Kelly Starrett, a doctor of physical therapy, has trained professional athletes, Olympians, and military special operators, helping them unlock peak performance. But as he approached his fifties, he started to see cracks appearing in the health of the folks around him. What had worked for his peers in their 20s and 30s, wasn’t working anymore; they were gaining weight, having surgeries, and just didn’t feel good.
So he and his wife and fellow trainer, Juliet, decided to write a book — Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully — that took all that they’ve learned from training elite performers and distilled it into the foundational practices that everyone, at every age, can use to develop lasting mobility, durability, and all-around health. Today on the show, Kelly unpacks some of those essential physical habits, sharing the “vital signs” — tests that will help you assess how you’re doing in that area — as well as daily practices that will help you strengthen and improve that capacity.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Kelly’s previous appearance on the AoM podcast — Episode #213: Undoing the Damage of Chronic Sitting
- AoM article on the Sitting-Rising Test
- AoM Article: 7 Simple Exercises That Undo the Damage of Sitting (including the Couch Stretch)
- AoM article on foam rolling
- AoM Article: The Benefits of Hanging for Strength and Mobility
- AoM Article: 12 Balance Exercises You Can Do on a 2×4
- AoM Podcast #638: How Changing Your Breathing Can Change Your Life
- AoM Podcast #678: Physical Benchmarks Every Man Should Meet, At Every Age
- Muscles and Meridians: The Manipulation of Shape by Phillip Beach
- Video of Kelly demonstrating the Couch Stretch
- Video of Kelly demonstrating the squat test
- Video of 90/90 sit/stretch
- Video of Chris Hinshaw demonstrating the Old Man Balance Test
- Get yourself a pull-up bar
- The SlackBlock
- Kelly’s article on fixing shoulder pain, including a video on the Shoulder Spin-Up
Connect With Kelly Starrett
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Kelly Starrett, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, has trained professional athletes, Olympians and military special operators, helping them unlock peak performance. But as he approached his 50s, he started to see cracks appearing in the health of the folks around him. What had worked for his peers in their 20s and 30s wasn’t working anymore. They were gaining weight, having surgeries, and just didn’t feel good. So he and his wife and fellow trainer, Juliet, decided to write a book Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully. They took all they’ve learned from training elite performers and distilled it into the foundational practices that everyone at every age can use to develop lasting mobility, durability, and all around health. Today on the show, Kelly unpacks some of those essential physical habits, sharing the vital signs, test that will help you assess how you’re doing in that area, as well as daily practices that will help you strengthen and improve that capacity. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/builttomove.
Alright, Kelly Starrett, welcome back to the show.
Kelly Starrett: It is great to be here, my friend.
Brett McKay: So you’ve spent your career helping professional athletes, members of the military achieve elite performance, and I think a lot of people, they probably know you for the book you wrote, and it’s been almost a decade ago, Supple Leopard, which is just this bible of different movements and things you can do to help you move better so you can perform better. Your new book is Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully. This book is focused less on things like setting PRs and more on just what are the building blocks of feeling good and being vital overall over your whole lifetime. And in the book you talk about 10 physical practices and then each practice has a test or some metrics that you call vital signs to see how you’re doing with that habit.
And this book really resonated with me. We were talking before the podcast, I turned 40 recently. And in my 30s, I was really… I’m power lifting. That was my thing, and I still do it, but what’s interesting is when I was 35, 36, I could just go hard all the time and recover really fast. About two years ago, injuries started popping up and it was like tendon stuff, just overuse my… Your knee hurts and then your hips are achy. And then in 40, it’s the same thing. And now my shift has been moving away from performance, right? Trying to deadlift more and more and more weight to, I just wanna be durable. I just don’t wanna hurt when I get up off of… Out of a chair. And it’s funny, I was rereading Aristotle, his book on Rhetoric, and he goes on this tangent about fitness and health and beauty and it’s really poignant.
He said this, he says, “For a man in his prime,” and he thought a man in his prime was like thirties to maybe 40. He says, “For a man in his prime, beauty is fitness for the exertion of warfare together with a pleasant, but at the same time formidable appearance.” And I can relate to that when you’re in your 20s and 30s, you just wanna look Jack, you wanna be strong, whatever. Then he says, “For an old man, beauty and fitness is to be strong enough for such exertion as necessary and to be free from pain through escaping the ravages of old age.” And that one, I resonate with Aristotle on that one. I wanna be free from pain, but just strong enough to do what I gotta do throughout the day.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. Here… Here’s what’s really crazy about that, is that we’re starting to see a generation of young athletes who follow these principles in the book because they found that it really does enhance the short game. And what you’re seeing is, and what we’re appreciating now is that when we are working with young athletes who are making millions of dollars, they realize that if they can control their sleep and their minimum ranges of motion, some of these pieces in here, they actually can extend their career. So it means… Means a lot of money to them. And then what ends up happening is that universally, the athletes we work with actually realize they can go harder and they’re actually capable of more. And remember, this is a laboratory. So what I’m transferring that to myself now is, you mean I can get to Friday night and feel like I’m not just smoked, that in the afternoons I can get home from my job and actually be more present for my partner and my kids.
