Better Mobility, Better Life | Kelly Starrett | Better Man Podcast Ep. 002
The Better Man Podcast is an exploration of our health and well-being outside of our physical fitness, exploring and redefining what it means to be better as a man; being the best version of ourselves we can be, while adopting a more comprehensive understanding of our total health and wellness. I hope it inspires you to be better!
Today, I’m speaking with Dr. Kelly Starrett. Kelly is a Mobility Expert, Coach, Physical Therapist, and Founder of The Ready State — which has revolutionized how athletes think about human movement and performance.
He has worked with Olympic gold medalists, UFC champions, elite military forces, and dozens of professional sports organizations. But he doesn’t just work with top performers…
Kelly’s mobility principles apply to everyday people who want to prevent injury, improve mobility, and live a pain-free life.
He believes that every human being should know how to move and be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves—and that’s exactly what this episode is all about.
Unfortunately, most people only think about mobility when pain enters the equation. But Kelly’s on a mission to change the conversation, because how your body moves and having good access to your physiology are critical for living a better life.
We talk about fundamental movement principles, structured training vs. play, why health isn’t something you win, lazy tribalism, stress, sleep, family, and much more!
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Watch a Clip From Episode 002
Key Takeaways with Kelly Starrett
- How Kelly and Dean met.
- Why most people can’t access their full physiology.
- Don’t wait for pain to change your behavior.
- Avoid information overwhelm and focus on the fundamentals.
- The problem with only doing yoga.
- How do you organize your body in a way to have the most access to your physiology?
- How much formal gym training do you really need?
- How small gains can add up to remarkable improvements.
- Advice for doing life with your family.
- How much sleep should you aim for?
- Why saunas are such an incredible stress reliever.
- The importance of cultivating a tribe of friends that support one another.
Kelly Starrett Notable Quotes
- “I think we’re drowning in tactics, tools and systems, but they’re all the same. And ultimately, I want you to find something that you really like to do that’s super fun, that makes you tribal and puts you into a community of people that make you feel jacked and strong and capable for the sports and activities that you want to do.” – Kelly Starrett
- “Before you show me heroic, show me consistency.” – Kelly Starrett
- “I want you to have as much movement choice, movement optimization, and access to your physiology as you can.” – Kelly Starrett
- “You don’t win being a parent. You just play better tomorrow.” – Kelly Starrett
Dean Pohlman: Hey, guys, what’s up? It’s Dean. Welcome to the Man Flow Yoga Podcast. Today, I am joined by The Godfather of Mobility, the Supple Leopard himself, Kelly Starrett. Welcome to the show.
Kelly Starrett: Nice to see you, my friend. You know, Godfather means that like I think I’m going around whacking knees and like extracting bribes. I mean, I feel like that’s sort of a difficult analogy but I’ll take it. I’ll take it.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. Well, you’re whacking knees in a good way. You’re like whacking them and then relieving them of joint pain. It’s just, you know, that’s what I’m talking about. So, I like to start the show off just talking with how we met, how we got to know each other. And if you listen to The Ready State Podcast that I did with you a few months ago, then you’ll know this story already about how we met at a conference and how Kelly eventually wrote the foreword for Yoga for Athletes. But since you’re on the show, Kelly, I’d love for you to kind of just re-tell that story of how we met at that marketing conference a few years ago.
Kelly Starrett: This can be a cautionary tale for everyone that if you have ADD, fidget, hate sitting in a chair like me, I have figured out early on that I need to be in the back of the classroom where I can fidget and move and change my position unless I need that professor to perceive me as deeply interested, then I sit right in the front row and suffer. But those are my sort of two options. So, I figured out a long time ago and especially in grad school, when I was really paying attention that if I could get out of my chair, sit on the ground, sit on the plinth, the treatment table, I just felt better and I ended up like so many other people. I feel like if I sat in this chair, which was designed for some member of the staff to stack, it was not really designed for bodies. I’m 6’2. I’m 238 pounds. You know, I have a pretty good range of motion but, man, a few hours of that and I’m like, “Ah, I feel like terror.” And then I want to go train or move later on. So, one of the things that I figured out was that if I could sit in the back, I could be prepping my hips and working on my middle splits and couch stretching and just sort of fidgeting around getting ready for really the main course which was going to play. And so, there we are in the back of a gigantic lecture hall, and I was like, “Oh, hell no, I’m not getting trapped in the middle of…” I mean, the last chair was like in the middle of like 500 people. And there I am. And then there’s some guy next to me doing the same thing and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, well, I see your middle splits and I raise you straddle splits.” So, all of a sudden, I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” And of course, it turns out we knew each other. And then call it confirmation bias but you and I kept running into each other, which I felt like, “Man, if Dean is going to the same things I am, I must be on the right path.”
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. And you guys were kind enough to invite me to dinner. That was my fanboy day. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, Kelly started stretching with me right now. Let’s take a photo because this isn’t going to last.” And then I ended up seeing you like the rest of the week. So, yeah, that was awesome.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. And that I think is a really excellent segue into, hopefully, what we’re talking about is we are both sort of obsessed with position and how you get there, entirely up to you, you know, and so many tools, so many tactics. But what’s not sort of debatable are principles. Why can’t you access your positions? And I think I would intuitively agree. Yes, I should stretch whatever that means or intuitively agree, yes, I should have access to my full physiology. You know, the things that every human, every doctor says we should be able to do. And the real magic here, and I think the magic of your book is when am I going to do that? How do I work that in around my Peloton class or my weightlifting practice or my family? I think that’s the problem is that traditionally we haven’t made these things very accessible and we haven’t certainly really looked at the changes and drivers of behavior change. So, how much or how little can I get away with what is essential? And what we’ve seen is because we had really sort of adequate answers, people have dropped it off. It’s much more fun to work your butt off than it is to kind of put position as a key component or key metric to your movement practice. And suddenly, if you’re into yoga and I hope you are, those things are taken care of for you. You know, you will be there. But if you’re into yoga and you want to ride your bikes millions of hours and lift some weights, man, it suddenly gets a little bit complicated. Intentionally, the one hour of yoga or two 30-minute sessions you’re doing a week may not be adequate to overcome being old, your environment, lifestyle, your old injuries, the fact that you really like to deadlift heavy. And you’re stressed because you have a newborn and a stressful job so you don’t have the tissues to handle it. So, really what I think you and I, you know, we agree on so many things but we’re both obsessed with saying, “Hey, how are you going to work this into your busy life?”
