Today’s show is with Dr Kelly Starrett, the man behind Mobility Wod and the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming a Supple Leopard. This guy knows his stuff – you’re in for a treat.
On to the show with Dr. Kelly, we’re digging into:
- How to hack human movement
- Why some tiny fighters can wipe the floor with lumbering beasts
- The mechanics of deadlifting a human
- And why YOU move like an ass.
Alright, let’s go hang out with Kelly.
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Dr. Kelly Starrett: How to Move Like a Human
Abel: Alright folks, we are here with Dr. Kelly Starrett, who is a coach, physical therapist, and author of the epic tome Becoming a Supple Leopard which covers how to hack human movement.
What’s cooking, doc?
Hey, how are you? Thanks for having me man.
Abel: Absolutely. Thanks for coming on.
Usually I don’t do this, but since the name of your book is so ridiculous, why don’t we start right there and explain what you’re all about, and what this book is all about? It’s enormous and awesome.
Well, right. You should pick up the Julia Child’s or Betty Crocker cookbook, and it should have some girth to it. I think there was even a good research that showed that people equate quality with heaviness. So clearly, I’m just trying to go right for heaviness right off the bat.
But a couple of things; one is that the first aspect of this book I think that should jump out at you is the name.
Our idea is, why don’t we have full available physical capacity as human beings?
Imagine if you could just do everything that a human being should be able to do. Sounds like we should be able to do that.
But, even if we began, we just start and we had everyone listening (or reading) squat down with their feet together. One fist between your feet, squat all the way down and keep your heels on the ground.
Can you do that?
Go ahead, give it a try, all the way down.
Abel: Not in these pants, good sir.
Alright, okay. So you’re wearing an exoskeleton that changes the way you move.
So this notion that the leopard has full physical capacity available, can attack and defend instantaneously. It doesn’t warm up, it doesn’t activate its glutes.
It has full availability and access of its leopard-ness. And the thinking was, why don’t we as humans have full available capacity?
If you had full range of motion through all your tissues, your tissues were normal, and you had motor control, you actually knew how to express all of that range of motion, then chances are you would never end up injured unless it was catastrophe or pathology, right?
I would say a full 98% of the problems we see in the gym, in the hospital that are orthopedic, in the physical therapy clinic, are preventable diseases.
And if we just gave people full range of motion and some basic software to run the most extraordinary hardware on the system in the planet, then chances are we’d have a lot less back pain.
Actually none, no hip pain. We would just clean up a bunch of silly BS.
And so this notion that we should think about ourselves as skilled human beings and that we should develop that skill is really at the heart and soul of this book.
One of the things that I think is so great is something you particularly have done a great job of, is saying, “Look, you need to be skilled in the way you take care of the human being. This is how we eat, this is how we sleep, this is how we manage stress,” right?
And those capacities aren’t innate, they’re learned, they’re modelled. And what’s happening right now is we’re living in this epoch, a renaissance where we have people for the first time sharing these silos of information.
You can talk with Mat Lalonde on one day and then have me on the next day.
And what’s happening, too, is that people are really getting the idea that if we operate under this assumption, test, retest, share; test, retest, share. Suddenly, we’re really starting to see best practice, that Olympians are hanging out with physios, hanging out with gymnasts, hanging out with nutrition people.
And for the first time, we’re redirecting people back into the center of their lives, that they are at the center.
They’re the loci of control about leading a more fulfilled life and certainly a pain-free life.
Now, the problem with the way we’ve traditionally addressed injury and dysfunction is that we wait until we have a problem, we wait till we have some pain.
In engineering, it’s called the “lagging indicator.”
It’s like saying, “Hey, the toast is done.”
“How do you know the toast is done?”
“Well, your house is on fire.”
Or, driving your car until it blows up and then deciding to put engine oil in.
Well, we need to have a better model, and that model is position.
And if we can get people to understand some basic framework for how their body works, then we can really start to understand where we’re having problems. And then we should be able to fix it ourselves.
It’s my human right to be able to perform basic maintenance on myself. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet
And every human being should be able to.
If you have knee pain, you shouldn’t go see your physician, you should take a crack at fixing your own knee pain, that’s your human right. And it shouldn’t be the embodied knowledge of a few select people.
That stuff is free information.
So what’s happening now is we’re starting to see people who say, “Hey look, I’ve got half of the equation down.”
