If you’re like many men who work a 9-5 in an office, you probably spend a great deal of time sitting down at your job. And then when you get home, the sitting continues as you lounge on the sofa watching TV or surfing reddit on your smartphone. While sitting feels comfortable, too much of it can cause all sorts of damage to your body.
My guest today on the podcast has written a book highlighting what the latest medical research says about the dangers of chronic sitting and how you can undo its damage. His name is Dr. Kelly Starrett. He’s the owner of MobilityWod and the author of the book Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World. Today on the show, Kelly and I discuss what happens to your body when you sit too much, how sitting is getting in the way of your athletic goals, and what you can do to undo the damage of sitting. Lots of actionable ideas to take away from this podcast, so take note!
- How Kelly’s fitness career shifted to a focus on mobility
- How the rise of intense exercise programs have increased injuries (and what you can do to avoid them)
- What constant sitting does to your body
- Why back braces worn by manual laborers actually increase the chance of a back injury
- The movement test you can take that predicts whether you’ll live to a ripe old age
- What happens to your metabolism and brain activity when you sit
- Why the way you’re sitting is causing you to “hang on the meat” and why that’s not good
- How sitting improperly causes shallow breathing, which in turn causes you to stress out
- Kelly’s mission to turn schools into standing desk schools
- Why the elderly in Japan have no problem with falling and not being able to get up like the elderly in the U.S. do
- How to transition to a standing desk
- Why fidgeting is good for you
- How Teddy Roosevelt intuitively incorporated mobility techniques into his daily life
- How working at a standing desk can actually help you focus more
- Why Kelly isn’t a fan of treadmill desks
- How you should sit properly to avoid the damage of sitting
- Why egornomic chairs might not be good for you
Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast
- Kelly’s first book Supple Leopard
- How to Undo the Damage of Sitting
- How to De-Quasimodo Yourself
- Hurts So Good: A Beginner’s Guide to Trigger Point Release
- My podcast interview with J. C. Herz about the rise of CrossFit
- Ability to get up from floor predicts mortality risk
- Dr. James Levine’s book on the dangers of sitting
- TED Talk on posture and testosterone
- Kelly’s foundation to turn schools into standing desk schools
- The Benefits of Standing Desks
- Standing desks available on Huckberry
If you spend most of your day sitting, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World. Kelly provides lots of great advice on undoing the damage of sitting as well as preventing that damage in the first place. For videos of Kelly’s mobility exercises, check out his site MobilityWod.com.
Connect With Kelly
- Tell Kelly “Thanks” for being on the podcast via Twitter
- Kelly’s website
- Kelly on Twitter
- Kelly on Instagram
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Listen to the episode on a separate page.
Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. If you’re like most men who work a nine to five job at an office, you’re probably spending a lot of that time sitting down at a desk. When you get home, you might be a little active, but then you’re probably sitting down at your desk, at your home office, to surf the web, or you’re sitting on the couch watching TV. All that sitting is not good for your body, and some doctors actually say that it’s doing just as much damage to your body as smoking does. My guest today has put out a book that highlights all this research about the dangers of sitting too much, and what you can do to counteract that. His name is Kelly Starrett. He is the founder of mobilitywatt.com. He’s been the big guy behind the whole mobility movement in the fitness world.
Anyways, his new book is called Desk Bound: Standing Up to a Sitting World. Today on the show, Kelly and I discuss the dangers of sitting, and what you can do to undo the damage of constant, chronic sitting. A lot of great actional steps you can use right away. When you’re done listening to the show, make sure to check out the show notes at aom.is/standup, and standup is all one word. Kelly Starrett, welcome to the show.
Kelly Starrett: Oh, thanks so much, man. I am stoked to be here. I can’t wait to tell you about my knife fetish, the whole thing.
Brett McKay: I’m stoked to have you, because I’m in a big fan of your work, Supple Leopard. It’s helped me out a lot. Before we get to here, you got a new book out, Desk Bound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, which I love, because we’ve written a lot about the perils of sitting, and what it can do to your body, and how to undo the damage of sitting. Before we get to the book, let’s talk about your career for those who aren’t familiar with you. How did you become this mobility guru that people, athletes go to? We’re talking NFL, Major League Baseball players. How did this happen?
Kelly Starrett: I’m very uncomfortable with the word “guru.”
Brett McKay: I know, but it’s the word.
Kelly Starrett: I will say level ten dance master.
Brett McKay: Level ten dance master. All right.
