Core strength… Does anyone really know what it means?

It’s been a while since my last update so what better way to get back into things with an article from my colleague over at Melbourne Osteohealth. Remember a few months ago I posted an article about the core? Well, read the below from Della.

‘Core Strength’ is probably one of the most used and abused terms floating around gyms and amongst health professionals and personal trainers.

Over the last few years we’ve seen an increasing number of people  fall victim to an often misguided approach and undertake generic  ‘core’ exercise regimes that have led to back or hip pain which can be linked to improperly ’training their core’.

What makes all this core craziness worse is that so often when more ‘core strengthening’ fails to reduce pain, patients are usually blamed for not doing enough or not trying hard enough…like somehow it’s their fault they’ve been given inappropriate exercise advice!

What is the core?

Control and dynamic stability are essential when we consider biomechanics but your ‘core’ is not the only thing that needs to be stable. As Osteopaths we consider both segmental (single joint) stability and global (whole body) control and the truth is that you can’t have one without the other!

Let me use a little example to explain myself… Everyone uses abdominal work or crunches to strengthen their core and if each of the individual spinal and pelvic joints that make up your core are strong, stable and functioning well (and most likely in that case you’re pain free) – then you’ll get a stronger abs and often a more stable midsection.

If however you have spinal joint pain with some commonly associated muscle weakness- then all you often get is more pressure on the vertebral discs and more pain and dysfunction.

The ‘core’ is more than just your abs, its a combination of muscles on both the back and front of the body, some are big strong muscles that produce big movements and some are small workhorses that stabilise and control individual joints while the big guns move everything else around. They both need to be trained.

Why over-training your core can be harmful

‘Core training’ has become mistakenly synonymous with ‘strengthening your abs’. Unfortunately the real implications of research have often been misunderstood and many of the ‘core muscle training’ programmes offered by the health and fitness industry are often poorly conceived and delivered, frequently adopting directives such as ‘suck the stomach in” – with the emphasis on ‘pulling in’,  ‘holding’ and curling the spine forward.

Overworking the abdominal muscles can create too much tightness around the centre of the body which can adversely affect important aspects of our body, for example, altered spinal posture and difficulty effectively controlling movements of the trunk, can lead to:

  • Increasing incidence of low back pain and associated disorders
  • Hip dysfunction and pain
  • Unhelpful breathing patterns
  • Neck and shoulder tension and pain
  • Stress urinary incontinence

The core muscles do not only consist of the abdominal musculature, but also consist of the trunk and pelvic muscles and quite importantly, many of the muscles of the hips and shoulders.

Improved control of the ‘core’ enables the pelvis and base of the spine to better support posture and movements of the whole spinal column. Core control is also fundamental in being able to develop functional strength as well as the ability to stretch more effectively and safely without reinforcing unhealthy stresses on the spine.

A strong core can lead to the improvement of everyday life, injury prevention, chronic back pain reduction, and enhanced sports performance.

If you are suffering from any upper and lower limb injury as well as pain in the spine, your functional core stability needs to be assessed and an appropriate rehabilitation program set. This should be very individual to you and work with your lifestyle and your physical demands – whether your problem is cleaning the house or you’re an elite athlete. 

Dr Della Buttigieg


Runners wake before the sun

Run early

Runners Run Before The Sun, too. If you’re in Melbourne and fancy joining a few like-minded souls for 45 minutes of running training, this is for you.

  • When: Each Thursday at 7.15am
  • Where: Meet at Genesis, Level 2 Leisure Precinct, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000.
  • What: running, and lots of it. From intervals to fartlek, tempo to easy – no two weeks will be the same.



Attack of the apps

health and fitness apps 

Apparently, there are over 1 billion people the world who have a smartphone and/or a tablet. Naturally, this has meant a growing emergence of apps to meet the demands of the consumers – ranging from games, banking, and health and fitness related apps.

For the health conscious amongst us, you can have a mobile personal trainer app, mobile video instructions on how to perform exercises, you can map your run or ride, time your quickest bench press, count calories, kilojoules, measure your BMI and plan next week’s food intake. You can measure your resting heart rate and test your lactate threshold.