And that half of the equation is lifestyle, it’s sleep, it’s nutrition.
If you have the right lifestyle and right movement, chances are you’re going to be 110 years old and pain-free.
And I plan on stealing a Corvette with my wife when I’m 90, and racing it away from the cops. This is the goal, right?
Abel: Ha! That’s such a good point, too, about the way everything is going in terms of information.
In the past, historically, it seems like we’ve had these little pockets of knowledge. But the experts, if you will, in those pockets or in those rabbit holes, didn’t really communicate, it wasn’t a dialogue between them.
But now we’re seeing these people from different domains, whether it be in the mechanics of movement or in nutrition, are starting to talk to each other and that cross-pollination leads to some pretty amazing results.
Well, and to your point, it’s not like we’re the first people who have taken a crack at this.
This Ayurvedic model of eating—trying to balance—people have thought critically about the condition of the human being for, oh, as long as there have been human beings.
In yoga, they’re not talking about aligning the chakras when you put your palms together over your head.
They figured out that was the most stable position for the shoulder when the arm is overhead. Well, so did the Olympians, Olympic lifters, so did the swimmers, so did the gymnasts.
And finally, we have a chance and an ability to connect the dots on these things.
There was a great thinker, Buckminster Fuller—most people have heard of that guy. The buckyballs, the fullerenes.
But he had this great concept called “mutual accommodation,” that systems that are intrinsically correct and inherently not flawed with type one errors, all mutually should fit up. They should accommodate each other, they should integrate.
And what you’re seeing is that it’s almost like an emergent phenomenon, like building an ant pile.
What we’re seeing is that the people from nutrition have found their… “Oh, we have best practice. And oh, by the way, how do we know that? Well, your triglycerides go down, you lose a bunch of weight, and your performance goes up.”
And then, when you move correctly this way, you’re not as stiff and not as inflamed.
And suddenly, we start to see that there’s this best practice model that’s coming about, and all of these systems are perfectly integrating, they’re dovetailing.
And what I’ll tell you is that if you are listening to this podcast and think to yourself, “I’m not an athlete.” We’re talking about how you move through the day.
You have to have an understanding of how the biomechanics works.
If you stand like a duck, if your feet are turned out, for example, one of the things that you’re doing is you could potentially take 10,000 steps a day, 10,000 steps.
Why? Because you’re a human being, you’re busy. That’s sort of our model for background activity, 10,000 steps.
Well, that’s 10,000 loads where your ankle collapses, 10,000 valgus knee movements, 10,000 impinged hip movements, 10,000 loads on the bunion on your big toe.
And suddenly, we multiply that times 70… 70,000 a week. And you can start to do the math on that, a quarter of a million a month, and it’s like eating a Skittle every single second…
“Oh, I’m out of Skittles, put another Skittle in my mouth,” right?
And just like, “Let me just create diabetes, creeping… Well, let me just create all these orthopedic problems.”
So, what’s great is when we start to give people a template for how they work, what we’re doing now, finally, and thank goodness we’re doing it, is that we’re finally figuring out what I call “iPad technology.”
You know what the science is. Mat Lalonde, you get into his brain, it’s a dark rabbit hole of amylases, and this inhibitor, and upregulate, and small gut chemistry.
But the application is simple. Don’t eat sugar. You probably don’t need to drink any alcohol when you’re traveling, you probably should really try to limit your carbohydrate intake to quality carbohydrates. And that’s me turning on the iPad.
I don’t need to know what the physiology is. I need to know what the action pieces are. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet
And if I want to go deeper and know who made the glass and how that works and how the battery integrates with the memory, I can do that.
But finally, we’re getting to the place where we’re starting to understand operating principles, general assumptions, and one of some of those assumptions are the physiology of the human being.
We have leveraged our genetics for ages.
Our model, like the Nike motto, “Just do it”, is the most destructive thing in the whole world.
“Get out there, spend your genetics. And when you wear a hole in your knee, sorry. We’ll just give it up.”
Instead of, “Here’s how the body works. This is how your hip hinge safely and effectively to reach into the crib and grab your daughter. Here’s how we’re going to deadlift these groceries up.”
And it’s not deadlifting to… “I need to deadlift, therefore I can lift my groceries.”
It’s, “Do I understand how the body works so I can express myself as a human being?”