Kelly Starrett: I had a serious career in synchronized swimming. No. I was an athlete. I was a broken athlete. I discovered I’ve always been obsessed with pattern recognition, and I think if I was an X Men, pattern recognition would be my skill. I can see large data sets, or see patterns, and just pick them up, right? I get the big gestalt piece fast. That really worked for me when I was an athlete. It worked for me when I was a young physio, and when I was first semester of physio school, I discovered crossfit, which was really a profound experience in terms of a crash course. I was on the national team. I was a national champion. I paddled in world championships. Literally, I couldn’t do a handstand. My front squatting was dubious at best, and what crossfit really did was it forced me to confront the fact that I wasn’t as physically literate as I thought I was.
I’m not just talking about metabolically literate, like, “Can I outsuffer everyone?” Because the world has changed in the last ten years. People are working harder than we did ten years ago, unequivocally. I just wasn’t as fluent in things that looked like gymnastics, or Olympic lifting, and intrinsically, I knew that I needed to seek these things out. I remember having a serious conversation with my mom, where I was like, “Mom.” She was a single parent. I’m a single child, and I was like, “Mom, how come I wasn’t in ballet? Did you not love me?” She was like, “I tried, but we were so poor, and I couldn’t get you in ballet, and where we were.” She was kind of like, “I was trying to be a good mom.” I was like, “Mom, I’m just kind of kidding. Kind of, but you really, you screwed me. I wasn’t in ballet and gymnastics. I was supposed to pick this stuff up automatically.”
That’s how we got here, because if you were lucky enough to be in a movement tradition, martial arts, gymnastics, dance, maybe you had some formalized training on what your spine is supposed to do, and how you maintain your spinal position, and jump, and land. I didn’t get any of that, and what we have been saying to kids, and adults, and humans, is that as long as your life is sufficiently diversified, you’ll be able to cultivate these skills, right? That’s what we tell kids and parents. How do kids play lots of sports? We’re like, we’re not sure why that works, but just lots of sports is better. If you’re lucky enough to have some serious movement training in one of the sports, maybe it helps.
Most of us just played sports and worked harder, and all of a sudden, something goes wrong with us, or we realize that we’re not as good as we were, or we do the spartan race, fall on our faces, or we can’t dead lift, or hip hinge. We tear an Achilles playing basketball, and it’s because our movement practice, the things that we were doing to get ready for playing sports, wasn’t sufficient. What we did was we were substituting playing sports for a movement practice. If you were lucky enough to stumbled into yoga or pilates, man, you were nailing it early. I didn’t. I was like, “Yoga and pilates? Who’s got time for yoga and pilates? I’m gonna go ride my bike, and go crush this river, and maybe lift some weights, on the Cybex machine.”
We got here. We opened a gym 13 years ago, was when we started our gym, and pretty soon, we started to see the same patterns over and over again. Why is that foot turning out when you’re squatting? Why can’t you get into a pistol position? Hey, I noticed that you’re slouching all day at work, probably, because you’re at work, and now you can’t put your arms over your head effectively. That, we were able to sort of derive cause and effect, and then go from effect back to cause, because we could see it in people’s movement practices. Because the model that we were using, crossfit, was really predicated on making sure that people could do a handstand, and push up, and pull up. They had the fundamentals of these human positions, these archetypal shapes that I talk about.
It became very clear that our movement practices weren’t getting us there, unless you were, again, in some kind of formal movement training. If you grew up in China, part of the national China development program for Olympic lifting. You move pretty well. The rest of us sort of cobble it together, and what ends up happening then is that it puts us into a really interesting dynamic later on, because when we’re young, we can buffer a lot of mechanical silliness. All of a sudden, things start to break down, or we start to become impinged, or we have these flare ups that really pull us out of our roles as physical beings. We’re left wandering, and then you go down to this sports medicine hole, and it’s a sports medicine rabbit hole. This for-profit sports medicine thing is, it basically is predicated on the idea …
Look, there are really talented physicians out there, and physios, and chiros, but the whole thing is predicated on the idea that everyone is going to break. Let’s just wait around until they break, and that’s nonsense. Some people don’t break, and some people … What we saw was that the same language we were using to improve the performance of our lead athletes, and moms and dads, and we get to go behind the scenes of every professional sport, every military unit. We see everyone’s dirty laundry. Those techniques to improve performance were the same techniques we were using to ameliorate mechanical dysfunction and pain. That’s where we’re able to really derive some consilients, to really understand some of the processes and positions underneath this.
