Art of Working Out
performance with the Alexander Technique.
Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields,
Publ. Collins & Brown, 8th January 2007, pbk with flaps,
176pp, 175x220mm, price £12.99, ISBN 978-1-8434-0350-0
(first published in Statnews, May 2007).
My heart lifted when I was asked to review a book on
Alexander Technique and working out as I had always carried
a slight guilt that as an Alexander teacher I should not be
teaching Pilates or working in a gym. I trained in an era
when exercise - other than walking, running or, at a push,
swimming - was frowned upon. I have always believed that the
Technique enhances everything in one’s life and if exercise
is part of your life, so be it. The authors already have a
deserved reputation from their book Master the Art of
Running, and I was not disappointed with their new
On first opening the book I was impressed with the
attractive presentation. The use of colour to theme the
chapters and tie in the case histories, while at the same
time distinguishing them from the main text, is delightful
and effective. I approached the read with enthusiasm and
expectation, in a receptive frame of mind. However, to
nit-pick I personally found the strip showing a young woman
doing a sit-up at the top of each case history page
The book introduces the principles and thinking of the
Alexander Technique and how it can be applied to enhance
working out and is reinforced by a wide range of case
The authors skilfully integrate the principles of the
Technique with the approach and execution of working out in
a whole range of disciplines. This text is particularly
useful to the student who has some experience of the
Technique and in particular is working closely with a
teacher. To a complete novice, to absorb all the information
and then apply it in a work-out might be a bridge too far.
However, the case histories at the end of each chapter are
an effective way of reaching readers who are new to the
Technique and allowing them, through other people’s
experiences, to realise the benefits without being weighed
down by detail. Some of my new students felt that after
reading a selection of case studies they would be stimulated
to attend a workshop or have lessons.
The photographs are of a high quality and are essential to
the text. If anything, more visual aids would have been
beneficial, especially for those new to the Technique.
Photographs are not very informative if you do not know what
to look for. Anatomical sketches with arrows to give the
directions and guide the user to the points of importance
might have been more helpful.
Sometimes a procedure is described but there is no
accompanying photograph - such as on page 132 where the wall
squat is explained. Occasionally (p92) the photographs do
not sit comfortably with the text and could be
A New Direction was one of my favourite chapters (perhaps it
was the pink colour theme and the fact that the case history
was by a Pilates enthusiast). I have found this particularly
useful for my Pilates students, as end-gaining is indeed a
plague of our time: it is highlighted most clearly as soon
as one becomes involved in the fitness environment. To focus
one’s client on the means-whereby has an almost miraculous
effect on the quality of the exercise, even for those who do
not have the skill of the Technique.
I liked the ‘SMART Approach’ to exercise (p55) as it gives
the reader something concrete to remember: S=Skilful,
M=Mindful, A=Athletic, R=Recreational, T=Transferable. All
these trigger thoughts which can help the student exercise
with a focussed mind and pay attention to their use and the
reasons why they exercise.
An essential item missing from the book is a glossary. I had
no idea what the terms ‘ballistic’ or ‘telegraphing’ meant.
Alexander jargon could also be included for those new to the
In conclusion I found it an invaluable book as both an
Alexander teacher and a Pilates teacher. I have learnt much
and am already integrating some of the ideas into my Pilates
For Alexander teachers not involved in working out, this is
an invaluable introduction to the possibilities of taking
the Technique into a society where working out is part of
many people’s lives.
For physical fitness instructors without any Alexander
experience, I think it will have limited impact but might
well inspire them to take lessons or work closely with a
teacher. There is no substitute for ‘hands-on’. As Denise
McKeever points out in her case study for those embarking on
working out, "If you can afford it take one-to-one Alexander
lessons first, or at the very least do a single workshop".
For people with no experience of the Technique, this book
could stimulate interest, and for people with some
experience it could actually be used as a manual.
© Christine Brown 2007