What’s nice is that the modern strength and conditioning language is like a formal language of human movement.
And so now I actually have a language. And if I can do a pistol, I get into bottom position where you just were in the two footed pistol. Well, turns out, I don’t need any more ankle range of motion than in anything that I do for the rest of my life.
If you can kick into a handstand and be stable, well, chances are your shoulders are probably stable when you’re swimming over head.
And so we can start to see that hey, the first piece of this is, do I know what I need to do?
Can I move more effectively?
Because we have assumed that people know how to move and they don’t.
And then the second aspect is that when I can’t move correctly, now I have a biomechanical problem.
That’s what the second half of the book is. Let’s fix your biomechanics.
Abel: So out of the box, do humans know how to move correctly, or do they need to learn how to move?
So that’s such a great question, because we’ve been evolving for two and half million years.
So look at what’s happened recently with all the brain science. You can just log into the Ted talk.
Why does the human brain exist?
It exists to move the organism through the environment.
There’s no other reason why you need a brain. That’s it.
They use a little model of a sponge and the sponge attaches itself to this rock. It has a little nervous system and reacts with its environment.
As soon as it becomes stable, it doesn’t need a nervous system, it digests the nervous system. Look at Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code.
Skill acquisition is a complex biological process, so neurons that fire together, wire together, and then when you, for lack of better word, practice, what ends up happening is that the Schwann cells come in and remyelinate those neural pathways.
So we’re like, okay, okay. So we start to get there. We start to look at how we’re wired for movement.
In fact the brain, the modern brain, the neocortex is bootstrapped on top of the movement brain.
This is why we know that movement therapy really helps kids with learning disabilities.
Like, “Ooh, wow, crazy.”
And now we start to think, “Hey, I’m wired for movement.”
That means all of the hardware has been run. All the wires have been pulled, but the assumption that I will move right is an erroneous one. And why?
Well, how long do human beings stay with their families?
Don’t you learn how to eat and sleep? We have to learn all of these things.
You’re not like a baby deer standing up for the first time and running. It’s a little bit more complex than that. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet
We think it takes a human baby six 6,000 to 10,000 times to perform a skill before it becomes functional—six to ten thousand times.
So the chance that I have to make a lot of errors, and I do a lot of self-correcting.
I think they call this deep practice, the phenomenon of deep practice.
So while the tubes and wiring are there, the correct movement patterning is not there.
So, your squatting is not a construct of the gym, it’s a construct of making myself stable and moving my center of mass up and down the environment.
How Kids Unlearn Natural Movement
Here’s an example that illustrates this well.
All children run beautifully. They all run on the ball of their feet. All of them.
There’s not a single episode where kids are born with their heels on the ground. Kids do not come out of the womb heel striking, they just don’t.
Kids do not come out of the womb heel striking, they just don’t. Click To Tweet
First grade, somewhere right in the middle of first grade, half of kids start to heel strike.
What is it?
Well, it turns out that kids do a lot of sitting up into the first grade. That’s an error. And we start to systematically shorten their heel cords, where these kids are wearing shoes that have higher and higher heels, and these Nike shocks.
And suddenly we’ve taken away their heel cords, we’ve shortened up their anterior structures. Feet start to turn out.
You can’t run like that, so they start to heel strike.
At some point, we probably should have had an intervention where we teach people to move correctly much earlier on.
But the good news is that I am right for rewiring over and over again. Just like we make the assumption, “Well, how many Olympians do you know that can smoke cigarettes and eat chocolate donuts and still beat you and still win gold medals?”
Well, I know a lot of them who actually eat chocolate donuts and smoke once in a while, and they still are the best in the world. But we make the assumption that that’s functional versus optimal.
And functional means that I can move through the environment, I can walk just fine.
Let me give you an example. Kids with cerebral palsy have a diagnosis of a damaged motor control system, so they don’t have a motor control system that works very well.
But those kids turn the foot out, collapse the knee, impinge the hip, overextend the lower back, and they find all these mechanically stable positions. That doesn’t take a lot of complex motor skill, but kind of solves the problem with tissue loading and they can walk just fine.
Well, we make the same assumptions with our diet. Because we know you can buffer a bad diet for decades.
And I know all of the executives listening, they’re like, “I don’t need to sleep. I only sleep four hours a night.” They brag about it.