Okay, I’m in. And when my friends say, “Hey, we’re going for a pickup bike ride, or basketball game,” I feel like I’m not gonna injure myself to do that. So these 10 behaviors, we chose these 10 because they’re the hinges that open the biggest doors. And simultaneously, if you are not interested in exercise, you don’t identify with power lifting, you don’t identify with diet culture. We realize that there’s a lot you can do to begin to have a conversation with your body, so you don’t end up just sort of devastated by accident. You took a fall, your bone densities… I mean, just realizing that the long game is the short game and to what your point is, you don’t have to feel wretched. And we really haven’t empowered people so if we use an example, pain is a great example of oftentimes the sort of the fulcrum or the catalyst that initiates a lot of conversations with people about their bodies. “This pain won’t go away. It used to just go away. I just ignore it or take some ibuprofen for few days and it went away.”
And suddenly people are realizing, Hey, I’m living with this thing all the time. Is this who I am now? Like, should your hips hurt? So couple of things. One is that I want everyone to hear pain is a request for change. Unless you have a clear mechanism of injury, or you’ve got something occult going on, like a fever or an infection, something obvious. Or your pain is interrupting your ability to occupy your role in your family or do your job, those things are medical problems. They’re medical emergencies. I want you to go get help. Everything else is typical, which means what we’ve said to a generation of people is that pain is a medical problem. So until you’re ready to go talk to a doctor or a physical therapist about it, it’s not serious, or you should just live with it.
And what we set up people to do is just to go ahead and self-soothe it any way they want with bourbon, with THC, with whatever thing could make themselves feel better. And what we’re trying to do here is say, Hey look, if we’re gonna untangle complexity around pain, we need to make sure that you’re eating enough protein and micronutrients, that you’re sleeping and that you’re moving. And then we can also say, Well, hey, these tools that we’ve discovered over the last 15 years to help restore your position and make you bench more, well they can be redeployed for you and your family when someone’s achilles hurts or their knee hurts. And we realize that we have this real rich tapestry of options that I can drop into my household without having to engage with a physician, without being an expert, and I can start to make myself feel better and ultimately use that as a catalyst to transform how I’m interacting in my world.
Brett McKay: Okay, so these 10 essential habits, they’re great for, if you’re a young athlete who’s keyed in on performance, it’ll help you with that. But even if you’re not interested in that, you just wanna feel good and vital throughout the day, it’s gonna work for you too. Alright, let’s talk about some of these. You lay out 10 tests and then with each test or marker habits you can do on a daily basis to help you improve that. The first one you talk about is the sit and rise test. What is this test and why do you think it’s important?
Kelly Starrett: Oh, isn’t that great? So this is a test that has been well validated to show all cause mortality and all cause morbidity. If you struggle to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor and then stand up from that position without putting a knee down or putting a hand down, like you can’t just pop up and down like every 5-year-old, right? Ask your kids to do this, they’ll crush it because it’s not about strength. But what you’ll see is, holy moly, I’m stiff, and that stiffness, I can’t access my power, I can’t access my shapes, and that means that I have fewer movement choices. So I’m like, here, get up and down off the ground holding this baby. And you’re like, I can’t, I have to hold the baby with two hands and now I gotta put the baby down. What you start to see is that it has these follow along implications.
The number one reason people end up in nursing homes, they can’t get up and down off the ground independently. And what’s notable, I think is one of the things that we know is if we were trying to launch a business, save for retirement, train for the world championships, we set a goal and we work backwards from that goal, but we do not engage in that thinking towards our own health and behaviors. So if we know that we have this simple idea that really is a nice predictor of how you’re gonna fare as you get older and stiffer and weaker, theoretically, none of those things have to be true by the way. Then why don’t we one, put it on your radar and show you that, hey, if you got it, no problem. Good, keep doing what you’re doing. But if this was trickier than you thought or you couldn’t do it, let’s pay attention to that, because the first order of business for all of our interventions is exposure.
So the first thing that we’re saying is if you are struggling to get up and then off the ground, well what we want you to do is start spending some time on the ground while you’re watching TV every night. Isn’t that simple and reasonable? Sit cross-legged, sit 90/90, kneel. It doesn’t matter, but if we know that getting up and off the ground ends up being a nice predictor of how well and affluently you can move through the world because you have more hip range of motion, you can play better pickleball, you can deadlift better, what you’ll see is if your lifestyle is working for you, you’ll ace this test. If your lifestyle is introducing what we call a session cost, which is a concept we use when we’re looking at how gnarly the session was the day before. So you and I go and do some crazy deadlift workout, and the next day I’m crippled and you’re not. I paid a higher session cost for that, right? My force was down, things hurt, I couldn’t do it again. Well, we can start applying that session cost idea towards what’s going on with my day-to-day living, my movement fluency, the workouts I’m doing, and is that costing me in terms of this sort of third party validation test, which is show me you have some hip range of motion.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay. So you lay out the test, it’s really simple. So everyone can do this right now, they’re listening to us. You just sit on the floor and then get up off the floor and what you do…
Kelly Starrett: Cross-legged. Cross-legged.
Brett McKay: Yeah, cross-legged, cross-legged, right. And you start off, you give yourself a score of 10 and then you subtract a point. If you do one of the following, brace yourself with your hand to the wall, place a hand on the ground touching your knee of the floor, supporting yourself on the side of your legs, losing your balance. And if you do that, you subtract. If you have a low score, it means like, well you got room for improvement.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. And that’s the right word.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: You got room for more improvement. It’s not bad.
Brett McKay: No.
Kelly Starrett: You got room for improvement.
Brett McKay: I think that’s a good point you made about most people go to nursing homes because they can’t get up off the ground, right? Because like as soon as you can’t move independently, you’re gonna need 24/7 support care there. And it just usually starts going downhill from there. And you hear about… When you hear about like an older elderly person, they fall down, they break a hip, you think, oh man, this is bad. They’re probably not gonna be around much longer.