If your knee hurts after a run, you’re not injured. That’s called an incident. You should have a plan to be able to deal with that, and part of I think what the revolution of where we are right now as humans is that we are handing more responsibility back to the person, back to the athlete. This is completely in line with the art of manliness, let’s be totally honest, because what we’re saying is that quote by Robert Heinlein. “A man should be able to change a diaper, plant an aria, set a bone.” We need to become genderless again, and we have become hyper-specialists. “What do I do? I work on the social interface analog for this internet startup.” You are an expert in your job, but it turns out, you don’t know how to cook a steak or deal with your knee pain, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Let’s just take all this low hanging fruit off the table.
Brett McKay: You guys are basically helping people reconnect themselves with their body, or even just making the introduction in the first place. The one thing I’ve noticed when I started working on mobility and movement, and really focusing, how disconnected my brain is from my body. When you have to go through these sequences of, “Okay, activate your glutes, or rotate your knees, or put your shoulders in … ” My brain is like, “I don’t know how to do that.” It has this brain fart, because I don’t … Yeah, I never practiced that, so I have to really work hard to develop that skill.
Kelly Starrett: It’s okay to make this about skill, and that’s the thing that I think … There’s two things in there that really make people uncomfortable. It makes the medical professionals, the for-profit rehab sports medicine specialists uncomfortable, because I’m saying, “Hey, look. None of this is skilled. Let’s get it out of behind this pay wall, and put it into the hands of people.” You know why? Because they’re sophisticated enough to figure out what’s going to work and not going to work. The injury risk is very, very low, and the injury risk is higher if they just go out and run like jerks, with missing hip extension, and no ankle range, and their calves are stiff, right? Come on.
The idea here is that we have decoupled skill from training, skill from exercise. The highest expression of that is, go to a soul cycling class, and you are going to die. You are going to suffer through the eyes. You’re going to melt. Go jump into some boot camp, where you need to do a million burpees. You can work really hard and not be skilled, not jump and land in a good position, collapse your ankle, overextend your back every single time. The problem is, there’s not this immediate kickback that you’re in a bad position. It doesn’t express itself for months, or maybe years, or until you’re under stress, until you’re under threat, and you default to just your lowest, base, most practiced pattern.
That’s what’s really interesting here is that practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent, and we have somehow taken all of the practice out of the physicality of being human. If you work with a Japanese swordman, or a Russian tennis instructor, man, you’re going to do these same drills over, and over, and over, until you just get it down, right? We say practice is the currency of adult education. Repetition is the mother of learning, and we can expand those definitions to say, “Hey, look. Why don’t you be skilled?” Clearly, there’s a degree you don’t have to pick up your child the same way you’re dead lifting 500 pounds, but the principles are the same, and the failure to see the unification in those movements, and to apply the same sets of principles, is nonsense.
You wouldn’t just walk up to 500 pounds, and just like, “Grip it and rip it.” Yet, that’s what we do when we pick up our kid. One day, you sneeze, and you’re like, “My back,” and you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” You just sneezed. We’ve gotten really far away from the robust sense of self, and we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to work towards perfect.
Brett McKay: Got you. Let’s talk about Desk Bound. It’s about sitting, how it’s terrible for us, right? I guess this is probably one of the biggest source of the problems that you see with your clients, is that, and everyone, whether they’re an athlete, or a stay-at-home mom, or a stay-at-home dad, or whatever, is sitting just jacks everything up. Tell us, walk us through the details. Why is sitting so terrible for us?
Kelly Starrett: How about this. It’s not that sitting is terrible for you. It has its problems. Jump into a ballet class, jump into a pilates class, jump into a yoga class, come lift some weights with me, and then look at the same spinal shapes across all of those, right? Let’s just go into any office, or any classroom, and let’s look at the spinal shapes. Tell me that you’re okay with that rounded, sitting on your sacrum, shoulders forward, neck cranked back, and you’re going to e there for 12 to 14 hours a day. No big deal, right? Totally. Week, after week, after week, and then all of a sudden, you wake up one day, and you’re like, “Wow, I have shoulder pain, or neck pain, or back pain,” or, “I got slow,” or, “Why is that guy kicking my butt?” Just choose a stinking problem.
The adult diaper industry is a $1.2 billion problem in the United States. We have an athlete at our gym who is a high level gymnast, and when she … She’s had a couple kids, and when she double unders, or jump ropes with her spilled forward, an anterior pelvic tilt. Her pelvic bowl is tipping forward. When she does that, she pees herself. You can just see pee come right out, right? When she’s in a good position, the same position we talk about when we’re dead lifting, running, jumping, right? All the athletic shape, the base position, sitting tadasana, all that stuff, all these movement traditions that have arrived at the same spinal shape. No, nothing happens. She doesn’t pee herself.