You can’t lie to me about your sleep, you can buffer that for awhile. You can buffer your poor nutrition for awhile, but at some point the bill comes due.
And the same thing has happened with your movement. You can move poorly for a while, but at some point you’re either going to lose or you’re going to get injured.
And at some point, you and I will be talking.
How to Self-Diagnose Movement Issues
Abel: So how do you self-diagnose? How do you know?
Obviously, when you’re injured, it makes sense that you would know that your knee is blown out or whatever, but how do you… Those kind of minute mechanical errors that you’re making over time—how do you prevent those from happening?
Well, I think there’s a great template for this that was given to us by a Japanese swordsman named Musashi, who wrote The Book of the Five Rings.
And he said, “Make your combat stance your everyday stance.”
So there’s no difference between who I am moving through the environment—just moving day to day—and who I am when I’m my fighting self.
Those things are integrated.
So the problem is, if I’m sitting and my back is slouched and my shoulders are rounded as I’m holding this computer—you see me keep struggling to find a better position.
You’re standing on both feet, both feet are straight, you have your shoulders in an organized position.
The key is, can you identify what a good position is, yes or no?
And if I give you a basic outline, first we prioritize your spinal mechanics. Use your spine in a good brace neutral position.
Then, do you understand how the primary engines of the hip and shoulder are organized? And they follow very simple rules.
For example, any time I’m generating force at the shoulder or the hip in flexion, which is when the arm comes up or the hip comes up, the stable position always has an external rotation torque to it.
So there’s always a torsion of external motion.
How do I know?
Well, how does my car key turn on? Externally, external rotation.
How do I screw a screw in if I’m right handed? How does the queen wave?
What’s wax on, wax off? It’s the same position over and over again. Click To Tweet
People have solved this problem 10,000 times.
If I don’t understand what the stable position is—which happens to be lotus—that externally rotated position in lotus.
Then we start to default into some unstable positions.
So if I understand I need prioritize my spinal mechanics, and then understand how the primary engines are loaded, boy, I could probably take off 90% of the problems that I see.
And then all I’m doing with exercise is challenge the robustness of my position.
So what we really are saying is, “Hey, are you a skilled human, yes or no?”
Skilled human means that I can express all the things and all the movements that human beings should be able to do.
And then by the way, I can do that under load. And if I ran around the building breathing hard, I can probably still do it.
And if we’re competing. I can still do it. And if you ask me to do more than one, I could still do it.
And as a side-effect of challenging these fundamental archetypes of shape, these archetypes of position, what ends up happening is, I’ll probably be very fit.
I’ll probably not have any pain and I’ll never get injured.
Sign me up.
Abel: I had a bunch of friends over the other night—some of them are fighters into MMA—and I do Krav Maga, that sort of thing.
And we were talking about not just brute strength that people have—which is pretty easy to measure, and some people are just bulkier than others, have totally big muscles or something like that. So they look like they could beat the crap out of you.
Right. And what have we told people forever?
We’re like, “Hey, just get stronger.” Like it’s the solution, right?
At some point just need to get stronger.
Well, how strong does this MMA fighter seem to be? Can he squat 600 pounds? 700 pounds?
Abel: Once you throw them in the ring, the guys who have that—it’s so hard for them to talk about it because it’s not like a strength that you can measure. They can just move.
And when they hit you, it’s three times stronger than the dude with the huge muscles coming after you. It’s the mobility and mechanics.
Position before submission. You ever heard that before?
Well, what we’re really saying is: Do you understand the technique?
So if I’m in guard, it turns out that protecting your hand—putting your hands over your face to protect your face—is putting the shoulder into external rotation, and the wrist. And I’m in a stable position.
If I’m grabbing your gear or your shirt, and creating that torque with that elbow in position, that obeys the same principles of the shoulder. Remember these mutually accommodating systems.
One of the things that happened when I wrote the book is that I got to go behind the scenes everywhere. I mean everywhere. I’ve had my hands on Forrest Griffin. I’ve worked with the NBA.
Choose a sport, choose an elite military group, choose a university. I’ve been there, I’ve seen everyone’s dirty laundry.
Integrating the Gym and Real Life Movement
And it turns out that the principles are the same over and over again.
Erwan Le Corre is a brilliant instructor and says a lot of fundamentally foundationally right things.