Kelly Starrett: Not to be Mac Cobb here, but one of the greatest predictors of the gnarliest things that can happen to you is to break a hip after 70. The research is a… Like you die within five… I mean, it’s so bad. And you have to understand exactly what you’re saying. I suddenly lost my mobility. I can’t feed myself, I can’t move, I’m bedridden, I lose my muscle mass, I lose my conditioning, I lose my bone density, I lose my… And then my brain starts to go and my social connections start to go. One of the things that we’re, I think obsessed with in this culture is like all the hard science, like deadlift more or wattage, poundage but all of the ancillary things that happen by being in a community start to go away if your world gets smaller.
One of the things that’s nice about a lot of these behaviors in the book, like eating as a family, is that we are trying to strengthen our social bonds. What we found in COVID was that holy moly, the brain is a social organ. It needs other brains to actually work and be a brain. And what we know is that we need stronger families, stronger households that are more connected to each other and more connected to their neighbors and their community at writ large. And some of those easy ways are to eat together and to go walk around and nod your head at your jerk neighbor. I mean it really, it’s transformative. So what you’re seeing is when we start making inadvertent choices from lack of choice because we don’t realize we’re doing certain things, it starts to take away a lot of our movement choice, which ultimately has implications in the kinds of society we find ourselves in our 50s, 60s and 70s, 80s, a 100, you’re gonna be a 100-years-old. 54% of kids who are in the fifth grade right now are gonna be 105.
Brett McKay: And so there’s… As you said, to improve on this test, the thing you gotta do is just sit on the floor more and there’s no…
Kelly Starrett: That would be a great start. Right. That’s a…
Brett McKay: Yeah, and there’s no specific way you have to sit, you can do crisscross applesauce. I like… My favorite one is the 90/90 sitting, where you kind of put your hips to the side, that feels really good.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. You are working on an internal rotation there. And there’s a great writer osteopath, I think, and his name is Phillip Beach and he wrote a book called Muscles and Meridians and it really is like functional embryology… I just wanted to throw it out there because I’m a physio and I had to have a bunch of embryology and if I’d had this book, I’d been stoked on it, I would’ve understood it more effectively. But he believes that one of the ways the body tunes itself is that we spend time on the floor. It actually opens up our pelvic floors. It restores motion in your low back, it loads tissues, it loads your hamstrings, it keeps your hip range of motion good so you have more movement choice. It’s one of the ways that our bodies have engaged with the environment for two and a half million years.
Look, I’m not pint… Like I live in a cool mid-century modern house, I love it. But we have to appreciate that just a few hundred years ago, we did a lot more sitting on the ground, toileting on the ground, eating on the ground, building fires, and hanging on the ground. So it’s almost like we know intuitively that, okay, if… This is one of the things that actually helps the body work better. Well it’s pretty easy for you to watch TV at night and sit on the ground for 30 minutes. Just sit on the ground for a little bit and you’ll see that… You’re like, oh, there’s my roller or maybe I’ll roll my calves out. But exposing yourself to these bigger ranges of motion and fidgeting around, you’ll see aggregates. And we start to stack these behaviors, these behaviors start to compound. And if you get 30 minutes of sitting on the ground seven days a week, you’re starting to spend a lot of time in these fundamental positions that do things like improve your squat, improve your ability to run up the hill, right? Make your back feel better, make your knees feel better, etcetera, etcetera.
Brett McKay: Alright, let’s talk about the next vital sign, which is breathing. When you have an assessment, the breathe pull test, what’s going on there?
Kelly Starrett: The body oxygen level test. So I think breathing’s had its moment, right? Wim Hof gets everyone going. Laird Hamilton, we have Patrick McKeown of Oxygen Advantage. There’s so many great systems and it’s not like the yogis have been talking about this forever, but what we discovered was, there was a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of improving people’s VO2 max and mechanical ventilation. So this is why this matters. If you come to me as a physical therapist, you’re like, “Kelly, I have back pain.” There’s three things we’re gonna talk about day one, no matter what. We’re gonna talk about your sleep, because if you’re not sleeping that eight hours, it’s really difficult for me to figure out is it your brain or is it your body? What’s happening here? Number two, I’m gonna make you walk a lot, because I need you to de-congest your system, your lymphatic system, which is the sewage of your body, is built into your musculature. And if you move your musculature, you move your sewers. If you don’t move your musculature, the drains block up. And if you’ve ever seen a gross sink, that’s your body. If you don’t move, that backed up sink, you have to flush that stuff and that’s all done through movement.
So moving and then we’re gonna talk about breathing. And what we’re gonna see is if the first motion of the trunk, everyone is obsessed with it’s okay to round your back when you deadlift. Of course your spine’s supposed to flex and rotate and twist, but the first movement of the spine is breathing. And what we find is that, it’s a nice indicator of sort of vitality in terms of you can find positions that allow you to ventilate more so it improves your VO2 max, but breathing more effectively does things like opens up your upper back so and you put your arms over your head, makes your low back feel better, allows you to create more intraabdominal pressure when you lift.