Imagine if we had that feedback, because the problem is we’re leveraging the fact that it’s German engineering. This machine has evolved for, what? Two and a half million years? It is a pretty stinking robust machine. You can lose a lung. Don’t worry. You could still climb Everest. How do we know? Because there’s a guy with one lung who climbed Everest. We confuse this robustness with the fact that, oh, anything I do, my body will tolerate, and that’s not the case. When we pan back, because we don’t have this immediate fact. We pan back, and start to take a big picture. We can start to have this thing called induction, which is where we see lots of information. The heart of the scientific process is an induction.
What we’re seeing is, in the United States, there are now more obese Americans than non-obese Americans, that in the last ten years, diabetes has gone up 400%, that the study came out two years ago, or just two weeks ago, excuse me, says that for the first time … Not for the first time, but we have not stopped the avalanche of childhood obesity in America. ACL rates in women, still up six to eight times the rate of men. Kids tearing their ACLs at literally a 400% increase over ten years ago. Your children run a mile a minute and 20 seconds slower than you do. Choose something that matters to you, right? I want to burn more calories. A big piece of research that came out that said that at a call center, people who stood were 45% more productive. That means they closed 45% more business.
It turns out, then, when we kind of go back in, that we ask the fundamental question that we started with. What does it mean to be a human, and what does that mean? What it means is that I’m not ever supposed to be sedentary. That’s not how the human physiology was evolved. You’re like, “Well, I’m not sedentary. I exercise.” I’m like, “Well, do you sit more than six hours a day?” By definition, that is the sedentary … You’re a sedentary person. What we have is this tug of war between being sedentary and non-sedentary, right? It’s like smoking and jogging. Yeah, I’m a lead athlete. Here, pass me the little chocolate donuts. What you’re seeing is that we negate a lot of the good effects.
It’s about first principles. You can eat like a ninja, you can train hard, but if you don’t sleep, I guarantee you you’re going to fall apart. It turns out that putting more movement in, and avoiding positions that just challenge your soft tissues without any activation, right? We want to use your musculature. About ten years ago, maybe 15 years ago, we gave all the guys who worked in warehouses, we gave them belts. Remember that phenomena?
Brett McKay: Right. Yeah. You still see them at Home Depot.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, but they don’t wear them, right? They just wear them, they turn them on, and turn them off, right? Oh, lifting something heavy. For a while they just put them on like it was no one’s business, because everyone’s like, “This is great. It’s like having an extra spine.” We know that anything that gets habitually braced over the long haul becomes what we call, and this is a technical term in jargon, weak. You become weak sauced. What happened was the injury rates of spines in warehouse workers went through the roof. Why? They didn’t ever use their spines. They use the belt as a set of spine, as a set of muscular soft tissues. The same thing happens when you sit down in a chair. You literally, your trunk turns off, and what you end up using is the chair, or you use the end range of your soft tissues.
It’s like standing there hyper extending your knee. You can do it, but over the long haul, that’s going to cause you some grief. That’s really ultimately the problem with sitting, is that we’re not moving, and that those sitting positions cause us problems when we go stand up. If you are just going to go from the chair, to the elliptical machine, to the exercise bike, you might not ever notice that your hips don’t actually work like hips anymore. That may be okay with you. If you’re never going to squat down on the ground, then that may be okay with you, but it turns out that again, when we look at the greater picture, there was a good piece of research that came out that correlated your ability to get up and down off the ground … Remember that? You saw it on Dr. Oz.
Brett McKay: Right. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: That correlates to early mortality. Turns out, if you don’t have the hip range motion or the strength to get up and down off the ground, you’re more likely to fall. If I have you squat down right now, put your feet together, squat all the way to the ground, your heels should stay on the ground, and that should be an effortless position. I’m up on my stool, and I’m doing it now as I talk to you. I can sit in this position, because this would be the position I would take a poo in in the woods, or I’d make a campfire. These are the fundamental end ranges of the hip and the ankle. Because we don’t necessarily expose to some of these end range positions regularly, we don’t know that they go away or become stiff until it’s too late.
All of a sudden now, we can just see that, hey, there’s this gigantic adaptation error going on in our day to day lives, and that’s called sitting too much. The leading researcher in obesity is James Levine from the Mayo Clinic, who he’s the guy who coined “sitting is the new smoking.” He says you really should limit your sitting to two hours a day. That’s how toxic it is.
Brett McKay: That’s crazy. Yeah, there’s a lot going on there with sitting. Your metabolism slows down dramatically. Basically shuts off.
Kelly Starrett: It basically shuts off. Your body’s like, “We’re not burning fats. It’s all good.”
Brett McKay: Right, and then you’re putting yourself in these positions, because you’re probably sitting incorrectly, so that you’re relying more on soft tissue.