Whilst some apps are good, others are not. Some are free whilst some cost an easy $20. Apps that teach good technique can help reduce injury but it’s probably safe to say that no app can teach you motivation and drive to get you to that event/objective. Likewise no app can auto-correct a body movement that may be slightly off (particularly when targeting a select group of muscles).

Lastly, after the initial excitement people simply don’t use apps. It’s like that exercise bike sitting in the corner of the room that was a great idea but is now part of the furniture.

The ongoing drive for people to adopt a healthier and more active lifestyle is not simply by providing more information at the touch of a button or swipe of a screen.

Physical activity brings pleasure, be it physically, mentally and even spiritually for some. And surely that is the most powerful motivator of all.



Exercise – why do we do it?

After some desperately sad family news I did what most men do: distract myself with something that took my mind firmly away from what was happening. Think of it as a happy distraction before reality hits. It worked. As such what was supposed to be a moderate swim session turned into a 2.5k swim.

The following day I ran – boy, did I run. It was a particularly hard sprint session that was mostly anaerobic. The type of running that requires 20-30 secs at extremely high intensity (with matching heart rate) followed by an equally quick recovery. I repeated this for around 30 or so minutes.

Anyway, it got me thinking – this is my escape. This is the ‘zone’ or place when I escaped and focus on nothing else by my form. When in the pool it’s ‘am I streamlining enough to resist drag’ or ‘is my arm entry and skull stroke correct’.  It’s the same with running. ‘Are my arms crossing the midline?’, ‘are my hips driving me forward or am I wasting too much energy by trunk rotation?’.

I’m always thinking, analysing and critiquing. From swimming, running, bike or conditioning there’s always the biomechanical aspect that occupies. So I’m curious. What do YOU think about? Do you use exercise as an escape? If you’re happily pounding bitumen or smashing rubber on the treadmill, what goes through your mind? Do you think about that nice smokin’ cup of coffee that’s waiting at the finish? Do you think about what you’ll have for dinner that evening?

Please feel free to share, comment and get involved in the discussion. After all, I’m a coach and it’s my job to understand what motivates and drives us all.

The easy way or the hard way?

So I was in the gym last week where I saw a guy frantically squatting with a swissball arched to his back, ball pressed to the wall. He had two dumbells in hand, each around 10 kg. He squatted with the ball, and down he went. I was curious. Who told him that loading weights and squatting with his back against a swissball wedged against a wall was a good thing? I asked, ‘where are you feeling the force of the squat?’. The bloke was unsure. He then piped up and said, ‘I’m strengthening my glute muscles’ he said. Right. He wasn’t, of course. He was, in fact, working his quad muscles and very little else. Think about the line of force and centre of mass whilst resting/squatting with a swissball against a wall.

Because he was continuously pushing backward to keep the ball against the wall and trying to keep the dumbells stable, he was putting a hell of amount of force through his knee joints. His gluteals had no way to saying ‘hey, what about me?’ as he managed to isolate them by loading up his quadriceps and putting force through his knee ligaments and tendons instead.

So what’s my point? Think about where you are feeling the exercise. In this situation the guy wanted to target his gluteals but was actually working the wrong muscle group, performing the wrong exercise and was probably half way to injuring himself thanks to excessive loads. Sometimes simpler is better.

Get your squat technique correct and practice squatting with nothing more than your body weight. The main goal of strength-based exercises is to increase the strength in your muscles and the ability to produce as much force as you can whilst ensuring quantity trumps quality.

Allow your muscles to develop as much force as possible through a range of motion, giving you the right foundation required before you decided to ‘load up with weights’.

The strength built can later be transferred to power which is critical in a lot of movements we perform daily and in sport.


Smiles all round…

Before the race...