And as we found out in the last 10 years of really monkeying with breathing, that when we got people more CO2 tolerant, which is what the body oxygen level test does, it allows people to access more hemoglobin. So one of the things we found, believe it or not, is that people who had COVID and smoked, that was a bad deal to have those things, but they were more comfortable with lower body oxygen levels in their body. And the reason was is that they were smoking so much that their CO2 levels were really high and had set their brains at being very comfortable with these lower oxygen levels. Obviously that’s a problem if you can’t breathe. But from a performance standpoint, what we found is people whose brains were more comfortable running higher CO2 levels, those people are actually able to strip off more oxygen off the hemoglobin. So the body oxygen level test is just a simple way of you being aware of how good you are at utilizing what’s available to you.
Brett McKay: And so you just hold your breath for as long as you can. You want… I guess you aim for 30 to 40 seconds.
Kelly Starrett: You exhale.
Brett McKay: Okay, yeah, you exhale then hold your…
Kelly Starrett: Just take a breath, exhale and then see how long you can go, because it turns out you got plenty oxygen on board to hold your breath for two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes. What you don’t have is a brain that is gonna tolerate the skyrocketing CO2 levels. So your drive to breathe is actually the rising CO2 level. And what we find is now… Because we’ve been doing this long enough with our athletes, is that now we’re seeing athletes be able to breathe nose only, push 90% of their max heart rate, they’re much more efficient, they don’t have to burn the sugar. But also what we find is, man, if we’re gonna talk about your neck pain and your jaw pain, we need to talk about your breathing. And getting you to breathe through your nose, getting you to not breathe only up in your neck like you’re being chased by cocaine bear, those things really end up making a difference in terms of how your brain perceives you in your environment and the effectiveness of not yanking on your neck every single time you take a breath. Imagine this, you’re on the Peloton bike and you’re rounded and you wanna go faster. If I say get into a position where you can take a bigger breath, you’ll automatically organize your body in a way where you have better access to your ventilation and better access to your diaphragm. And those shapes can be applied to work, to holding my kid, to rocking, to whatever I wanna do.
Brett McKay: And yeah, the practice that you recommend, you just said it there, just start breathing through your nose only throughout the day.
Kelly Starrett: That’s one of the practices. Super simple. Tape your mouth shut at night. That’s become very common. But we also have some breathing drills you can do. And here’s one of the things that I want people to understand, is that I think we’ve become habituated to thinking about all of our health behaviors have to occur in these one-hour blocks. That’s weird. No one has time to go to a one-hour balance class or one-hour breathing class, or one-hour mobility class. If you do anything, I want you to go to the gym. I want you to go to your garage and lift heavy weights. That’s what I want you to do. But I want you to bury and hide the reps, everything else. So we do a lot of this breathing stuff on our warm-ups, on our daily walks, during… While we’re spinning up on the bike. It’s so easy to integrate these things into your life.
Brett McKay: So the next vital sign is about your hips, and this one really spoke to me because my hips have been really achy lately. And so the assessment you have for this is the couch stretch. So tell us about this test and what is the couch stretch.
Kelly Starrett: If you had to pin me down and say, “Kelly, what is the one thing I should do from a one-on-one mobilization?” I am obsessed with you being able to take your hip into extension. So if you imagine a lunge position, lunge shape, that’s hip extension. So standing up from a squat is extending your hip, but actually taking your hip into extension is the magic. And what we find is that the way we train the session cost of our day-to-day lives, we see that people are pretty ineffective at having good full hip extension and having control in that hip extension. So what we’re seeing here’s though, there’s a lot of knee pain and a lot of back pain that’s a symptom of not being able to extend your spine or extend your hip. So your knee behind butt is really the magic. It’s not knees over toes, it’s can you get this knee behind your butt. And the couch stretch, if you’ve never done it before, you should Google couch stretch, we invented it so that we could get people doing it while they’re watching TV. And basically you start on the ground, this is the full couch, you put your knees up against the wall, your back is away from the wall, and you put your shin in the corner where the wall meets the floor. So your foot is pointing towards the ceiling and you’re kneeling away from the wall, and then you bring your other foot up into a lunge, so it looks like sort of exaggerated run shape, except your leg is bent up.
Then all I want you to do is squeeze your butt, take five breaths, can you raise yourself higher, yourself more torso upright, take five breaths and squeeze your butt, and then ultimately can you go straight up and down? And what we find is people really struggle because their quads are so stiff, hip is stuff, their butts turn off. That’s one of the reasons now why you’re running and wobbling your back and your hamstrings are stiff all the time because they’re doing all the work that your glutes should be doing. So if we can get people to improve this, it’s amazing how many things start to feel better.
Brett McKay: And then the daily practice for that test, you just do the test, like you just do the couch stretch every day?
Kelly Starrett: You could. We also throw in some isometrics, show you where you can spend some time the end of your day or during the day. Just put your hip into extension a little bit while you’re washing dishes, while you’re hanging out, squeeze your butt, just do some isometrics, hold that for 30 seconds. We also realize that this is a great place to do some soft tissue mobilization, so you can get on the ground while you’re watching TV, roll out your quads, roll out your hips, and you’ll see that those systems start to improve.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. Let’s talk about shoulders, another problem that a lot of guys experience as they get older. Shoulder is a weird thing. It’s incredible. It’s got this amazing range of motion, but it can get jacked up really bad. What are the most common shoulder problems you see in the regular Joe athletes you come across?