Kelly Starrett: One of my friends calls it hanging on the meat. He’s a Navy SEAL, and he’s like, “You mean I’m just hanging on the meeat?” I was like, exactly. You’re hanging on the meat. Don’t hang on your meat.
Brett McKay: This is going to cause tightness in your hips, in your glutes. What’s amazing, it not only affects your lower half, but it goes upstream as well. It affects tightness in the shoulders, your chest, and that causes a problem. If you’re working out, you want to do a shoulder press, you might not be able to do it because you’re so stinking tight.
Kelly Starrett: Might not? I guarantee you won’t, because your spine is too tight. It affects all these things, your ability to breathe. When you sit down and fold forward, you’re going to breathe up in your neck. You’re not going to breathe in diaphragm. Your whole rib cage, pelvis, trunk system really becomes … You compromise your pelvic floor, and you compromise your diaphragm function. We’ve just taken that beautiful ventilation machine, right, and we just bent the tube work, the framework that holds the ventilation mechanism. Guess what you end up with? Really crappy V02 max. If your sport is running or biking, man, good luck. We just smoked you.
Brett McKay: Right, and that shallow breathing, too, like you said in the book, it induces the fight or flight response. It stresses you out.
Kelly Starrett: Totally, and all you have to do is go to that TED Talk, where that guy talks about posture, and testosterone. Your brain is wired for these positions and movements. It knows that these slouch, rounded behaviors are like, “Eh, I’m cowering.” It’s like that thing. When you smile, when you’re feeling pissed off, eventually you’re like, “You know what? I’m pissed off, but I kind of feel happy and pissed off.” It’s because your brain recognizes the smile that is associated with these shapes and positions. The fact that we can’t draw these connections for people, where we’re not doing a good enough job … We’re going to become that guy in Wall-E. We’re just floating around. We just are really removing our humanity.
What we’ve seen is beyond going creep, because I know what you’re saying. I was born in the seventies. I sat. It was fine. You also walked to school both ways in the snow, uphill. You didn’t watch that much TV, because there was only three channels. You either watched Gilligan’s Island, right, or you watched M.A.S.H. with your parents. Flipper. There wasn’t much on, and there wasn’t a screen. The screen is this insidious load on us. What we’re seeing is that the Kaiser Family Foundation did a study that looked at kids from across all socioeconomic cohorts, and kids from age eight to 18 were spending an average of seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen.
What we can say definitively is, hey, technology’s not going away, so what are we going to do instead? Instead of making our bodies conform to the environment, let’s go ahead and make the environment fit the bodies. That’s why we have a stinking opposable thumb in the first place. That cortex allowed us to shape our environments, and we can just expand that definition a little further, and say, “Hey, look. Let’s adopt positions and shapes that our body should be in.” Our kids are at the first all standing school in the world, and let me tell you how many problems we have with that. Zero. No one complains. No one caveches. All right? The research shows that you can actually reverse childhood obesity by standing. How about that? Right?
Again, choose something that matters to you. Our project, standupkids.org, to date we have over 27,000 kids in the US standing now. Most of those kids are in poverty school areas. Our nonprofit was just curated by the Obama Administration, and chosen as the Just Move. That’s Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity platform. What we see is that this is a really simple intervention, and anyone who’s standing in the way of this is a part of the problem. They are part of the chair industrial complex, and you should see the kickback I get from some physical therapists, for example. They’re like, “There’s no proof,” and I’m like, “It’s because you are an ass, and are part of the problem, and I’m just gonna hand off the diabetes bills to you guys.”
This is such a solvable problem. It’s been staring us in the face, and it’s just so easy. You don’t need a doctor’s note to stand up and be human again. You need an Amazon box to put your computer on.
Brett McKay: Right. That’s it. Your solution is just, instead of sitting all the time, even if you’re in an office or at home, you just stand up, move more, right? You can utilize certain tools like a standing desk, for example.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, and our kids can sit down on the ground any time they want at school, which is a fine place. It turns out that cultures that toilet on the ground, sleep on the ground, they don’t fall. The fall risk in their elderly drops to zero.
Brett McKay: Right. You talk about in the book, in Japan, in the nursing homes, the old people sleep on the floor, and they can get up and go to the bathroom by themselves, take care of themselves, because they have to get up off the floor.
Kelly Starrett: Their hip disease and lumbar disease also chops to like zero.
Brett McKay: Right.
