive state of mind. In other words, nourishing the soul is just as important as nourishing the body. Other than the mind-body relationship, which the author discusses throughout this book, these factors are only discussed briefly. Obviously, diet/nutrition is a huge topic so it cannot be covered adequately in the 3-4 pages that the author devotes to it. She does explain that diet has the ability to turn on and turn off genes (epigenetics, p. 98) and she does endorse a plant-based diet and mentions several foods that prevent inflammation (p. 100). However, a simple table of 8-10 foods and beverages that promote inflammation (and thus should be minimized or avoided) would have also been helpful. The concept of "nutrient timing" (ie., consuming protein within 30-45 minutes post-exercise to enhance recovery) is not discussed. Regarding hydration, the author does state that there is no "one size fits all" formula. She summarizes a general recommendation for fluid intake from the National Academies of Sciences. But more specific guidelines from organizations like USA Track and Field, and sports dietitians like Nancy Clark, MS, RD, would have been useful. Regarding rest/recovery days, again, the author only discusses the topic in a general sense: "allow your body to recover and repair" (p. 103). Rest/recovery days are very important for avoiding injury and so it seems more detail should be provided. After an athlete does a core-training session, should they rest 1 day? 2 days? Some research results on this should be summarized. Two pages are devoted to the importance of sleep. The author finishes this chapter by again discussing spirituality and happiness. Thus, this chapter does take a holistic perspective. It left me wondering if the author wants readers to think of "core" as in "core fundamentals of wellness", as opposed to the first 4 chapters where core refers to the muscles of the torso. The author presents some worthwhile perspectives, but in some ways, it is too general.

Chapter 8: This chapter discusses the muscles in the pelvic, the floor of the core. It is much more germane to the theme suggested by the title of the book, and, is in line with the first 4 chapters. This chapter presents useful information.

Part II, chapters 9 through 13, describes the author's "BASE" training program:

Chapter 9: This chapter is titled "Breathing" but the 2nd half of the chapter addresses stretching, so the title of this chapter should include that. The information on breathing presented here is quite good, though some of this was covered in earlier chapters (see below). Many readers have probably never practiced controlled, deep breathing. They can use this chapter to give it a try. Seven different stretches are summarized, and the chapter concludes with a table that diagrams each one.

Chapter 10: This chapter is titled "Awareness."

Chapter 11: This chapter is titled "Stability." It describes 5 categories of core exercises: "Core Balance," "Core Med Ball," "Core Stabilizing," "Core Plyometric," and "Core Suspension." For each category, 7 exercises are described. A table illustrating these exercises is provided for each of these 5 categories.

Chapter 12: This chapter is titled "Empowerment." Here, the author provides short discussions of Pilates, yoga, martial arts, dance, music, laughter, and nature to help the reader "choose the activities that nurture your soul and spirit, and bring you joy while improving your core stability and fitness."

Chapter 13: This is a short chapter where the author presents several examples of how to construct a BASE training program.

Other details:

Photos & Illustrations: Three small black-and-white photos are included. Four anatomical illustrations appear; these are essentially useless. The diagram of the spine (p. 43) does label the specific sections, however the font size is so small it's difficult to read. The diagram on p. 125 labels 2 muscles of the core (why only these?) but the diagram doesn't display them with enough detail. The diagrams on p. 13 and p. 48 have no labels and the multiple shades of gray make it impossible to identify the specific muscles mentioned in the captions.

Tables & Graphs: Chapters 9 - 13 present tables that summarize specific exercises. Included with each exercise are several black-and-white illustrations of a female figure demonstrating how to perform them. Though small, they are functional. These tables are useful: a user could photocopy them to refer to when exercising.

Documentation / Accuracy: Dr. Zazulak is an academic and, as such, has cited nearly 200 published studies in the References section at the end of the book. Eighteen of these papers were authored or co-authored by Dr. Zazulak, while only 2 by Stuart McGill, PhD, a recognized back-rehab expert, are cited.