The recent 15k Run For The Kids was a debut event for a few. Congratulations to Matt, who ran with a broken hip bone, Jessye (who completed her first ever 15k run) and Health, who shaved 2 mins off last year’s time.  And finally a big shout to Marissa (below, middle) who also completed her first 15k event. Some PBs and some great achievements had by all. Just goes to show what a bit of training and hard work does, huh? Everyone should be pretty damn pleased with their performance in what can be a tough circuit.

After the race!

Time for an after race coffee...

What hell is ‘the core’ anyway?


The core. What does it mean? It’s a word that gets bounded about with little meaning or explanation. What are muscles involved? How can they help with performance? Where are the muscles located? How do they work mechanically? The core, or the midsection of your body, entails so much more than getting a sculpted six-pack and looking like an Adonis.

The core – how it helps running performance

Firstly, let’s ditch the word ‘core’ for a moment and replace it with ‘midsection’. After all, your body’s midsection is your adnominal muscles, both deep and superficial, as well as your oblique muscles.

A strong midsection is crucial for power transfer to your arms and legs as it helps maintain proper posture, leading to improved efficiency and for the runners, improved run economy. A strong midsection helps facilitate better performance through your hip flexor muscle group.

However, improving strength through your midsection requires more than copious amounts of sit-ups. A high proportion of people perform sit-ups incorrectly. Think about the angle of your spine, the angle where your ischial tuberosity (the pair of sitting bones) and foot/knee placement of a sit-up. If your spine, feet and knee joints aren’t positioned correctly, chances are all a sit-up will do is build your quad muscles and skip the midsection. Great if you’re after strong quads but not so great if you’re trying to improve power through the mid.

Moreover, while abdominal exercises, like crunches and sit-ups, work the front of your stomach (the rectus abdominis), they only reach a small percentage of muscle groups in your midsection. Go beyond the ‘abs’ and you’ll find that the midsection includes muscles in the lumbar region of your lower back, hips and pelvic region.

How to improve your midsection/core

You can actually tone your midsection while doing everything from running, sitting straight at work or even driving a car – it’s about keeping the area activated.

To improve your core, email me for more.

How to handle the pre-race nerves

imagesCAO8KDRTIt’s only natural that before a race nerves start to creep in. However, follow the below race-day preparation tips to help settle the butterflies.

Know the circuit

Look at the map of where you’re running. What are the hills? What will you face in the last two ks when your body will probably want to pack up and go home? Study the route so that way there are no surprises.

Enjoy the taper

The taper is designed to allow your body to recover, rebuild, and be fresh for the race. Adding in extra cross-training, boxing class or pump can cause your fitness level to dip and actually lessen your race-day potential. Enjoy the taper and get yourself mentally prepared for the race. 

Fuel and fluids

Did you know that during the last three days before an endurance (marathon, triathlon etc), carbohydrate intake should increase to around 70/80% of total daily caloric intake. Why? Because carbohydrate is the body’s celluar fuel.


Hydration can make or break your race. Keep your fluids levels up before the race and watch out for energy drinks suck as isotonic, hyptonic and hypertonic – each mean something different. When you sweat your excrete essesential minerals such as sodium and potassium. An isotonic drink is generally consdiered ‘neutral’ – meaning what you sweat you’ll get back via the consumption of an isotonic sports drink.

The different brands of sports drinks contain varying amounts of carbs and electrolytes, and some contains copious amounts of sugar. Some contain other components such as protein. If you’ve not tried these products during training, you don’t want to risk causing stomach issues on race day. Don’t over-hydrate.

Get some zzzs

 Pretty basic this one but sleep matters.  Try to stick to your normal routine and try to get a decent night’s sleep, ready and fresh for the day ahead.

Warm up

Hopefully you know the importance of warming up.  The warm-up should consist of dynamic movements like our normal routine of high knees, butt kicks, ankle flicks, shuttle runs, etc and NOT the traditional stretch-n-hold stretches. Five minutes of brisk walking followed by two to three minutes of easy jogging makes for a good warm up. Needless to say there’s no point running back and forth for 20 minutes before a 15k run and, chances are, you’ll use up much needed energy.