Kelly Starrett: Isn’t that weird?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: It’s use it or lose it. Look, some of our fancy physician friends say this. They’re like, “Look, you’re designed to be 110 years old. You’re gonna outlive your gonads. That’s the real problem.” We outlive our gonads. We can fix that now, but what we’re seeing is, we have to ask this thing. The first idea is, are we moving enough? Good, now we’re moving. Great. Now let’s have the next conversation. Let’s move well. That means that we don’t have to be perfect, but this is a practice that we can work towards for the rest of our life. It turns out that you never become too skilled. It turns out that you can continue to practice, and develop a practice around your movement efficiency the rest of your life, and this is the heart and soul of the matter.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about transitioning from sitting to standing, because I imagine it’s not something you want to … Is it something you can do just the next day?
Kelly Starrett: Oh, totally.
Brett McKay: You don’t have to work your way into it?
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, you should just get a pack of cigarettes and smoke the whole one.
Brett McKay: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: We’re running a marathon? Great. This afternoon. Fine. You’ll be fine.
Brett McKay: Right.
Kelly Starrett: No. Look, what does it say about you that you have a hard time being upright all day? What does that say about you?
Brett McKay: That you’re weak.
Kelly Starrett: You maybe have some hand brakes on the system.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: Why? Because you were part of someone’s system. You came from somewhere, and this isn’t a value statement about your abilities. This is, hey, you were forced to sit as a kid, too. I just did an interview with a newspaper, and the guy’s like, “Hey, one of the guys in my office blew out his back standing,” and I was like, wow. That guy, was he like Mr. Glass in that movie, with Bruce Willis? He sneezes, and he fractures? Something is really wrong if you are standing, and moving, and it hurts you, and you have to go lay down. With that being said, we find that we should probably put ourselves on a shaping grate. Stand for just an hour at your desk this week. That felt good, up it to two hours. Hang out there for a couple weeks. What you’ll find is that pretty soon, it’s automatic to stand.
Here’s another idea, all right? It’s okay to sit down and take a break. That’s totally okay. No one’s going to judge you. The other thing is, if you’ve ever been to a bar, there are these places called pubs where you can get alcohol served to you. It’s amazing. You’ll notice that there’s a rail at the bottom of the bar. The bartenders figured out that you made things the right height, so people could lean, and keep their torso upright. They gave them a place to put their foot, so they could swing, or they prop their foot up, the Captain Morgan pose. All of a sudden, you could take all of the loads out of your spine, and you could stand all day long. Nice.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You’re not just standing there. You’re actually encouraging dynamic movement. While you’re standing, do some other stuff as well.
Kelly Starrett: Since I’m standing during this talk …
Brett McKay: I am, too.
Kelly Starrett: I have changed my position 30 times, right? It’s called fidgeting, and fidgeting is your brain actually being connected to your body, and recognizing that your body’s like, “Yeah, you need to change your shape.” You just change your shape. It’s an automatic process, but when you sit down, you go from compromised shape, to slouch, to other slouch. You don’t breathe well. You’re just not ventilating. It’s a disaster, but as soon as you create this standing environment, we get what we call a movement rich environment. That gives us movement options. I love having a stool. Not that I sit on the stool, but sometimes I lean against the stool, but I use the stool as a platform. We have some stools on Amazon for like eight bucks, and I put my foot on it, lay it out in a high lunge. I’ll lay across it in my pigeon pose. You know what I mean?
I try to keep noodling around. One of the things that we find is that the stiffer you are, and the more poorly you move, the more time you have to restore your positions and tissues. The more efficient you are, and the more you move, the less actual mobilization work that you actually have to do, and that’s nice. What it means is that I’m always kind of working on my positions and shapes. I’ve got a ball at the desk, and I can roll up my feet, and it means that when I answer emails, I collect ten minutes in the bottom position of my squat, like the end of your martial arts where the instructor, sensei is talking to you, and you’re kneeling. That’s an important position for your knees and your ankles. That can be a position where you’re just watching TV, or answering your emails, or talking on the phone.
We can back load so much of the movement, and so much of the improvement of the movement, into our day to day lives, so that when we get home, or we’re off work, or we’re done training, we have actual time to free associate, and hang out, and read, and I don’t have to be layering in an hour of undoing the mess that I got in during the day.
Brett McKay: Right, so put it throughout the day. What’s the response from people who think, “Oh, man. If I’m standing while I’m working, I can’t focus or concentrate.” Is there anything to that, or can you actually concentrate better when you’re standing?
Kelly Starrett: It turns out that if you look at all the functional MRIs of people sitting, their brains actually turn off, and the research is showing that kids who take the SATs score an average of about 200 points higher. I think that’s bull. I’m calling bull on that, and when you ask all the kids at school, right, and I know it’s not hard science, but there is hard science around it. Out of Texas A & M, done by Mark Bendon, who says that kids, the engagement in classrooms is up like 12%, 14% over the course of a day, which aggregates into a lot of time. When we ask all our kids, because a lot of our kids have been staying now for two years, they’re like, “Ah, we’re never going back. I can’t.” They work standing up. They do homework standing up. They test standing up. It’s remarkable.