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. And two things that came up there. So, with The Ready State, you have some kind of an overall, I don’t know what to call it, an overall framework for how you view things and principles is one part of that. And what are your other parts? I saw this on your Instagram a few days ago but you have principles and then what else comes with that?
Kelly Starrett: Well, I think what people don’t understand about our work or my work is really trying to come up with a model that explains, predicts, and is communicable around complex movement behavior. That sounds like what did I even say? What I’m saying is that for the last 10,000 years, we really haven’t evolved or changed much. Let’s start with that hypothesis that I’m a little fatter, your femur’s a little longer, but we look very much the same last 10,000 years, and that means that the shoulder is still the shoulder and the hip is still this hip. And let’s also acknowledge for a second that humans are ruthlessly clever and obsessed with optimization, not in that like I’m going to biohack and drink this fat coffee and sit in front of this LED light, but like, how do I carry this rock further? How do I outthrow my friends? How do I wrestle more effectively? And I think what’s really interesting is that if you take that view, then all of a sudden you were like, “Wow, every movement tradition, every martial art tradition, every yoga tradition, every fighting or gymnastics tradition or track and field tradition is really about the sort of continuing refinement of people thinking this is a better way to get the most bio motor function. This is how we get the most wattage, the most power, the most output, the quickest runners.” And then all you have to do is drive some consilience. So, if you suddenly really, really truly understand a little bit of how the shoulder works, then you go to a yoga class and you’re like, “Oh, this is super clever. They knew this.” And then you’re like, “Oh, I understand Olympic weightlifting,” and then you’re like, “Oh, Joseph Pilates wasn’t wasting anyone’s time. He understood this too.”
And so, there are principles about how the body works and what we’re trying to do is help people on a very base level say, “Hey, look, you should be able to put your arms over your head. You know, that’s really cool.” And if you can’t, that’s fine. It’s totally your choice. And it may or may not cause you pain. One of the really big things that we’re trying to change here is we have to evolve away from only asking, does this thing cause you pain or not? Right? Because I’ll tell you what, raise your hand if you’re pain-free. And what you’ll see is that most people are not raising their hands because they have an old injury history or they got tackled and their knee is stiff or they had to sit or something. So, pain is this normal condition of the human body but what we shouldn’t be doing is making all of our decisions about, do I have pain or no pain? Because I can give you a bottle of bourbon and erase your pain. I can give you opiates and THC and I can erase your pain. So, if you’re a man, you know, if you’re a cis hetero man, a beautiful person can walk past and you’re like, “Wow. I feel great,” all of a sudden. So, what we know is that the brain is the most sophisticated structure in the known universe, and pain is a complex, psycho-emotional, personal experience. We all have sort of different experiences with this. But if we just wait around to say, “I need to change my behavior because I’m in pain,” then really there’s a big gap there, right, between my 13-year-old playing all the water polo and then not playing water polo because something hurts in her shoulder. So, clearly, there are some things we can do.
And now it gets a little muddy because now we’re like, “Well, are we talking about injury prevention? Because there’s nothing we can do to prevent injuries.” And like is that true? You know, because let’s first define our terms. Are you injured? Yes or no? Injury means you cannot occupy your role in society. You can’t do your job. You can’t occupy a role in the family. You can’t recreate. You can’t go to education. That’s a medical emergency. If your back hurts so bad, you can’t do your work, that’s a medical emergency. We want you to go get help, and our medical system is really good at putting those flames out temporarily. But our current medical model is predicated on emergency and catastrophe and it’s not set up to tell you how to live or how to move or how to think about technique or skill being a human being. So, what we’re trying to do is help people move beyond this conversation of pain or no pain because that’s really like, “Oh, I should do yoga because my back hurts,” like that’s the worst reason to do yoga ever, right?
Dean Pohlman: For a lot of reasons.
Kelly Starrett: Or like, “Hey, I should change my behavior because I should put oil on my car because it blew up my engine.” I mean, that’s really what we’re waiting around. That’s our current model. And don’t get me wrong, a movement practice is the way out of this. I don’t care what your movement practice is. We’re totally agnostic. And in fact, if you go into the work and the writing, you can see that I am like pro-Pilates and pro-yoga and pro-CrossFit and pro-Olympic lifting, pro gymnastics because, ultimately, I don’t care. I have strong feelings and we can argue about should you be bench pressing? How fit do you need to be? But ultimately, are you taking your tissues through their normative physiologic ranges? Do you have control in those ranges? That’s defining mobility. Do your tissues give you access to your positions? And that can be also brain and nervous system but also, do you have control there? Do you have the technique there? And what we’ve been trying to do is go into our movement traditions and reconcile those movement traditions with what we understand from my background of classical physical therapy education and our medical model. And there should be no dissonance or points of interference. Those things should overlap beautifully on top of one another. And suddenly, we can say, “Okay. I see that you not only can’t put your arms over your head, but you can create new rotation when you put your arms over your head. You can’t create new torque. You can’t create any stability in that position. So, that’s a really weak position. Well, it’s interesting to us then to ask, “Well, how do we restore that position?” And it turns out sometimes you need a little help and that help could be a mobilization, sometimes need a little skill training that can be a skill transfer exercise or technique transfer exercise. But the first order of business is to spend time in the position.
