Book Review - The Core: Better Life, Better Performance

Aki Hintsa was a familiar face in the Formula 1 paddock before he stopped travelling in late 2013, the unofficial paddock doctor who treated anyone and everyone in need.

Book Review - The Core: Better Life, Better Performance
Aki Hintsa and Oskari Saari: The Core – Better Life, Better Performance book cover
Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor with Mika Hakkinen
Johnny Herbert, with Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 with Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor
(L to R): Jerome d'Ambrosio, Lotus F1 Team Third Driver with Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor
(L to R): Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor with Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus F1 Team
(L to R): Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal with Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor
Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus F1 Team with Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor
Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor with Mika Hakkinen
Jenson Button, McLaren with Dr. Aki Hintsa, McLaren Team Doctor

A trained doctor who had dreamed of life as a professional ice hockey player, Hintsa spent much of the 1980s and 1990s living and working as a missionary in Ethiopia, where he built up a strong personal relationship with famed endurance runner Haile Gebrselassie.

In his years in Africa, Hintsa was struck by what he saw as the connection between Gebrselassie’s athletic performances, his strong sense of self, and a life with few distractions but a strong family support network.

What began as anecdotal observations over the years turned into a system for maximising performance in athletes and professionals whose fast-paced lives were, in fact, hampering performance both intellectual and physical.

In The Core: Better Life, Better Performance, Hintsa and Finnish F1 TV commentator Oskari Saari use a combination of biography and philosophy to sketch out the core principles of the Hintsa Performance method, with case studies of those it has helped.

While the book could be interpreted as a user’s guide to Hintsa’s methods - the concepts are clearly explained throughout, and appendix contains corporate case studies and illustrated exercises to maintain physical fitness - it is more than simply a manual.

Instead, the book teaches readers how to find their own answers to life’s existential questions: Who am I? What do I want from life? Am I in control of my own life?

Once the answers to these questions have been found, Hintsa teaches, success is simply a matter of finding one’s own equilibrium, the balance between work life, family life (or similar support networks) and time spent looking after the self will lead to success. Well-being generates success, and not the inverse.

One of the more interesting case studies in the book examines Hintsa’s relationship with Sebastian Vettel. The pair started working together before the German racer had collected his first title, and the combination of Hinsta Performance’s holistic approach and carefully selected trainers plus Aki’s own personal wisdom and guidance helped Vettel both physically and mentally.

Tommi Parmakoski, who trained Vettel for three years, has written his own chapter in the book, in which he sums up his approach for success: “True success is testing your own limits, taking steps to strengthen your weak points, and the daily desire to grow.”

And, as Parmakoski adds, success by that definition is applicable to everyone, not simply superhero athletes and corporate warriors.

The principles of Hintsa’s approach to holistic well-being are simple: with strong foundations and good health, we can achieve our goals - if we have defined them honestly to ourselves.

No empire was ever built on weak foundations, and without the energy we get from a well-functioning body, a well-rested mind, and a soul soothed by time spent with those who are most important to us, we are no more stable than a house of cards.

As Saari puts it in one of the final chapters, “Energy is like currency. You have to have some in reserve for bad times. You also have to know where and how to get more.

"When the time comes that you can’t get seven hours of sleep at night, when you can’t exercise, when deadlines loom and the pressure is intense, the person who has prepared and takes good care of himself or herself is the one who will remain strong. Whoever has the most energy wins.”

The Core is chock-full of information that can be applied by anyone seeking to improve their performance, whatever they do with their lives.

But it is by no means a dry or unengaging read - I inhaled its 300+ pages in a matter of hours, and put the book down feeling enthused and inspired by Hintsa’s methods. 

Be it a biography, a user’s guide, or a self-help manual, Saari and Hintsa have together achieved the seemingly impossible - advocating for change without preaching.

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