Put ya brakes on

Race day is a strange thing. There are people everywhere and some people believe that they’ll break a world record and set out the traps faster than Road Runner. It’s easy to get excited and try to run as fast as others, however, before you know it you’d have run the first few ks at a minute faster than your normal pace, making the last 13ks hell on earth. So the message is slow and steady to start with – find your groove, find your stride and get your pace right.

Think positive

Where the mind goes the body follows. Think positive – say things like ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’. ‘Run strong’. ‘I’ve done the training – I put in the effort’.  There are always factors out of your control that may affect race day (crazy weather, pouring rain, illness, injury, etc.), but what you can control is your confidence. Trusting your training and believing in yourself as an athlete will help ensure that all the hard work you’ve put in over the past few months will shine through.

And finally, above all else – have fun and enjoy it. It’s only one race. And if you don’t get your desired time, who cares? There’s another one just around the corner.

Finishing a 5, 10 or 15k event is one heck of an achievement in itself. Remember, you’re out there doing it – others are not.

Arts Vs Science = Information

Yummy... Ok, so you’re probably thinking that this is just another blog and why the frick should you read it. Firstly, this is an ideas forum – if you want to know more about a subject related to health, activity and lifestyle, let me know and I’ll do the research to provide you with the latest info’. Secondly, this isn’t the gospel according to me – it’s supposed to be fun, engaging and full of banter and information that you can use and abuse. So since Easter’s coming up let’s get cracking (get it…?).

If you want to be sharper at work, feel less tired and generally feel a bit better about yourself chances are exercise is the part of the answer.

You guys know that being physically active offers benefits far beyond the obvious. (Of course, an improved physique and a clean bill of health aren’t too shabby, either.)

Being physically active and eating well are integral to the process of feeling sharper, which brings me on the forthcoming Easter break. The shop’s are full of chocolate covered snacks, which usually means sugar isn’t too far behind. Before you rush out and buy the latest eggs it pays to know a bit about what you’re eating and how it links with exercise.

The Science
Recent US research found healthy people who eat chocolate regularly tend to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than those who don’t eat it at all. However, the key is having small amounts. For example, a large Easter bunny can have as many as 1075 calories, whereas the small hollow eggs only have about 72 calories. The motto here is savour the flavour. Check out the below as an example.

Egg selection KJ Fat (approx)
200g Easter Bunny 3740 50g
1 Crème Egg 718 6g
3 mini eggs 560 7.5g
Small hot cross bun (no butter) 600 2g
Large hot cross bun (with butter) 1200 10g
Choc chip hot cross bun 1100 9g

The obvious column isn’t so much the fat content but the middle ‘KJ (kilojoules) column. You use energy no matter what you’re doing, even when sleeping. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR is the amount of calories you would burn if you were asleep all day. Therefore The Harris Benedict Equation determines your total daily energy expenditure (calories).

The BMR formula uses the variables of height, weight, age and gender to calculate the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This tool then uses the Harris Benedict Equation to determine your total daily energy expenditure (calories). The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that uses your BMR and then applies an activity factor. This is more accurate than calculating energy needs based on total body weight alone. The only factor it omits is lean body mass and thus the ratio of muscle-to-fat a body has. Remember, leaner bodies need more energy than less lean ones. Therefore, this equation will be accurate in all people except the very muscular (Harris-Benedict will under-estimate energy needs) and overweight people (Harris-Benedict will over-estimate energy needs).

If you’re confused about how it all works, email me for further information.

If you really want to indulge a little bit this Easter then head to Mister Nice Guy Cup Cakes on 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra. They’re Vegan, which means it’s decent chocolate and full of natural wonder.

Stay active.


Your Running Shoes Don’t Matter

fitness-running-shoes_fe The above statement is false, of course. What to wear, what to wear? It’s a common problem that all fitness nuts face.

You want to look good, feel comfortable and still get that all important performance that’ll shave a few extra seconds from your time.

Well, watch this space as we delve into the latest brands and ask a few training buddies about their stories,