Brett McKay: It’s awesome.
Kelly Starrett: I think what’s confusing is, if you ever tried a treadmill desk.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I’ve got one.
Kelly Starrett: Which I am personally not a fan, because it doesn’t scale, but also sometimes you have to walk so slowly, it’s hard to focus for a while. I want you to move, and if that makes you feel like you can move better, I’m down with it. Our favorite thing is this thing called a fidget bar, and all of our kids’ desks have a bar that swings underneath there. It’s like a skinner bar. They get up top, and then their foot swings back and forth on a little pendulum, and we actually made one on Rogue Fitness. Anyway, I’m not trying to sell it, but the idea is you can just be swinging away, and get all that small motion in, and it’s automatically programmed, because it’s already … It’s the bottom of your desk, you put your foot up, and you’re swinging, and that’s the same thing we were getting on into fatigue mat, or doing a little walking.
It’s just initially, because it’s a new pattern, it may take you a while. One of my coaches, Carl Pali, he says, “Hey, just because it’s harder doesn’t mean it’s not better.” What we’re pointing out is that it’s okay that it took you a while. It shouldn’t necessarily be automatic, but it is better for you in the long haul.
Brett McKay: Right. You know what’s interesting, is that people think this is something new, but people a long time ago kind of discovered this stuff intuitively. This is some of the people that know about Teddy Roosevelt. I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt. If you’ve read the site, you know that. The guy, ever since he was a little kid, whenever he would read, he would read often times standing, but he would put his leg up, his foot up by his knee, so he looked like a crane, so he’s standing on one fit. He would just sit there, and then he would switch, and go to the other leg. That was his way of being able to stand for long periods of time.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. That’s kind of like stork pose, or something?
Brett McKay: Right. It was a stork pose. He looked like a stork. That’s how he described it.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. That’s what you’re doing, is when you take the second leg out, you’re basically getting out of extension. You’re taking the extension load out of your back, and that’s why when you see people standing around … Our athletic stance, we say make your combat stance, your everyday stance, but you should stand on both feet, with your feet underneath your lungs. What you’ll see is that people’s feet are pointed in different directions. They cocked one hip out. They’re over extended. They’re standing in a weird middle splits. They’re standing in the oh, no you didn’t position, and what you’re seeing is that they are trying to solve a mechanical problem, and dumping into these retched shapes. That single post, if Teddy Roosevelt had had a place to put his foot … Oh, he did. He had a place to put his foot. It was his other leg. He did the same thing as the Captain Morgan pose.
Brett McKay: Right.
Kelly Starrett: You’re right. A lot of well known people work and function upright. From Eames to …
Brett McKay: Hemingway.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. A lot of people just, turns out Winston Churchill focused better. Of you really are looking for allegory, take a bullet to the chest, go back out, and make another speech. Maybe stay in the eves. Go conquer a river in Amazon. Maybe that is. You should be like, “What is that guy doing? Uh, he’s standing.”
Brett McKay: All right, so when you do sit, how should we sit? I got a question. Here’s a question, too, about ergonomic chairs. That’s really big in office world. I got it at one of those aeron chairs, but lately it’s been … I don’t know, just it hurts my back whenever I sit in it. What’s the best chair we should get? How should we sit when we do sit down?
Kelly Starrett: Sure. Here’s the deal. Divide all your potential sitting into optional and non-optional sitting. Here’s an example. Chevron recognized, and this is consistent with the research, and we say it in the book, but the highest number … The cohort of people who have the highest number of musculoskeletal injuries are the office workers. Office workers have more musculoskeletal injuries than any other group of people workers. You can be a dynamite juggler. You’re safer than an office worker. The guys at Chevron figured out, the men and women at Chevron figured out that they would start locking out the computers every 55 minutes, and then it forced everyone to get up and walk around. They felt like that was a simple compromise.
During their actual meetings, because remember, they’ve invested in all this infrastructure, their conference rooms. They’re not just going to take that out. During the conference meeting, a little gong goes off every 20 minutes, and people keep talking, and they stand up during the gong, because the gong’s so strong. You keep talking, and they all kind of stretch, and they move around a little. Then they sit back down. Immediately what you’ve done is one, is that you’ve built in this notion that, “Hey, if I’m going to sit, and I have to sit,” then every 20 minutes or so, get up and move around for two minutes. 20 minutes, move two minutes. Just walk around. Squeeze your butt. Put your arms over your head. Breathe a little bit. It has to be non-specific. Just, we need you to move. That’ll help.