So, this morning I’m drinking my coffee, checking my email, sitting on the ground cross-legged, sitting in a full squat. Why? Because the most important thing I can do is make sure I’m telling my brain and my body, these are positions I value. And these are normative ranges. These are the ranges that I want to have so that I can be more powerful in my deadlift or that my biking is more fluid. Or that if I go drop into a yoga class in my neighborhood later on, I’m not going to fall on my face and I’m going to be able to actually enjoy that. I mean, Iyengar was like, “Holy crap, these people can’t even do yoga. We better pull up these straps and blocks because they can’t even get into the shapes.” So, what I really am a fan of is regression and progression and simplifying the model. I think we’re drowning in tactics and tools and systems, but they’re all the same. And ultimately, I want you to find something that you really like to do that’s super fun, that makes you tribal and puts you into a community of people that makes you feel jacked and strong and capable for the sports and the activities that you want to do.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. So, something that came up for me as you were talking about that is this is really like the human body is very complicated. Like, there are so many different considerations and you are trying to create a model that is simple enough to work for this incredibly complex structure. You had a post a few weeks ago that I saw where you were kind of saying like, “Look, we can’t understand the entire body in 30 seconds.” And the quote exactly is, “It may be that the most complex structure in the known universe, the human brain, attached to the most complicated and sensitive physiology in the known universe, your body, in the most complex societal structure in the known universe, humans, cannot be adequately explained in a 30-second TikTok video.” And I love that. And the responses that you got to that were like people were mad about like I think you started that post off saying stretching is good for you and someone’s like, “There are no studies that say stretching is good for you.” I’m like, “Wow, is this what we’re having debates about whether or not like stretching is helpful? Jeez.”
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. There’s a lot of misplaced precision going around TikTok is highly amusing. Just here’s an aside, I know we’re talking about really important things here, but I want everyone to do this. I want you to open up your Instagram right now. And I want you to go to the magnifying search field and push on that and see what the algorithm says about you. And you want to really find out who you are. Find out like so I’ve done this with some of my world champion friends and my world champion friend is like, you know, he’s a huge, big, strong strapping guy. He said, “Wow. Evidently, I’m into hunky dudes and jack girls. That’s all it is hunky dudes, jack girls, pages and pages and pages of naked bodies, bodies in skimpy things lifting heavyweights, glistening bodies.” And I was like, “You know, that really says what this is about.” You know, social media has done two things. One is the tech has given us unparalleled and unprecedented access into all of these parallel universes. So, when I started CrossFit in 2004, still thinking this is pretty early internet days like there’s no iPhone, there’s no video camera on the iPhone, there was no gif.
Dean Pohlman: There was no anxiety yet.
Kelly Starrett: There was anxiety. Just different. Gifs are still a thing, how we’re teaching with gifs. But it was the first time where you could go to a blog and actually see how the Chinese weightlifters were lifting. Or you could drop in and suddenly have access to Olympic lifting coaches and gymnasts, and they were talking for the first time. I don’t think people realized that this phenomenon where we have access to all of these disparate fields is a really new phenomenon. It’s only about 20 years old. And now what’s really remarkable is last night, Juliet and I went to an NBA basketball game where we’re working with, because we know the strength and head of human performance there, Javair Gillett, and he, you know, we worked with him at the Rockettes, now he’s with the Timberwolves. And then I have a bunch of the Niners coaches in our chorus, and then I’m emailing a first-ever Major League Baseball woman manager and then I’m working on a track and field Olympic 100-meter arm swinger, and then I’m talking to a bobsledder. And that is not me being, “I’m great.” That is holy moly, suddenly, we’re really sharing and breaking down these siloed walls, and we want to continue to do that. But the result of that is that unless you have a cipher or a key, you can be overwhelmed with information. You can be overwhelmed with tactics and tools and what’s vital. And how do I? I have 45 minutes or an hour to train or move my body. What do I do? And it can feel really overwhelming and then overlay all the optimization plus nutrition and what you have is a hot mess. People don’t know what first principles are. You know, I’m an intermittent faster like, “Well, that’s great.” And it turns out that intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating works just as well as caloric restriction. And, “Oh, you’re a Keto, bro. Great.” Well, it turns out that wasn’t really great for endurance athletes.
And so, everyone, I think one of the things that we’re seeing right now is this we call it lazy tribalism, where you can identify with a group of people who exercise in a certain way. And I’m not disparaging anyone like I’m a CrossFitter but something that can make you less open to understanding other process. And one of the things that I am a huge fan of for the coaches I work with and if you’re a teacher or a coach listening to this, you need to go take someone else’s class, you need to jump into someone else’s movement system, and just expose yourself. You think you’re the craft and you’re moving well. Well, just jump into someone else’s system. Go take a new class and a new system. And you may not be like, “I’ve never trained like this,” but you should thrive there. And you’ll never be the best. I mean, if you go out in the 5K run with some runners, you’re going to suffer but you should be able to go do that. And so, what we want to do is make sure that we’re open. And what I would encourage everyone else to do is to let someone program for you, your friends’ program. Don’t be precious. Be curious and understand where the areas of overlap are and be really curious about that. So, then because what ends up happening is you begin to understand first principles and then the world is your oyster. You know, what are first principles for humans and sleep? Well, you better sleep. Well, okay, that drives a whole bunch of behaviors. It means I probably should cut my caffeine by noon or two or three. It means I need to get into some dim light and prep myself for a sleeping routine. So, suddenly you can see that there are a whole bunch of behaviors that are driven through this first principle. How about nutrition? Well, turns out you should probably eat some protein and lots of fruits and vegetables and drink water. Right? And you should make it whole foods. That is the keystone of performance nutrition right now.
I’m talking about like Tour de France level nutrition. Watch any of the behind-the-scenes on Amazon with premier soccer, right, premier football, and what you’re seeing is like at halftime, the greatest athletes in the world have a sip of fruit juice. Like it’s pretty amazing to see them come in after the game and drink their individualized like whole food shake. And so, what we want to do with movement is the same thing. Instead of throwing up this tribalism and it’s confusing because, again, the algorithm is rewarding abs. So, if as long as I have good genetics and I was born lean and I have abs, I must be a really excellent athlete. And I’ll tell you that those things they aren’t necessarily commensurate. So, I think our aesthetics and how we’re being changed and driven by that is a problem. It’s a huge problem. And I see really, really good coaches every once in a while have to throw up a picture, sexy picture themselves, for the thirst trap and that is just a normal expression of the system given how crazy the system is to get attention.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. So, what I’m hearing and what’s a big theme of what we’re talking, what you’ve been talking about is this idea of principles and basic movement principles that you can find in one discipline that apply equally to another discipline. So, being able to, you know, there are certain ways that you should be moving your shoulder and you’ll find that if you’re doing it properly in yoga and you’ll find it if you’re doing properly in weight training. I wanted to ask you a specific question for people who are mostly doing yoga. What are some of their biggest weaknesses? Why would someone who’s doing a predominantly yoga workout want to add in other movements? And what would those be?
