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


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.

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...

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.