Kelly Starrett: Well, what’s interesting is, think about it this way, you have the brain, which is the most complex structure in the known universe, seriously, it is, attached to a structure that is equally as sophisticated. So this brain body thing we’ll walk around in is the most extraordinary structure in the known universe. And your shoulder, let’s just start by saying, is designed to last 100 years easily. So when you suddenly throw an error signal and your shoulder hurts, we want you to understand that, A, that’s not typical. It’s a request for change. Well, what change are we talking about? Well, no one on the planet connects range of motion to pain. And there could be a lot of things. Nothing could change. You could have incomplete range of motion, shoulders don’t hurt. All of a sudden you have a baby, you’re sleep-deprived, you have a deadline at work, you smash a bunch of pizza, you drink some beer, [chuckle] it doesn’t matter, whatever the stressors are, and your shoulder starts hurting, and you’re like, “What happened?” Nothing happened except your brain became much more sensitive to your lack of tissue quality or your inability to express normal range of motion.
So what we have here is a really important system. I think most people can recognize or wrap their heads around that. If we were gonna talk about your lower back health, we really should be talking about what’s going on with your pelvis and your leg too. It’s weird how you have big muscles that attach from your spine to your leg and no one looks at how well your leg moves. So if your leg doesn’t move well on your body, it can be yanking, it could be tensioning, it could just be putting mechanical input into your lower spine. So that’s why we look at the spine, the pelvis in the leg as a system. Well, there’s the same system upstream, it’s your neck, it’s your thoracic spine, your chest and your shoulder. They make a trifecta of positions. So if I wanna improve your neck pain, I gotta look at your shoulder range of motion. If I wanna look at your shoulder range motion, I also need to look at how well your thoracic spine works. Remember I told you already, we’re moving in that direction ’cause we’re getting you to take big breaths and you breathe in your upper back? Well, what we’re doing here is we’ve got some simple tests for you around some key range of motion positions and some isometrics that are easy to get you started on untangling what feels like a complicated system. It’s not that complicated.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you got two tests. My favorite was the one where you lay on the floor on your back and then you see how far you can get your arm back, basically.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, basically it’s an I, Y and T, but really in that situation, or if you’re just… Elbows are out to your side at 90 degrees and you flex the back of your hand to the ground, we’re looking at how much force you can create there. And what you see is if you’re struggling to get to that position, you’re weak in that position. Well, welcome to your rotator cuff. And a lot of times, your rotator cuff, or rotator cup, depending on which patient is telling you about their shoulder pain, the rotator cuff is this sort of non-specific idea that I have muscles that help rotate my shoulders. Well, we look at a lot of rotation capacity with our athletes, and what we see is that when you lack fundamental range of motion in your body, specifically in your shoulders, can’t put my arms over my head, can’t achieve some of these fundamental shapes, your force production starts to go down, which means that when you approach some of these positions at high speed, like playing golf, that can be a problem because you see a lot of inhibited musculature, a lot of force production, like it’s taken away and now you’re just hanging on your tissues.
Brett McKay: Any daily practices that people can do to help their shoulder health?
Kelly Starrett: Oh yeah.
Brett McKay: There’s a lot, but I mean, what’s one or two that you’d recommend, like, “Do these and you’ll be good?”
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, it’s interesting, if we look at our movement traditions, everyone listening has probably gone to a yoga class once. And when you’re in there, you’re like, “Holy crap, these people love Downward Dog. Why is Downward Dog so important?” And you do so much Downward Dog. Downward Dog, Downward Dog. Well, Downward Dog is an overhead position. So if there’s one thing you could do is at least once a day, put your arms over your head. Hanging from a door jamb, put your arms over your head, take some breaths. If you have a pull-up bar, which you should have in your house, hang from your pull-up bar. I cannot tell you how hanging will fundamentally change your life. Hang with different grips. You don’t even have to hang with your feet all the way off the ground, put a pull-up bar in your kids’ doorway, but it’s secretly for you. We have a pegboard in our garage, we’ve got pull-up bars outside, inside the house, in our garage, and just hanging will transform your shoulder function, and transform your upper back. If you’re getting that hump in your upper back and neck, hanging is the solution.
What I would direct you to is some kind of shoulder motion every day. And if you did something like Sun Salutation, cool. That would cover it. But also, if you’re really interested in taking the next step, on our site, we have something… And even if you Google “Kelly Starrett shoulder spin-up,” you will come up, and it’s a quick five-minute routine that touches a whole lot of spine shoulder positions. You don’t need any equipment. I use it for all my elite athletes, I teach it to all our teams, and it’s just like daily vitamins for your shoulder, even if you’re not gonna load your shoulder, even if it’s a lower leg day.
Brett McKay: Right. So you’re big of the squat, and that’s one of your tests. Why is being able to get down into a full squat important for human durability?
Kelly Starrett: Isn’t that interesting? We look at squatting as exercise, not squatting as movement choice. Lower yourself down off a cliff or a ledge, you’re gonna have to squat all the way down. One of the things that happens is obviously getting up and down off the ground is useful there, but it’s one of the ways where we can start to expose the tissues of the body to their full range. So taking the knee and flexing it all the way, taking the ankle and flexing it all the way. Letting your back round in that bottom position is really important to normalize the motion of the back. In yoga, for example, they call it Malasana, and they’re like, “It’s a pelvic floor mobilization.” Well, it turns out your pelvis and your femurs are connected directly to the connective tissue of your pelvis. This is why when you get kicked in the nuts, you feel a stomach ache. So what we’re seeing here is that when we restore how people’s hips move, it changes the connective tissue muscular systems and restores it to, again, native range. But also what we start to see is, man, you’re gonna have better choice, you’re gonna be able to move more effectively, and you’ll see things like your wattage improve on the bike.