Kelly Starrett: Let’s look at the fact that let’s start with can you go to the Olympics if you only do yoga? So, I’m like, “Nope. You’re going to need some intensity.” And that doesn’t mean do yoga faster, right, and do cardio blast yoga. It means you may need to go do some hill repeats once in a while and you need to raise your heart rate up. Okay. So, that’s a simple way to improve your conditioning. And I think we get into the weeds and, again, not bash anyone’s practice. You do you. But is changing the parameters of yoga to solve a whole, is that the best expression of what I can potentially get out of a yoga movement practice? So, maybe I just need to do yoga with hand weights all the time and just put those weights on my wrists and elbows to make it. You know what I mean? So, suddenly you’re like, “Hmm. Okay.” So, you probably can’t expose your tissues to the kinds of loading required to be super, super strong, and more durable in the world, which means you probably need to swing kettlebell too.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. So, there are a lot of things that yoga can be good for but there’s no reason to try and fit the square yoga peg into a round hole to satisfy all of your parts.
Kelly Starrett: Where is the pulling in yoga? There’s a lot of approximation of tissues. You’re driving force through the joints but you’re not hanging from the joints, right? And that distraction force through – so all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, I need a pull-up bar?” Yep, that’ll do it. “And some dumbbells?” Yep. And so, what you can suddenly see is, well, gosh, I don’t have any equipment. I can have a pretty badass practice, work on balance and breathing and organization and muscular endurance and…
Dean Pohlman: Hey, Kelly, I just want to stop really quick. So, can you explain organization? Because that term was actually relatively new to me until your friend, Brian Mackenzie, introduced me to that concept. Can you explain what organization means for people?
Kelly Starrett: So, full transparency, Brian and I are very old confidants and friends, and one of the things that we try to do is understand that we often inherit language from the coaches and masters before us. And not that they’re wrong but we may have more information now and a bigger data set than they have now. And the words they were using sometimes get co-opt like the word “core.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. Right? So, “Oh, you mean you have a six-pack? Oh, Okay.” So, what we used to say is like midline or brace and what we want to say is that there are positions of the body where I’m able to have more access to my physiology. I can generate more power. I can take more load. I’ll have a better reaction time. If you have 10 lights in a room in your house, I want you to have all 10 on. I want you to have as much movement choice as possible, but you can definitely live in your house with one light in the corner and feed yourself and do your activities of daily living but that’s not really what we’re talking about, right? That’s that dirty term that you’ll see in physical therapy within normal limits, which means I didn’t check it or I’m not getting paid to check it or it’s fine, right? It doesn’t hurt to put your bra on. It’s totally fine. Or you can tie your shoes so you must be normal versus I want you to have as much movement choice, movement optimization, access to your physiology that you can because I want you to be able to go pick up new skills and learn and play things or fall or crash, make mistakes.
Dean Pohlman: We’re getting beyond just survival into actually enjoying and thriving with your body.
Kelly Starrett: Yes, yes, yes. And I don’t think people realize how awesome their bodies are and how powerful you can feel. And you know, it’s just super fun, time of playing, right, being durable. And when we say the word organization, what we’re talking about as well, based on your available tissue physiology, based on the positions and the sports you’re in, how do we organize your body in a way to have the most access to physiology? So, here’s an example. I work with a lot of elite cyclists teams and I work with specialized and who are in the wind tunnel. I can basically reduce an average person down into a person who cannot pedal the bike anymore but that person is now very aerodynamic. So, I can take you and bend your body into the most aerodynamic position ever and you’ll have an organization that doesn’t allow you to pedal or breathe, but you will be hyper, hyper optimized for the wind. But instead, I need to have this sort of dance between what’s available to you and how much can we get you organized in this position to do the most work or to have the most movement access. So, here’s a good example. I work with the Pararescue and the biggest injury that the Pararescue, and this is the Air Force Pararescue, they go in and pick people up after accidents and things, is getting the litter, getting the stretcher out of the helicopter. It’s the most dangerous thing they do. Like, it’s not getting shot at. It’s not flying helicopters. They’re in a little tiny room and they’ve got to pick up, they’re wearing all their body armor and stuff, and they’ve got to pick up a stretcher with a person on it and rotate and twist.
So, it’s impossible to get into a perfect zombie deadlift position. You know, you can’t do a perfect standing tall, forward fold, load your hips. You need to get down, organize the best you can as you grab the handles, and then figure out how to be in a stable position. And guess what? You don’t have to have perfect technique. You have to have good access to your physiology. But in those positions, like the wind tunnel, if I don’t give you the technique or work towards normalizing your movement behavior, range of motion possibility, then you’re left with very few options and those few options are less than optimal. How do I know? Well, we run that experiment, where we had really stiff guys with poor technique lifting the stretcher in wretched positions and then injuring or tweaking or causing pain in their moving systems. So, that’s what we say when “organized.”
Dean Pohlman: So, there’s a tradeoff between organization, what the movement requires, and what is optimal for your body, what your body is going to be able to perform.
Kelly Starrett: And that will be predicated on the sport or the activity you’re doing and your access to your range of motion and your control in that range of motion. So, I think what gets weird is all of a sudden we’re like, “You know, I need you in this organized brace midline position. Don’t deflect your spine. We’re doing perfect deadlifting and front squatting. Now, go play Premier League Soccer and show me the forces on the body and the twisting and the, you know,” and suddenly you’re like, “Oh, that may not be the best way to prepare for that. And my brain is going to have to be able to do these things.” So, does that mean I should be all noodly and floppy in the gym? No. What it means is we train in a very formal movement language and then we try to expose the tissues to be able to do these things and handle these things and through regular play and exposure, that’s enough. We don’t have to replicate every force going through the spine in a Premier Football League, Premier Soccer match. Think about how fragile we make everyone think they are in the gym, right? “Don’t round your back at all.” And then watch some professional football. You know, we’ve got a big weekend coming up with the Niners playing and a whole bunch of people playing and watch how just the contact of these 20-year-olds beating on each other. You’re like, “Okay. Maybe we’re more durable than I thought.” Or watch some soccer in the Premier League and you’re going to be like, “Wow.” We just watched basketball and the amount of cutting, hitting, knocking, smashing into each other last night. We saw Joner like, “Wow. You have to be so durable and so powerful to play this game.” And that doesn’t look like perfect yoga, idealized Olympic lifting, but those formal movement training languages are the place to start.