You need to be a great swimmer, you need to be a great runner, you should be able to climb, you should be exercising outdoors, you should attach some kind of light practice of thoughtfulness to your life.
But one of the things I think he’s fundamentally wrong on is that he says things like, “Well, the gym is artificial and it doesn’t transfer to real life.”
And as case in point, give me a really strong kid in the gym. Now, let’s put him in the ring with an MMA fighter and that fighter’s going to tear him apart, because the person is much more efficient.
But if I take the MMA fighter and I put them in the gym and teach them why we’re doing pull ups—that we’re creating torque. And teaching them to floor press, which teaches them to create a stable shoulder.
Well then suddenly I’m able to apply to the movement principles. And when I sprawl or I’m in guard—like, if you can’t front squat, well, chances are your guard is going to suck. Because when your hips come up off the ground with your legs, you’ve lost your position and your power.
But if I can keep your spine in a better position and you have full hip flexion, “bam.”
And so what we need to do is integrate the two.
The other problem is that in this sport it’s become really difficult for people to see what’s going on. You have to be a skilled, skilled person to really understand the nuance of position mechanics, right?
The thing, this unquantifiable thing, “I don’t know why that guy hit so hard, but he hits hard.”
Or, “I just can’t pin him down, he’s so squirrely. I get him in Kimura and it never works.”
Well, turns out that if I apply the movement principles in this formal language of human movement in the strength conditioning setting, I still may have a diagnostic tool.
And that means that I don’t have to understand what is going on in the javelin in real time or mile five on the run or chopping the wood, because I can already make the invisible visible in my strength and conditioning.
So the strength and conditioning—because everyone now will admit, “Yeah, you gotta lift weights somehow, you gotta…”
We just had Mark Allen on our little TV show. And he’s like, “Yeah, I didn’t really become an excellent triathlete until I started weight training.You can tell, I actually started getting under a barbell and moving, wasn’t until I became a much better triathlete.”
And all of our modern athletes are doing some kinda strength training, right?
But are we just getting stronger and fitter?
Do I really need to be stronger and fitter?
Because it’s not about that. It’s about movement efficiency and teaching and reinforcing these movement principles, which then I can apply in my sport.
Because I’ve worked with the Tour de France guys, and guess what? They all say that their lungs aren’t big enough.
Like, “Really? Really? You’re not fit?”
“Yeah, I’m not fit.”
My Olympic rowers are like, “Yeah, I’m not fit.”
For example, my sister is an Olympic rower, and if you’ve ever done any rowing… Or a Concept2 rowing machine, pulling a 145 split is pretty legit, right?
That’s 140… 1 minute 45 seconds for 500 meters. It’s a good split. It’s a good working split.
Well, she pulls a 144 for six kilometers, which is so fast and so freakish…
And you know what she says?
“Ah, my lungs aren’t big enough.”
And the powerlifters I work with aren’t strong enough. And the Olympic lifters I work…
So at some point, no one’s strong enough, no one’s fit enough.
So what? How fit and how strong are you going to be?
This is where the skilled human aspect comes into this.
One of the nice things I think we’ve been confused about—and I came from physical therapy.
I have 15,000 correlates for human movement. That’s what it means to be Dr. Kelly Starrett.
I can lay you on the table and do 17 tests for lumbar stability. Or you can demonstrate your deadlift technique for me, or I can watch you squat, and I’ll put something over your head—and I’ll see all the variations in your spine.
So the issue here is, how do I make the invisible visible?
And more importantly, can I start thinking about my movement as a skill? And what we’re asking people to do in the book is to adopt 10 or 15 minutes of skill work a day. That’s the basic maintenance.
Let’s tie in the mobility, a skill transfer exercise to improve a position. That position is the foundational archetype of what it means to be human.
So if you can’t squat down with your ankles on the ground or feet together, that’s what we’re fixing today.
And so we do a set of mobilizations, and it’s only 10 or 15 minutes.
I understand how busy people are in their lives. They’re so busy. We’re asking people to assume much more responsibility.
We’re working harder. You have a family, a life. How are we going to integrate all of this on top of it?
I know you have 10 minutes a day.
That’s why they invented red wine and the television set and a lacrosse ball.
You can change this.
And I think when we start making it very simple, just the way you’ve said, “Hey look, I don’t have to lay out 15 meals and plan what I’m going to do. What I’m going to do is, what am I eating today, what am I eating for lunch? What’s my next meal?”