Brett McKay: And the test is simple as get down to a full squat, you want ass-to-grass.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right.
Brett McKay: That’s it.
Kelly Starrett: I want ass-to-grass. Ideally, you can do that with your feet straight, but you can even turn your feet out to do that ’cause you may not have the ankle range. But if you fall over and can’t get into a full squat, man, that says a lot about you not having full access to the miracles of your body. Again, we’re not arguing about squat technique, I’m talking about getting up and down off the ground or taking a poo or having waiting for a bus. So this is very much one of those use it or lose it shapes. But the research is clear that people that toilet on ground, sleep on the ground, they engage in a lot more squatting-like behaviors, and lo and behold, we see less osteoarthritis, we see less hip disease, we see less lumbar disease. It’s almost like if we just use our bodies and just touch the ranges once a while, tell our brains it’s safe to be here, we see things like skiing or snowboarding improve.
Brett McKay: In the practice of that, just squat more. Like that’s something you can do throughout the day. I do that. After I read that chapter, I was like, “I’m gonna start squatting more.” I’ve been squatting…
Kelly Starrett: It’s easy.
Brett McKay: During this interview. Like when you were talking, I was squatting.
Kelly Starrett: Oh I love it.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: That’s what I think is remarkable. There’s a lot of opportunities for you to move in a more complete way, and this is what every physical therapist, surgeon, orthopedist on the planet says your hip should be able to do. And if you take all of the range of motion books and you’re like, “What should the ankle be able to do? It should flex this much. How much should the knee flex? How much should the hip flex? What should happen to the lumbar spine?” And then you put them in a blender and shake it up, all those things together end up being a squat.
Brett McKay: Yeah, my goal is to be like one of those 80-year-old ladies in Southeast Asia that are just still squatting, I wanna be doing that.
Kelly Starrett: What’s so cool about that is, actually, it’s a really reasonable goal. So anyone who’s starting this… For some people, it’s gonna be a brutal awakening. You’re like, “Oh, I thought I was super fit. I’m doing Peloton and I do my quarter squats and I look good naked, but I can’t move very well.” And we’ve certainly seen a hinge move towards movement culture. And one of the things that I want everyone to hear is that muscles and tissues are like obedient dogs, and there’s no reason… Yes, it’s gonna be harder to maintain your muscle mass as you get older, but there’s no reason you have to lose your range of motion ever at any age. So one of the things you can absolutely do your whole life is actually have access to your range of motion, ’cause you can imagine if your elbows got stiff, all of a sudden you’re like, “Well, that’s not a big deal. I just can’t feed myself anymore.” You know what I mean? That’s crazy. If your life depended on getting up and down, then you would be really good at getting up and down. I was just in Japan with some friends and we were staying at this cool mountain hotel as we were doing some backcountry skiing, and one of our friends got sick and I was like, “Hey, I really should not spend a few days in this room with this sick guy. Do you guys have any other rooms?” And they were like, “We don’t.”
And then we were like, “This hotel is huge. What do you mean you don’t have any rooms?” They didn’t have any White person rooms, Western rooms. What they had was traditional Japanese rooms. But the Americans who’ve been there before haven’t been able to use those rooms because you sleep on the ground on a futon because the table is set for you to kneel and sit cross-legged, because the shower is built for you to squat and sit in. The whole thing was organized around a person being able to move through the environment. Even the controls for the room were set up at sitting height. So I was like, “Oh, no problem, I got it,” and they were like, “Really? You can do it? Look at you, you’re a huge guy,” and I was like, “It’s no problem. Trust me, I can squat.”
Brett McKay: Okay, so squatting is one. The next test to talk about is the old man balance test. What is this one?
Kelly Starrett: We have this friend named Chris Hinshaw, who is an incredible coach, and he tried to come up with a test where he could beat his kids at, and this challenge is all about balance. And one of the things that we know is that fall risk in the elderly is gnarly, but when we started working on foot strength and foot capacity and balance in our athletes, worked it into games, made ’em spend more time on one leg pressing, single-leg deadlifts, things like that, man, their athleticism went through the roof. And so what we realized is that we needed some better ways to challenge people’s range of motion and their balancing control just day-to-day, little micro-balances, because think about it, someone falls in your family like, Go to this balance class because your balance got so bad and I have to go get formal training? That’s crazy. Look, here’s a simple test for everyone, it’s called the SOLEC. Ready for it? Standing one leg, eyes closed. Stand on one leg, don’t put your foot down for 20 seconds. I bet you’re gonna be shocked at what happens when I take away your eyes. And what turns out is that if your feet are stiff, if your feet are always in foot coffins, shoes, if your feet aren’t strong, you’re really gonna struggle. If you don’t have good anchor range of motion, it’s gonna be difficult for you.
And what we’re trying to do is just bring this awareness of balance and play should be happening in sports. So if you’re riding mountain bikes and playing soccer and pickleball and you’re moving your body, chances are this will not be a problem for you. But for a lot of people who are not doing those things, you’re gonna be shocked at how bad your balance is, and it’s only gonna get worse unless we play with it. So the old man balance test is really simple. Every time you put your shoes and socks on, do it one leg at a time. So stand on your left leg, put your right sock on, don’t put your foot down, put your shoe on, tie it, don’t put your foot down. You’re gonna have to reach down and grab it, you’re gonna have to balance. And so every single time you put your shoes and socks on, you can practice a little bit of one or two minutes of balance, and I guarantee you it’s gonna kick your butt.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and then you talk about it, your house, you have different just balance things you can do. Maybe you put like… You just could put like a 2 x 4 in your house and just walk accross.