Dean Pohlman: Got it. So, you have to use the formal training, the organized training the best you can to build that solid foundation so that when you do get into that play in that informal and formal events, you’re as prepared as you possibly can be. We actually talked about this with Aaron Alexander from the Align Podcast on the show, and you wrote the foreword for him or for his book. And we were talking about how you can continue to decide you can do more and more formalized training but eventually, you have to get to this point where, “Okay. Let’s move into less formal.” Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up to where you’re only strong in one position, and in reality, you’re not adapted well to being able to do any sort of informal or play, and you’re going to be at a higher risk of injury than someone who is introducing more play and more internalized training.
Kelly Starrett: So, does that mean I should round my back in every direction, every time I deadlift? So, I should do some good deadlifts where I can generate the most force and I should do some really poor technical deadlifts? No. What it means is so that’s a difficult thing. The hypothesis is correct, and Aaron is, we’ve known Aaron forever, and a super-smart guy. Obviously, I’m a big fan of his work. What we get into then suddenly is, “Oh, I guess, technique doesn’t matter because when I do a sport, it’s not going to matter.” But the organization of the hip and the shoulder do matter and the balances matters. I think what we often see is that we have these formal movement training positions where I can handle load and breathing and then I have these unloaded where I’m not put, you know, because what we really are talking about is the language of the spine predominantly here and that if you, you know, the shoulder will be the most stable under all the techniques and the hip will be the most stable under all these formal techniques. But usually, if we really get into the middle of this, we’re like, “Hey, I need to be able to side twist and bend and rotate and do these things,” and I’m out of this plane but the shoulder and the hips are still doing their shoulder and hip stuff. So, tackling someone is a good example of connection between formal and problem-solving. We teach principles so that people can better problem-solve in sports and activities. So, it’s not about you being able to do a pull-up, it’s about you being able to grab a bar and create a stable shoulder so you can push or pull.
There’s an old coach I was working with a long time ago in the NFL. He said, “I like the bench. It ties the arms to the body.” And here is a coach of the old generation who understood that kids who could bench press effectively knew how to break the bar, bend the bar, or spread the bar and create a stable shoulder construct. When they grab something, they can create that rotation through the system because they trained and that made them more effective blockers and tacklers and better able to find positions where they could generate more force. And you can’t do a muscle-up with your shoulders, not in an organized position. You can’t. There are just some things you can’t do. You can’t hand balance with your hands totally cattywampus and turned out, and unbalanced. You just can’t do it. So, what we’re seeing is that there, if we train these movement principles and then the movement learning happens, that’s called practice, right? Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. And what we teach principles over and over and over again, they become our default positions for the person. But the real question is, and I think this is I think where we get into the weeds a little bit is how much formal gym training do I need and then how much exposure should happen in play or in sports? And what we see is that people aren’t doing sports. Go play badminton and show me how crazier your body gets. There’s an old game that came out, became popularized in early CrossFit, but it’s actually much older than that, that’s called Hoover Ball. And Hoover Ball was invented by President Hoover. And all you do is take a light medicine ball, something no heavier than like 12 pounds or 14 pounds, and you play volleyball with it. You don’t bump, set, and spike. You throw the ball over the net. And I just guarantee you go ahead and play Hoover Ball and I’ll show you all the holes in your body and your body’s rotation and your stability and your catching left and having to decelerate and throw.
Dean Pohlman: That sounds super fun.
Kelly Starrett: It is super fun and you can play it with two people, four people in a tiny badminton net. Really, like we set up Hoover Ball. We set up a strap across our racks in our gym and we play Hoover Ball warm-up. And what we’re really asking, again, is how much of this movement play do I try to replicate formerly in the gym? Do I need to throw a medicine ball in every plane of motion and every organization? No. I’m going to teach the principles of throwing the medicine ball in the gym and have some rotation exposure and side bending, but it’s impossible to replicate all the things. So, really, what ends up happening now is, well, do you skateboard? Do you run? Do you tumble? Do you, you know? And suddenly you’re like, “Oh, GMB Fitness makes a whole lot of sense,” working on flow, play, having exposure, working at your limits, and suddenly you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s yoga.” I mean, it really is but just in a different language. But my wife and I will go out and throw the frisbee as a warm-up and the amount of cutting and sidestepping and rotation and reaching, I can’t replicate that in the gym. And I think that is at the heart of what we’re doing. So, let’s take our formal movement practices, which are excellent and then decide what is essential and decide, “Well, I’m going to go mountain bike the rest and work on my balance and my vision and my head. You know what I mean? So, what I think is missing from this calculus now and it is complicated is this thing called play and we’re not doing any playing. And so, now we’re saying, “Well, I don’t eat food so I better take all of these vitamins to go along with my protein powders.”
That’s what’s happened in the gym where we hyper-formalized everything and fetishized the weight room to a place where – and don’t get me wrong. Let me just back up and say I’m not trying to back away from my statement but there are times in your life where the gym in your garage is all you have. You have newborns and you’re traveling and you get 30 minutes of swing kettlebells and you get on the bike, I mean, you’re killing it. Just keep doing that. That’s the input. But your goal is to go outside and move your body, and we’re not doing that.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. That’s all awesome. I think that’s really helpful information and that’s inspired me to play more. So, I’m looking forward to doing more of that. And living in Texas, where it’s summer all the time, somehow, that should be pretty easy to do. So, I want to change up the conversation a little bit because I know that you could talk to this stuff all day. But what people don’t know might not know about you if they haven’t met you is just how optimistic of a guy you are and something that really stuck with me. I think the first time you met me, the first time we actually hung out at that conference, you looked at me and you said, “Dean, believe people can be better,” or something along those lines. Do you remember that or do you remember saying something along those lines?