And so, what we’re having people do is start to make a 10 or 15-minute investment.
You can do that every day, and it aggregates into 90 minutes a week—into two hours. And pretty soon we’re seeing significant quality changes in tissues and performance.
15-Minute At-Home Practice for Full Human Movement
Abel: What is the main approach to that? If you’re doing that at home, what do those 10 minutes look like?
Well, here’s the deal, I like to use the movements of being a human—squat, press—as my test and retest. That’s whether I’m full range of motion or not.
Imagine if I was eating and I couldn’t get my hand to my face. My elbow stopped at 90 degrees. Would you think that was weird?
Abel: That would be pretty weird.
Yeah, most people are missing at least 50% of the range of motion of their hips, at least.
Yeah, and 50% of the range of motion in their ankles.
A lot of people are missing 30% of the range of motion overhead, so no wonder you blow out your shoulder. No wonder you compensate around. No wonder you have plantar fasciitis and a brutally short heel cord and oh, a bunion.
These are preventable problems.
So take it in the context and construct of what are the movements I need to do? And then we take a systems approach. Is this a sliding surface problem?
Am I just tacked down?
Am I just a matted down warrior princess?
Is it a joint capsule? We use an inner tube tire or a jump stretch band, or robe band to try to encapsulate and counter that.
Or is it a muscle stiffness problem?
And what ends up happening is, we start taking a systems approach to your body.
Remember, it’s not that big a deal. I have 10 or 15 minutes, I can start anywhere. If you fly on Virgin America, that screen says, “Touch anywhere to begin,” that’s how it is.
It doesn’t matter where you start, you need to start somewhere. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet
Well, I can control my breakfast. Guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to control my breakfast.
So the 10 or 15 minutes a day means, what do you have? Do you have a wine bottle lying around? Do you have a rolling pin, well guess what, we’re starting there.
And as you aggregate, and you run out of things to work on, we can start working on your joint capsules. We can start working on your muscle stiffness.
One of our favorite things to do is quality time with a loved one. You lay on the ground, and then have that loved one smash back and forth on your quads with their foot. We call it smashing.
And it turns out, it’s a very, very old model of myofascial release, that we’re dealing with just lateral stiffness. Instead of going horizontally with the muscle or vertically with the muscle up and down, we go across it. And you cannot believe how stiff you are.
And the key concept is that if you’re a modern human, you’re going to be forced to make compromises in your position.
Because you’re going to have to sit at that board meeting. You’re going to have to commute in the car. These things are not natural, and they cause horrific effect on your body.
I say sitting is the new smoking. And when we start understanding, okay, I can’t manage all these things. I’m going to have a template for managing it, that’s 10 or 15 minutes of a basic routine where I work on my positions.
Sitting is the new smoking. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet
Why Your Physiology Is Not Debatable
Abel: So when it comes to being in the optimal position, how do you actually do that? What does that look like?
Well, I can tell you what the optimal position is based on the theory of the physiology of the human being. And this is the key concept, that the physiology of the human being is not debatable.
We know what the stable positions for the shoulder are. We know what the stable positions for the ankle are. And so when I’m moving in and out, I can express basic archetypes.
So for example, it doesn’t matter where my hand is in front of me. What I’m trying to do is always create a stable position through the hand. Unless I’m punching someone and then I really want that capsule to be loose at the end to generate speed.
But I start by punching in a stable position. I don’t start by punching in the shoulder forward internally rotated position. I start at a stable position, but I unwind into a looser joint position.
So the key is that it doesn’t matter what I’m doing as long as I apply the principles of the movement, the principles of the physiology, I can solve any problem.
If you squat down and your knees come in, well, it turns out what you’re seeing is the joints aren’t stable, your ankles collapsed, and your back is rounded.
But if I create that torsion through the hip by screwing my hips into the ground, well then what I’ve really done is created a stable hip, stable knee, and stable ankle. And all I need to do is, again, be able to apply the movement principles.
For example, with the shoulder, I say that there are four basic archetypes. There are just four shapes. Everything else kind of falls into some iteration of those basic shapes.
One of them is going overhead, handstands, pressing, swimming, all of that’s a basic shape. And it’s not out here, it’s all the way up here in the stable position.
So that’s one shape. This hang archetype. Like an Olympic lift, or like I was carrying something by my side, alright, that’s the second archetype.