Second is if you can make the choice to stand, and when we stay stand, what we’re really saying is move. All right? If you have a choice of moving instead of just sitting, like on the bus, or walking, or … You know what I mean? There’s just so many options where you can be in the back. Last night, my oldest daughter plays the cello, and I’m in a middle school, elementary school orchestra concert. It’s an hour and a half, and I just didn’t sit in one of those little chairs, because you know what those little chairs are designed? They’re designed to be stacked by the janitorial staff. It has zero, zero input into my ergonomics or my size, and so I could either compress myself, or I just stood in the back, and then I sat down cross legged, and then I stood some more.
I can make little choices like that because it feels better to my body. The other thing is that, as you pointed out, that air on chair, that material was designed to help people with bed sores. It was designed for people with wheelchairs, so we could get more circulations, so the tissues didn’t break down. That should tell you a lot about the robustness of the chair. The chair you’re designing, the material was filled up, but people in wheelchairs wouldn’t die of compression ulcers and tissue ulcers. That’s how serious sitting is, right? If you’re in a wheelchair, it’s a real problem. One of the issues that, hey, we put in all of this support in the back. It’s ergonomic.
Remember, when you see support, you should think to yourself, “I’m becoming weaker. The structure is doing it for you.” One of the things that happens is that people sit back, and once again, you just turn your trunk musculature off. You don’t support even the systems that make more efficient for you to breathe, and then, in order to actual work, you can’t lean back. You have to lean forward, away from the back, so now you’re slouched, right? You’re sitting on your femurs. Your backs, your hamstrings are non-weight bearing surfaces. You may have noticed. Otherwise, they would look like the butts of Gibbons. It would be like the balls of your feet, and the palms of your hands. You do have weight bearing surfaces in your hips. Those are your issial tuberocities, or what people call your sit bones.
If you’re going to sit, sit at the edge of the chair, right? Find those sit bones. Find those issial tuberocities in your pelvis. That’s not your femurs. Your femurs will be dangling off, and then sit up. Make your trunk work, and what you’ll find is automatically, you’re going to be feeling better, and fidgeting more, and that’s going to be an automatic better shape.
Brett McKay: All right, so ditch the aeron chair. Get a stool.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. A stool would be great. You may need a little pad. I’m not expecting you to be some kind of monk from the turn of the century.
Brett McKay: This is the Art of Manliness here. Of course I’m going to do that. I’m a masochist.
Kelly Starrett: Right. I think or, you could … All our stools, I’m not going to say that we’re manly or womanly around here, but we don’t have pads on our stools. Remember that if you’re forced to sit for long periods of time, it’s okay to put a pad in there, right? That allows us to actually move a little bit more efficiently, and see less compression. Like my fighter pilots, there will be a little pad in the chair, in the fighter pilots. Right? When I flew with the Blue Angels, because I worked with those pilots, and there’s a little thin pad, just a little piece of foam that really takes the edge off that seat at seven G’s.
Brett McKay: Got you. Hey, Kelly. This has been a great conversation. We haven’t even gotten into the maintenance, but we can send people to your site, where they can find out about information about that, because you got a lot of great videos and content out there.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, we really tried to strip it down, say, “Hey, here are the basics. This is what we think every human being, every mom and dad should know,” and we gave you some basic routines. Take a crack at fixing yourself before you … Can you check your oil in your car, or do you have to call the doctor to check the oil in your car? That’s what we’re talking about.
Brett McKay: Got you. Hey, Kelly. Where can people learn more about the book, and your work?
Kelly Starrett: You can get Desk Bound on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. We’re really proud of this. We’re having great conversations with governments about the implications of the social change, and then we’re at mobility wod, which is WOD, workout of the day. The real issue is, where we should direct people, standupkids.org, because you know a child, you know someone who has a child, and all we’re doing … The model, we’ve partnered with Donors Choose, and our models are flipping one classroom at a time, and in ten years, we’ll get everyone.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. Kelly Starrett. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Kelly Starrett: Brett, thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Kelly Starrett. He is the author of Desk Bound. You can find that on Amazon.com, and bookstores everywhere, and also make sure to check out Kelly’s website at mobilitywod.com. For show notes for this podcast, go to aom.is/standup. That wraps another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com, and if you enjoy the show, and have got something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you gave us a receive on iTunes, or Stitcher, or whatever else you use to listen to your podcasts, as that helps spread the word about the show. As always, I appreciate your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.