Kelly Starrett: If I didn’t, I apologize. That’s something that’s like, dude, I hope you slapped me. You know, I suspect that you and I were having that moment where we were discussing what felt like a constant uphill battle where we were stuck in the wind, that there was this avalanche where we were seeing that people are more and more confused and that the changes in the environment that people are experiencing, the walking less, the sleep less, the less movement. I think we’re seeing that those things sometimes happen at a rate that’s faster than we can help people accommodate to. And I think Juliet and I have always believed simultaneously, I think we hold two beliefs. One is that we’re doomed. So, the other is that if you give people better information – well, I mean, let me back that up for a second. Let’s look at right now in the middle of the pandemic, how are we doing? Well, I just saw data that our kids are heavier, depression is through the roof, opiate use and alcoholism is up, obesity has climbed back up. We’re seeing more orthopedic pain, more depression. I’m like, “How’s it going? Let’s test our system.” You know, and I don’t mean to throw light at this but what I say is all those things were true before the pandemic, and they’ve been worse. Dune, I don’t know if everyone knows, but is the greatest book of all time. And in the actual book, when Paul puts his hand in the box, he pulls it back out and the Reverend Mother says, “Our test is crisis and observation.” And Paul says, “I see the truth of it.” And that means that she had introduced this crisis to him by this induction where he puts his hand in the box, he thinks his hand’s on fire, and she just observes him. And does he pull his hand out and react from it or how does he handle it, how does he deal with the pain, like the whole thing, crisis and observation.
And that’s really where I think we’re trying to create people and practices in families that allow us to deal with crisis. And that crisis can be a global pandemic or it could be I wasn’t able to sleep last night because I had a deadline or I have a newborn or I had to fly to this, you know, overnight on a red-eye to get for this job or I work two jobs, I have a long commute. That’s the crisis. And the observation is, how do I handle that? What are the levers of my behavior? And so, the flip side for Juliet and I is we always feel like if we can help people understand in a simplified, organized way that you don’t have to have abs and quit your job and become a private chef plus a strength conditioning instructor, you can integrate these practices into your life. And if you have better information, you’ll make better choices. And what I think has come to happen or come to be is that I have a new saying or saying which helps me to think about this, “The glacial pace is the breakneck pace.” That changing behavior is really difficult and the work that the sort of the gang of men and women and people that we work with who are working towards the same destination, it can feel like we’re not making progress, feels like we’re just being overwhelmed and sucked up the face of the wave. But we can’t understand the true metrics of where we’re going right now because it takes so long. If I might drop another Dune quote in there, “The slow blade penetrates the shield.” Right?
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. It’s something that you’ve emphasized a lot in everything that you put out is before you show me heroic, show me consistent, right?
Kelly Starrett: It’s way more fun to be, you know, do my 30-day V shred or go on my keto shred fast or I’m going to blast myself. And you know, I think it’s normal for humans not to think in long terms. I think that’s a survival mechanism. We think about today. We think about the week. In economics, we tend to think that the people, our versions of ourselves in the future, will be smarter and have better resources than the person we have today. So, we’re like I’ll start this in the future and my future self will be more tolerant and better disciplined, and that’s a lie. So, we sort of discount who we are going to be in the future. And I think what we also simultaneously want to be working on is the idea that we can borrow from the British cycling team we work with. And they had this idea called aggregation of marginal gains and that…
Dean Pohlman: We’re getting in James Clear here.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. If you sleep a little bit, eat and drink a little more water, eat more protein and vegetables, move your body a little bit, rinse, wash, repeat over time, that really makes huge changes. And again, I think that it’s reasonable for us to sort of think in the short term but if we did long-term stuff, if we really looked at finite, infinite games, when do you win your health? We’re all going to lose our health. We all die eventually. You know, I think when did you win your fitness on Instagram? I won fitness today. You know, I took my shirt off one day in October and I had abs and then I just went back to eating. You know what I mean? So, we really are looking at health and fitness as something we can win, and that is we can’t win. How do I win my marriage? How do I win my job? And I think when we apply that game theory of these are kind of closed systems where I have a success then I retire, that is really along with the fact that it’s difficult for us to project ourselves 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now. You know, I can drink a bottle of bourbon tonight and I’ll be terrible tomorrow. But you know, will that affect me in 30 years from now? No. But if I continue to drink two or three glasses of bourbon or a half bottle of wine tonight to cope with my anxiety, in 30 years, I guarantee you that will have a consequence, right? And I think what we’re trying to help people do is heroism is to say, “Hey, every day you have this 24 hours to play as well as you can, and then the game starts tomorrow, and if you just messed up, you’re going to sleep a little bit more, walk a little bit more, hug a little bit more, get some more sunshine on your body, move your body a little bit more and tomorrow you’ll get to play better.”
And if you just keep doing that, I think it’s really remarkable and shocking how much better you feel. And I think that’s at the end of this what we want to continue to remind people is you should do the things we’re talking about, not because you may get injured or have pain or have a life you imagined for yourself. That’s the wrong way to sell anything. You know, don’t smoke because you get cancer. Well, I may or may not get cancer a long time from now. It’s really difficult to sell. You don’t realize how good you can feel and how much a better life you can have and how much more energy you can have at four o’clock or with your kids. You know, we want you to have a really robust, incredible life. And I don’t think you realize that you think you’re cruising at Level 10, but I guarantee you’re probably cruising level four. And if you do the things that we’re all sort of talking about, you can feel better, and then that means you have more energy and better relationships. And you know, then when it’s time to die, you’re like, “Whew, I get a break.”.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. Alright. Sweet. So, I wanted to touch on the topic of you being a dad at least once, and as a fellow dad, I have been, well, I’ve only been a dad for like a year-and-a-half. Isn’t it interesting how like the most intense part of being a dad starts immediately? And then it only gets like it gets easier. It’s like you’re not a dad, now you’re a dad, and then like it gets easier as they get older. I think that’s mean. Thank you, biology. But anyways, you and Juliet have done an amazing job at being parents but keeping up with all of these adventures. You know, you’re going mountain biking. You’re traveling. You’re doing all these really fun things. I became a dad during the pandemic. So, I’m a dad. I have that less time. I’m also living in the pandemic where we’re like not going into stores. And I’m really scared of like this habit, like these habits that we developed persisting of just not doing things. So, can you help me and help guys, help dads in my situation, what advice do you have to being parents and continuing to just do adventures?