Holding something in front of me, like I’m going to start a handstand push-up or carrying a log or stone in front of me, that’s the front rack which is expressed formally in the barbell in a front rack position.
And the last archetype is when the hand comes behind me into this pressing position, push up, burpee, bench press, dip.
Every other thing that we do is some iteration or skill based on those things.
If I’m fighting on the ground and I get up from a sprawl and grab someone, I go from a press archetype to a front rack archetype.
Suddenly you start to view movement through the lens of movement principle, and then I can ask, is the athlete in the best position?
What’s nice is that the theory sort of dictates what optimal movement looks like, and the gym is a formal version of human movement.
And this is why it’s so important that people get out of the gym and pick up other sports and throw and climb and express. We need them to be able to express the principles.
Let me use Erwan again. We’ll pick on Erwan. He has this great idea where he puts up this video where this guy does like 20 pull-ups but can’t figure out how to climb a tree.
And he uses the example that, “Hey look, this shows this doesn’t translate.”
And I was like, “You’re right, that doesn’t translate from the gym to the real world.”
But the problem is no one taught that guy what the purpose of doing pull-ups was. The purpose of doing pull-ups is learning how to stabilize the trunk and create torsion off of the bar, so that wherever I grip, I can create that stable shoulder and pull.
And once you understand the principles, because that’s what we teach, all of a sudden you can apply this to unique forms.
So if I’m texting, for example, my head is in neutral, right? This is my neutral head position. I create a stable shoulder position like lotus, and then my hands come across right in front of my face.
So it looks like, see, I’m texting in this neutral position, because the shoulders are stable, head is stable, and now I can apply that principle to anything that I’m doing.
Does that make sense?
Abel: Yes. Is there a way that you can know what you’re doing is correct or incorrect?
Yeah, sure. If you can express the full range of motion of the body and have the motor control of: Can you squat down? Can you hip hinge? Can you can get into that basic pistol shape? Then you’ve got the range.
You apply the principle to the best of your ability and understanding.
Because one of the things that’s so powerful about the work that you’re doing is you’re saying, “Hey, look, I’ll be your teacher. I’ll help you and guide you by bringing in other teachers,” but people follow you as a teacher.
It turns out people need coaches, they need teachers. Click To Tweet
So, our biggest recommendation is find a coach, a gymnastics coach, an adult movement coach, a swim coach. You need coaching, but because the human body has so much slack built into it.
If you’re working at the limits of your understanding and you’re idealizing the best position possible, chances are you are not going to injure yourself. You’re going to be in as good a position as you can be.
How to Deadlift a Human
I work with my First Responders, right? They’re like, “Kelly, I’ve got to deadlift this guy. He’s fallen off his toilet and he weighs 400 pounds, stuck between the toilet and the wall. I can’t get in a good position.”
Well, I say, “Guess what? You know.”
They’re like, “So I prioritize my spinal position. I load my hips and hamstrings. I do the best that I can to be in the best position.”
I’m like “Did you get hurt? Did you work from an understanding of your capacity? Then you can probably do that for the rest of your life.”
And that’s where we need to go with this.
It’s that people are just running around wildly, heel strike and then moving like maniacs, and suddenly we can get them in some better shapes and better positions, and that’s enough. It’s really remarkable.
Abel: I was just talking to Darryl Edwards about this on my show. How do you go from deadlifting in the gym to deadlifting a human correctly?
Well, it’s the same principles.
I prioritize my spine first. I load my hips and hamstrings, and I bring my knees forward to adjust for position and tension.
The key is, if I’m learning to deadlift as a one in zero skill, but not a skill that suddenly transfers beyond the barbell to a rock or to a sandbag, then I really haven’t learned why I’m deadlifting. What’s the point?
Well, the point isn’t just to be able to magically deadlift the object. The point is to be able to have a set of movement principles that I can do cold when I’m a First Responder, I’m in Afghanistan, I have to pick up my kids over and over again, where I automatically squeeze my butt, organize my spine, load my hips and hamstrings, bring my knees forward to adjust for loaded position.
And suddenly the formalized version of the gym means that I can go and move that heavy planter on my patio without fear.
The problem is that we haven’t connected the dots for people.