Kelly Starrett: Oh, nailed it. How about this? You can put a broomstick down and just balance on the broomstick. But I’m a huge fan of having a dynamic work environment. Well, I want choice. I wanna be able to perch against a bar stool, I wanna stand, I wanna… But on the ground, I have a bunch of balance stuff, so I just do this while I’m at work. If I’m on calls, I’m standing on a thing called a SlackBlock, which is like a portable slack line in your house. It’s tiny. It doesn’t take you many space. And I’m standing on one leg, balancing on the SlackBlock while I’m talking on the phone. And so I get so many hours every week of working on my balance. Does it improve my biking? Yes. Does it improve my skiing? Yes. Does it improve my lifting? Yes.
Brett McKay: Another practice you talk about is just standing more, walking more, moving more throughout the day. If you have a desk job, it doesn’t have to be that you’re in a chair eight hours. There’s different ways you can work, right?
Kelly Starrett: Yes. And if you… Look, I don’t talk about this much, but I had the great pleasure of working with a former US President. I’ve worked with and supported a couple of presidents, and this one president was a pretty prolific book writer, but could not write at a standing desk. So what we had to do was create an environment for this former president to get more movement at the desk because he felt like his best writing happened when he was still. And so that meant we needed to make sure that we were introducing a place to put his foot and a chair that wiggled more, and what I want you to realize is that we didn’t come up with this arbitrarily. Harvard defines sedentary lifestyle as sitting more than six hours a day. That’s an aggregate, that’s all your sitting. That means driving in the car, picking up your kid, it’s all of that. So what we’re trying to do is not battle our physiology, but it turns out…
So right now, I’m talking to you at a standing desk, but I’m actually perching on a bar stool. So I’ve got my foot on the ground, I’ve got one foot up, and in this position, because I’m perching and I’m not sitting, I’m actually above this thing called one-and-a-half metabolic equivalence, which is how much energy my body is using to just function in the background, but the sedentariness is that falling below that one-and-a-half. So sitting in most chairs, you fall below one-and-a-half, and that’s what we’re trying to not do. I need you to accumulate enough non-exercise activity that you actually fall asleep.
One of the things that we found was that a lot of people who are working out weren’t actually moving, still didn’t actually get enough sleep or find that they had enough sleep pressure. What we found was that working with Delta Force, of all the technology that they had access to, they had their guys walk 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day in addition to their training, and it knocked down all their insomnia problems. It really started to make everything better. So if you wanna adapt better to your training, you wanna fall asleep faster, you wanna feel better, you need to look at how much your total movement is, and conversely, how to limit your total sedentary time.
Brett McKay: And this does a lot of things, it’s gonna clear out your system, you talked about that earlier, motions lotion, so you’re gonna move and not feel achy. And then, yeah, I think the sleep component is really important, I’ve noticed that as well, when I move more, I have the best sleep. The best sleep of my life was when Kate and I went to Italy for, I don’t know, she was doing some of school thing. Went to Italy, you walk around Rome all day.
Kelly Starrett: You walk 20,000, 30,000 steps a day.
Brett McKay: Yeah, probably. Yeah, it was insane the amount we walked. And I remember, we got to the hotel, just laid down, we were like, “Oh, we’re just taking a nap,” and we were… It was like 15 hours later…
Kelly Starrett: Kids come back from summer camp and they’re just exhausted and sunburned, that’s the game, but for adults. And you just really nailed it. And what I want people to understand is we can come at this any way you want, but one of the ways that’s important to me is that it’s a hidden calorie burner in my day. So I love dessert, I love ice cream, I love cookies. I’m never gonna turn those things down, ever. If they’re combined, it’s even better, but when we wrote ‘Deskbound,’ my wife found a little conversion, a little calculator, and if she just stood and didn’t sit at her desk during her work day, in the course of a year it was 100,000 calories. I outweigh her by almost 100 pounds, that’s 170,000 extra calories I’d burn every year, that’s like 35 marathons, and all I have to do is just not sit while I’m working. I’m talking about perching, fidget, messing around, walk a little bit. And notice that we didn’t say, “You have to get 10,000 steps,” we saw that all of the benefits really start to kick in at 6,000 to 8,000 steps, which is really reasonable if you just start throwing in short walks after your meals, you take a call, you go for a little stroll in your neighborhood. It’s easy to get 6,000 to 8,000 steps. But the average adult gets less than 3,000, so it’s difficult for me to be sensitive to your foot pain and your Achilles and your junky tissues, if you’re not moving more during the day, which means you just have to be more conscious of it.
Brett McKay: And this is important, this daily movement is important, particularly for those who are… I just said exercising regularly, ’cause they’re thinking, I’m good, I got my hour of cardio in and I got my hour of weight training in, but you’re…
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, smashed it.
Brett McKay: You’re probably still sedentary.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: And if you’ve ever flown on an airplane and look down and you’re like, “Why do my ankles… I have cankles, what’s up my ankles are swollen.” That’s what we’re talking about. Your lymphatic system is backing up because you didn’t move your muscles, you ended up collecting fluid in your ankles, that is edema. But really what’s happening there is that it’s a failure of… It’s why… If you ever go in the hospital, they’re like, pump your legs, do calf pumps. Here are these things, we don’t want you to get a DVT. That deep vein thrombosis happens because people are sedentary in the hospital and they’re so freaked out about it, they hire a physical therapist to come in to tell you to wiggle your feet.