What I Liked

What Could Be Better

There is good information in this book, but usability and comprehension could be improved:

Documentation of the efficacy of the BASE training program is not provided. The most glaring deficiency is that nowhere in this book does the author provide specific data from athletes or clients who have actually participated in her BASE training program. How many people have done this? And, what results were seen? Was back pain relieved? Was athletic performance improved? If so, was there a 5% improvement...or a 50% improvement? Did injury rates go down in specific sports or activities? The closest we get to answering these questions is in Chapter 1 where she states: "My published biomechanical research on hundreds of Yale University collegiate athletes has determined that poor core stability increases the risk of injury" (p. 20), "When these athletes were monitored throughout their years at Yale, deficits in core awareness were observed in those who sustained injuries compared with uninjured athletes from the same varsity sports teams" (p. 21), and "Deficits in core control, measured by trunk displacements, were greater in athletes who later sustained injury. These findings establish the link between poor core stability and injury, and provide valuable insight into the role of core awareness and core control for health and wellness" (p. 23). These statements confirm that research data exist. In the Bibliography, the title of several papers (authored by Dr. Zazulak) seem to indicate where readers could obtain these details, but several paragraphs explaining these research results would greatly add validity to the BASE training program she promotes in this book.

Validate controversial statements by listing the research supporting it right after the statement. Some statements seem to be overly broad endorsements of the health benefits of core training, meditation, breathing. In Chapter 5, the author states that meditation can prevent injuries. In Chapter 9 (p. 126), the author claims that deep breathing enhances longevity. These concepts are intriguing, but empirically it's difficult to understand how these relationships could exist. On p. 131, she states that wheelchair-bound elderly can improve their strength by simply watching yoga videos. This seems even more improbable. Discussions such as these could be enhanced by identifying the specific studies that support the concept immediately following each statement. Academic readers would appreciate it.

Important questions are not addressed. For example: (1) Pilates seems to be an ideal exercise to train the torso muscles. But is it? Certainly, there are research studies where subjects participated in Pilates training. What were the results? Was muscle tone improved? Was back pain relieved? If so, was it 20% effective?...80% effective? (2) Planks are currently a popular exercise and Dr. Zazulak recommends them in Part II. Stuart McGill, PhD, has documented that the long, thin muscles of the back can be depleted of oxygen after a 30-second sustained contraction even at low amounts of effort (McGill SM, et al. Ergonomics 2000). Similar observations have been reported by other researchers (Kell RT, et al. Eur J Appl Physiol 2008) (Movahed M, et al. Eur J Appl Physiol 2011). It would be helpful if Dr. Zazulak would explain why some research shows that sustained contraction of torso muscles might be harmful, yet, planks are an effective exercise for a program that "prevents injuries." Additionally, it would be very useful to compare the effectiveness of Pilates versus planks for strengthening the torso muscles.

Highlight key tips and recommendations. Throughout the chapters in Part I, the author identifies and explains problems, and then follows up with a "here's what you should do" statement. It goes back and forth like that throughout a chapter. It would enhance comprehension if the key recommendations in each chapter appeared in a text box, or, a table. In Part II, the Tables that illustrate the recommended exercises should also include the specific "exercise prescription" on that page. Those details are buried in the text. How many times per week to perform these exercises is not stated anywhere.

General layout could be better. In general, Part I identifies problems and explains their causes. Part II, then, describes the exercises and strategies that fix those problems. However, Part I contains lots of "here's what you should do" statements, and, some additional identifying/explaining of problems continues in Part II. Chapters 9 through 13 present the author's "BASE" training program. At this point in the book, the reader has been primed to expect "here is what you should do" information. However, the first 5 pages of Chapter 9 continue to explain why shallow breathing is a problem. Much of this seems to have been covered in Chapters 4, 5, and 8. The relationship between weak pelvic muscles and urinary incontinence is discussed again, even though it was discussed in Chapter 8. Thus, there is repetition in Chapter 9.

Delete extraneous content. The author explains pointless trivia: the history of various types of martial arts; the Holodomor; Da Vinci's Vitruvian man diagram, etc. Some readers may find these details interesting, but it would be more helpful to summarize research results as noted above.


"Master Your Core" presents a unique perspective on core training. A variety of exercises that improve core fitness are recommended. Physical training is combined with the encouragement to be mindful of posture and proper muscle use when doing daily activities, and, to use proper form when working out at the gym. Deep breathing and maintaining a healthy frame-of-mind are other key principles the author stresses. Most readers will find this book helpful. Academic readers will be frustrated by inadequate documentation of research results and health claims.


  • Conditioning To The Core (2014) by Greg Brittenham and Daniel Taylor, MS, PES, CSCS.
  • Developing The Core (2014). This is a multi-authored book, edited by Jeffrey Willardson, PhD, and published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Reviewed by: Stan Reents, PharmD 10/25/2021 11:27:47 AM

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