Kelly Starrett: Whew. Well, I will say that it feels intense right now but wait until you have teenagers, and then it becomes like the first order of business when we’re beginning to exercise is, are you exercising and training? Yes or no? Do you eat fruits, vegetables, and protein? Yes or no? And then once after you’ve been doing this for a decade or 16 or 17 years, suddenly you are arguing about which foot position allows you to have the most force. So, then the conversations become nuanced and more complicated. It’s different. Once again, I think my wife and I have really rad kids but maybe not. We haven’t run this experiment long enough to know how it’s going truly. They may be terrible people, right? Today they are great people but I’ll let you know when they’re 30 or 40.
Dean Pohlman: So, I love you sharing the stories from your kids, and you’re always so excited to share those stories so I think they must be pretty awesome.
Kelly Starrett: Well, I think they’re awesome. And also, having kids really puts a filter on these practices for Juliet and mine because if you’re a single person with a simple job and you can meal prep and control these things, it’s super easy but just have a kid and let me know how that goes for you. Let me know how your wonderful sex life and all the deep sleep you’re having and all the dense training you’re having and you’re like, “Hey, kid, are you going to eat that mac and cheese? I’m eating that.” And you’re stuffing a handful of puffs down your throat and smashing their bone broth packet. You know, you’ll see that it’s difficult to play a perfect game. You can’t. So, you just have to play the best game you can. You know, I think it’s easy to look at the kids. As for Julia and I, as the things that make us us is we like to play, we like to be outside, and we just brought our kids along with that and try to incorporate our kids. And some of it, I think, is a catastrophe. And some of that is planting seeds and what I call planting traps for my kids to step on, they’re the same thing. Last night, my 16-year-old, she’s a junior, I was like, I know she has water polo last night. I’m like, “Hey, what are you doing?” She’s making dinner and she’s cooking dinner for her and her sister, and she’s zipping out to do some front squats before her water polo practice. And I literally I’m like, “What do you want? I don’t trust you. What’s happening here?” You know, is there still conversations about, “Hey, you need to eat more fruits and veggies and you can’t smash mac and cheese after your water polo practice?” Sure. But the key is this is such a long game, and if you really want to see the value of heroism versus consistency, watch how parents give up fighting the battles of food with their kids or exercise with their kids.
You know, Juliet and I have some first principles that we are very strong about, our kids have time limits on their tech, phones go away, like we protect their sleep, and we’re harsh about it. And imagine giving your kid some heroin and you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to put the heroin but just don’t touch the heroin in your room. This cocaine is just next to your bed. Just leave it alone all night long.” And like if I put cookies next to my bed, I wake up in the middle of the night and eat cookies, right? I mean, that’s how powerful that is. So, we just have to look at some of these tech and some of these other things as we just remove it and make it a non-thing and we’re so harsh about it. And that’s because if we can protect our sleep, get our kids to be in a community and play and rinse, wash, repeat, you know, and some of it is as simple as we really go out of our way to try to sit down and eat dinner. Even if it’s for ten minutes, we all sit at the table together. And let me know how that goes for you over the course of a decade-and-a-half because it’ll take that long to see and understand what’s going on. And I think a lot of parents get into their teenage years and they’re so burned out and so fried and the stress in their lives with their regular work, they’re just coping and they’re like, “Oh, my kids can finally drive.” And they sort of like, “I’m running a marathon,” and then I get to mile 21 and I’m like, “I pulled my hamstring. You go on without me.” And I just think it’s just like any other practice. You don’t win being a parent. You just play better tomorrow. And Juliet and I are very simpatico about being on the same page and about managing this. And we’re not perfect and we’re not great but I think we try to be really, really consistent and that makes it easier. Probably also, Juliet and I are children of divorce and that’s why we got into exercise and control anyway. So, we’re just like what if we just stayed married and made our kids dinner? Wouldn’t that be easier?
Dean Pohlman: Wow. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: I know. It’s not for everyone. I know. I’m not trying to say that that’s your model but that’s worked for us. So, I think bringing your kids along on the things you like to do is a pretty good way not to have to lose those things. So, if you’re a surfer, you need to start making it so fun to get your kids surfing. If you love to ski, then your kids are on skis and as soon as you’re like, “Hey, I want a hot chocolate,” you go, “Let’s do it.” And you make it so fun and then you rinse, wash, repeat, pretty soon they’re like, “No, no, I don’t want to go yet. I want to ski more,” and you’re like, “Okay. My work here is done.”
Dean Pohlman: Awesome. That sounds totally doable.
Kelly Starrett: Let me ask the boss. Did I miss anything, J?
Juliet Starrett I’ll be honest. I wasn’t listening to anything.
Kelly Starrett: She wasn’t listening.
Dean Pohlman: That’s funny. All right. We don’t have a ton of time, so I want to get into my kind of rapid-fire questions for you.
Kelly Starrett: All right.
Dean Pohlman: All right. Make this as rapid as you want. What do you think is one habit…
Kelly Starrett: Cheese.
Dean Pohlman: One habit, a belief, or a mindset that has helped you the most in terms or help you a lot in terms of your overall happiness?
Kelly Starrett: You know, probably the number one thing is running everything that we do through this filter of, does this get my family more time together or less time together? I’ve been with this incredible woman for 20 plus years now. We met in 2000 and J Starr is my wingman and my number one, and I make a lot of decisions like I’m not going to pick up this new sport because Juliet is not under that new sport. It’s not that I don’t have a life without Juliet but I really go out of my way to make sure that that thing, that relationship, that organization, that play with my partner is sorted first because that will make my life way, way better. And from that, I would say I also have come to appreciate that Juliet has a set vision and understanding perceptions of the world that are things that I do not perceive or understand, and that she’s actually on the same team I am. So, when I come home and I’m like, “No, this is the way,” Juliet is like, “Wait, you may not be considering the whole thing.” I’m like, “Tell me more.” So, now I can really understand I think that we’re not an opposition but Juliet is a teammate and, man, she has a whole set of skills that I want to leverage, and it makes my life better.
Dean Pohlman: I hope she heard that response.
Kelly Starrett: She’s not listening. She doesn’t care.
Dean Pohlman: Oh okay. Fair. Alright. What’s one thing you do for your health that you think is overlooked or undervalued by other people?
Kelly Starrett: Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. Dude, sleep, sleep.