And what I love is that this natural movement therapy that’s out there with MovNat and these guys, what they’ve really done is they’ve reinvented Strongman. My congratulations. Now we’re moving objects and rocks, no wonder Strongman is so important.
We have axles and stones at our gym because we want people to handle odd objects.
Show me you can clean this sandbag using the principles of the formal clean, then express that when you’re at our breakdancing class. Because it’s the same principle.
Abel: That’s awesome.
We really need that breadth of experience. A lot of people haven’t been able to connect the dots.
What we’ve said is, “Be brutally fit. Be brutally strong.”
And I’m like, “Okay, I’m fit. I’m strong. But I still have knee pain and I still move like crap. When I jump and land, my feet turn out and my knee comes in and… ”
Look at the ACL injury rates in kids under 12. It’s up 400%. 400%!
Abel: That’s nuts.
Don’t you think we should have corrected that by now? We’re stronger than we’ve ever been. Our nutrition’s better than it’s ever been.
Well, the problem is we haven’t taught kids the fundamentals of human movement. Just like we teach them the fundamentals of reading, we also need to teach adults how to move in the environment.
And we take a lot for granted, but people don’t know how to sit. They don’t know how to stand.
Standing is a very complex skill that was translated into Sanskrit as Tadasana. That’s what Tadasana is in Yoga. It’s standing. But it doesn’t translate very well.
But when you understand that first I squeeze my butt. That sets my pelvic position, then my abs can brace that position, then I screw my feet into the ground to create a little torque.
Ah, those are the three elements of spinal stability that get expressed in deadlifting and squatting and standing. And ah, now I can connect the dots, and suddenly this body which has such good engineering is working correctly.
Every once in awhile I hear someone say something like, the knee is such a bad design.
I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” Have you seen people squat 1300 pounds and run marathons?
The knee is an incredible design. The problem is that you’re moving like an ass.
The knee is an incredible design. The problem is that you’re moving like an ass. Click To Tweet
And this is really the problem.
We have been going to our physicians. My father’s a physician, and my grandfather is a physician. I’m so pro-physician, but we’ve got to stop misusing our physicians.
Don’t walk in with your metabolically deranged self with a hole in your knee, because you’re heel striking and your quads are tight, and your hip capsule’s tight, and then expect to just magically be fixed.
These are complex problems that we deal with with the right nutrition, the right lifestyle, the right movement practice, and a little bit of mechanics.
And pretty soon when you just start to fix your lifestyle, you just have no idea how much more you’re capable of, how much more potential you’re leaving on the table. We’re literally seeing Olympians dumping so much force, dumping so much torque.
I’m working with a young basketball player who just finished. His team got knocked out of the series. He’s seen every single person on the planet for his knee pain and he’s had two knee surgeries.
And guess what?
We only found 15 things stiff, 27 things wrong with his movements, and he still can play in the NBA.
So what happens when we start to correct those things?
Now, we start to have a real and sentient conversation about human potential, and that’s it.
This book is the Betty Crocker cookbook of human movement. So that people can have a reference tool to be able to understand the movement principles. We explain how to test it yourself with no load, and then how to fix it.
And once people have those tools, we’re rolling.
Where to Find Dr. Kelly Starrett
Abel: That’s brilliant.
We’re just about out of time, but why don’t you just tell the folks what you’re working on right now, maybe a little bit more about the book and where they can find you.
Sure. Well, MobilityWOD. We’ve put about 550 videos up, free searchable videos. The web site literally allows people to search and categorize and look by diagnosis.
We’re working on a couple more projects, taking on some big human health initiatives. One of them is looking at like what’s happening with this running revolution of feet.
We do a lot of teaching.
The book—Becoming a Supple Leopard—I think is a good start.
What’s really fun about this is everyone who picks it up, they’re part of this experiment.
I own a gym, I do a lot of coaching. All of that language and experience, it’s been trickled into this thing. This is a manual for you. It’s a manual for the people.
We made the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. And it’s not about me, it’s about people realizing that, “Hey, look, I’m in charge of my knee pain and my back pain and my 5k time, I can fix it.”
That’s what we’re doing. And this is why podcasts like yours, and the work that we’re doing, we’ve got to continue to connect these dots, because we can correct so many things. This is socialized medicine at its finest.
You can also find Kelly Starrett on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @MobilityWod.
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What did you think of this interview with Dr. Kelly Starrett? Leave a comment below!