Brett McKay: Okay. So we talked about movement, can you get your steps in, don’t sit down all day, you don’t have to stand up all day, but just move around. You mentioned sleep, if you’re having problems sleeping, moving a lot will help you sleep. Nutrition, what role does nutrition… You’re a physical therapist, and one of the first things you ask is, what are you eating? What role does nutrition play in recovery and just our ability to move well?
Kelly Starrett: Nutrition for better or for worse, become identity politics for so many people, and it’s an identity, and it’s a hobby, and it’s a sport. And it’s a full contact sport. If you get on the Internet and talk about your diet. Universally, what we can start to say is everyone on the planet has protein minimums, you should get this amount of protein, and a really reasonable amount for everyone is 0.7 grams per pound of body weight, which turns out, if you’re sedentary, that’s probably enough. But if you’re over 50 or you’re exercising or trying to change your body composition, it probably is a little bit closer to 1 gram per pound body weight. So you’re keto. Cool. You’re carnivore, cool. You’re paleo, cool. You’re Whole30 cool. You’re vegan or vegetarian, cool, just show me you get this much protein.
And what we find is if you’re trying to change your body composition or you’re trying to recover, but you don’t have the building blocks on hand to do that, you’re not gonna see the gains you want, either way for body composition or otherwise. But the other part of that is that based on some really good data, we find that people don’t get enough micro-nutrients. There is not a single study in the world that says improving your fiber intake doesn’t improve your health. The easiest way to do that is actually eat fruits and vegetables, and so what we found is based on one of our friends, EC Synkowski, her company is OptimizeMe nutrition. She has something called the 800-gram challenge, and every single day, she challenges people to eat 800 grams of fruits and vegetables, and you’re like, “I don’t like vegetables,” cool, you eat fruits.
I don’t eat apples. Cool, you do eat berries and rutabaga. I don’t really care. But it turns out when we get more micronutrients in, all the polyphenols, all the vitamins, all the minerals, you can do that with four big apples a day. But when we get into people’s diets, and we’re trying to talk about soft tissue health and connective tissue health, and brain, health whatever it is, glow, gut health turns out fiber and micronutrients and protein make the basis. For people who are trying to lose weight, when we ask them to eat more and expand their choices, it’s the first time in their life, they’re like, “Holy shit, I had to eat so much to meet these minimums?” We’re like, “Yeah, welcome to it.” A pound of cherries is 230 calories. Go ahead and OD. Let me know what happens. What you’re gonna see is there’s so much food available to… We don’t wanna be restrictive anymore, we want people to hit this baseline.
Brett McKay: If you ate a pound of cherries I think you’d be on the toilet.
Kelly Starrett: It’s an illustrative point. Eat a pound of melon. Eat four apples, you know, what I mean. It really is… And you’re suddenly, I’m like, yeah, you know, the other day, I went to Trader Joe’s got myself up a flat of blackberries, they were just gorgeous, and I ate the entire thing, it was like 400 grams, 350-400 grams, almost half of my micronutrients for the day, and it was 230 calories.
Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s not like…
Kelly Starrett: I love cookies. One cookie from Starbucks is like 350 calories. So what we get is all of this benefit where I’m full, I’m getting all these nutrients. Somehow we demonize fruit. That was ridiculous, where like fruit is sugar. What a bunch of horse crap that is. It’s not the bananas and apples that are the problem. If you eat more micronutrients and fruits and vegetables, you’re gonna protein, your body will start to turn the lights back on.
Brett McKay: So this is great, and then at the end of the book, you have a schedule for people to follow if they’re trying to figure out how can I incorporate all this stuff in my day-to-day. And as you said, you don’t have to make time. Like, I’m gonna do an hour of my built to move routine, no it’s like…
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, no.
Brett McKay: Just you wake up, I’m gonna do this thing, I’m gonna get my steps in, whenever I’m taking a break or on the phone, I’m gonna walk around. I’m gonna get down in the squat, you can just do this stuff as… Like health shouldn’t be a block on your schedule, it should just be a part of your day.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, what we’ve found is when we handed this thing to our world champion athletes, they were always viewing it through the lens of I wanna go faster, I don’t wanna do it more often, and they found blind spots that enable them to work harder. And when we applied it and gave this to non-exercisers, like we have some publishers who work with us in the UK who are not exercisers and who love pork pies. They were like, “Just reading this, changed my framework and how I perceived the world around me, and it changed me in making different subtle choices,” that all compound over time to really make radical changes where you can feel better and again, work harder and show up and feel fresher. That’s really the game.
Brett McKay: Well, Kelly, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Kelly Starrett: Go to builttomove.com. We’ve got… Actually, when the book comes out, we’ve got a 21-day Built To Move challenge, it’s free. And it’s basically a video a day just kind of supporting some of these ideas, just to bring you through, you could aim your friends at it. We are @thereadystate on all our socials, and if you are interested in more about how to assess your body more completely, we’ve got the app and everything else.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Kelly Starrett, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Kelly Starrett: Always a pleasure. Keep putting out the good word, my friend.
Brett McKay: Thank you, sir. My guest today was Kelly Starrett. He’s the co-author of the book, Built To Move. It’s available on amazon.com and book stores everywhere. You can find more information about his work at his website at thereadystate.com. Also check at our show notes at aom.is/builttomove, where you can find links to resources, where we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast, make sure to check on our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of The AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code manliness at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast on Spotify, helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, it’s Brett McKay reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.