Dean Pohlman: How much sleep do you get?
Kelly Starrett: We try to sleep somewhere between eight and ten hours.
Dean Pohlman: Nice. Do you take naps?
Kelly Starrett: I have something that Juliet calls the gift, and sometimes I’m like, “I need to go take a nap,” and I can just shut my eyes on a floor and wake back up 10 minutes later and be back. Juliet is a terrible napper, and she’s very jealous of my napping skills but we live busy lives. I don’t think there’s a lot of time for naps. Sometimes I have to because I’m a big human who puts out a lot of energy but during the week, there’s no nap time. But we’re in bed in the nines every night. We go to bed and like Juliet, I love TV too. We do. I love to read but we’re in the bed in the nines, and we usually get up somewhere in the sixes. So, we really just go out of our way to get as much sleep as we can.
Dean Pohlman: Do you have a set time for a regular…? I mean, I feel like this is a dumb question. Do you have a set time for a regular stress relief activity? I feel like so much of what play and exercise is stress relief, but maybe something that’s specifically stress relief.
Kelly Starrett: We, because we became friends with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece, really ended up understanding the power of the sauna and we really go out of our way to spend as much time in our sauna as we can. So, we hang out in the sauna a ton. Even if it’s 15 minutes, well, that sauna has been a part of our stress relief. If we are stressed, we go sit in the sauna and it’s dim, there’s no tech, there’s no lights, and the sauna breaks you no matter what. At some point, everyone gets too hot, it doesn’t matter who you are, and then that will help you to deal with the stress. So, that is something that I like. If you could ever afford a sauna or work that out or you have a friend in the neighborhood with a sauna, become friends with them because the sauna we feel like it’s one of the keys to our success.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. I’m trying to figure out where I can fit a sauna in my three-bedroom bungalow. I might have to like stuff it in a corner of my bedroom. Right now, I have an infrared sauna blanket which is kind of cool. It’s like a body bag.
Kelly Starrett: Getting hot is cool. I think if you had a small place and for a sauna, it can be great. It can take a lot of time to get hot. We think we like – we don’t need to debate saunas here. Nordic sauna makes a little cabinet with an actual wet/dry sauna like rocks that plugs into a wall. So, with the same cabinet space, if you had a garage or a storage space or a deck, you can put a little mini sauna in. And again, I understand everyone’s resources are different but getting hot is one of those things. I think that is a principle that a lot of people figured out that really does help. So, take a hot bath. Take the hot and like start sweating in your shower if that’s what you got, you know. Or if you live in Texas, go outside.
Dean Pohlman: Just go outside. Yeah, literally just go outside in the summer here in Texas. What’s the most stressful part of your day-to-day life?
Kelly Starrett: You know, Juliet and I run a business, the kids’ stuff, taking care of our parents. I think just there’s not a single stressful aspect, but it all aggregates. It’s sort of background hustle. Like, it’s Friday and Juliet and I are pretty burned. It’s been a crazy week and we still have a lot to do. You know, we got presentations on Saturday and then we’ll jump right back into our kids’ lives. And so, I think there’s this notion that you’re either like in flow and you’re like resting or you’re working hard and the pendulum, it’s not like the pendulum swinging both directions and that’s why you have to figure out how to manage this during the day. It can’t be like, “Well, I’ll get to the weekend, and then I’ll recover.” That’s just not going to work. You have to do something else during the week because it’s always stressful.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. So, being able to manage stress in the moment, not having to wait until…
Kelly Starrett: And as we wrap up, I’ll just say that Juliet and I have a really high work pain tolerance. You know, like so many other people, I think too, of course, but we can just grind ourselves down to little pencil leads if we’re not careful.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. I get that. All right. I got one more question for you. This is the big one. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing men in their well-being right now?
Kelly Starrett: If I’m being totally transparent and frank, I don’t think men do a very good job of creating a man community of friends, and those could be women, that could be men, that could be persons. I don’t think that they create their own little tribal council where they can be vulnerable. I think men are islands unto themselves and then sometimes they go out with other men and they watch football and bro around. They don’t create an opportunity to say, “I’m losing my mind. Help,” or, “What do you guys think about this?” or, “Man, my marriage isn’t going great,” or, “Man, I really need help with my kids. What do you guys think?” I think you need to cultivate. You have to go out and cultivate some friends and then be able to, you know, because I think as a man, you need some people in the council who could call you out and so you need to cultivate that.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah, I feel that. Man, that’s hitting a lot of heads right now. I’m glad you said that.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. And it’s a verb. You have to cultivate that so that you can be transparent and vulnerable.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. Particularly being able to have that community where you can be vulnerable and really get into the stuff that’s bugging you.
Kelly Starrett: Not just exercising.
Dean Pohlman: Not just getting together and working out or networking and talking about how to improve business because that’s easy enough to find.
Kelly Starrett: That is.
Dean Pohlman: All right. Man, Kelly, that was so awesome. Thank you for joining me. Kelly, I don’t even know how to outro you just because there are so many things I could say. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you to get inspired by you?
Kelly Starrett: If you want to see how I think and how our brains work, you can follow us at The Ready State, and then if you go to ReadyState.com, we have tried to curate an ecosystem to help you do what you want to do better, whether it’s our newsletter or any of those things but just start following us and see what you think.
Dean Pohlman: Yeah. They have amazing content. Highly recommend the Ready State, guys. Sweet. All right. Kelly, thanks again for joining me. I hope we get to talk again soon. Hopefully, when the world changes, we can actually get together and hang out again. I’m looking forward to that but until then, I’ll talk to you when I can.
Kelly Starrett: I can’t wait to hold your kid, man.
Dean Pohlman: Oh, yeah. He’s fine. That’s how I got these biceps, you asked me last time, just holding toddlers, you know? That volume training.
Kelly Starrett: No idea. So true. Thank you, my friend.
Dean Pohlman: Thanks for listening, guys. See you in the next video or the next show.[END]
- Kelly Starrett Website
- Kelly Starrett on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
- The Ready State Podcast
- Yoga For Athletes by Dean Pohlman
- Brian Mackenzie
- The Align Podcast
- James Clear
- How to Master the Process of Continuous Improvement
- Laird Hamilton
- Gabby Reece
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