Could going without food for 2-3 days actually improve your performance?

Dr. Kelly Starrett is the author of the New York Times bestseller Becoming a Supple Leopard and creator of MobilityWOD. He travels the world teaching elite Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard forces; athletes from the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB; and world-ranked strength and power athletes. He consults with Olympic teams and universities and is a featured speaker at strength and conditioning conferences worldwide.

On this show with Dr. Kelly Starrett, you’ll learn:

  • The surprising results of going without food
  • How to get results with breathwork
  • How to move like a human
  • Why I deadlift my dog
  • And much more!

Kelly Starrett: The Justin Bieber of Crossfit Mobility

Abel: In the CrossFit community, Kelly Starrett is a bona fide celebrity; he’s a way bigger deal than Justin Bieber. Thank you for coming back on the show, man.

Well, I don’t know about the Justin Bieber part, but certainly the “believers” who are supple leopards squat better than any of Justin’s fans, so I’ll take it.

Abel: Every time, 100%. Now I do squats holding up my 80lb dog. Do you approve?

I coach this thing called “Kelly’s Performance Lab” and it’s a way of working out problems, coaching or seeing solutions. I have this stoic group of about 20 people who come in and I just experiment on them and they are up for it.

It’s brutal, but last week we did horrible, horrible front squats from the bottom position, trying to reconcile our worst, most compromised position with developing force and stability there, which is picking up your dog.

It’s interesting: a lot of us only ever squat from the top down. We rarely squat from the bottom up. But that’s really the squatting we do most of the time in the world.

Abel: That’s great to know. Now, whether someone is a CrossFit coach or just a regular Joe or Jane, what are they probably doing right now that is wrong mobility-wise?

People are working harder than I think they’ve ever worked before. I think our movement practices are better than they have been, and more complete.

If you look at what’s happening with Strong First, if you look at what’s happening in the Olympic lifting community, CrossFit communities, even places like Barry’s Boot Camp, we’re starting to see a much more rounded-out movement practice. That means define it as, “Hey, you’re taking the shoulder into all the positions that make the benchmarks and bookmarks of what human function should do.”

You’ve got all the languages of the spine; you’re squatting at full depth. So we’re seeing that with the rounding out: we’re all coming toward the same sets of issues or same sets of positional competencies, but how we arrive there is different.

I think the thing we’re doing a poor job of now is that we are forgetting why we were in the gym in the first place. I think that is about getting outside and acquiring new skills and existing in chaotic environments.

I just gave a little talk about athletic development. What we see is that we’ve told the kids for a long time, “If you just play a lot of sports, that’s enough.” And truly, what we’re trying to do is expose kids to a lot of chaotic environments and make them come up with novel motor solutions. But that in and of itself we know is an incomplete practice, and we have to have some form of movement training for this ultimate development.

We’ve seen people shift away from playing a bunch of sports. They’re not playing flag football, they not playing pickup basketball, they’re not skiing and running and biking, and climbing, and doing all the things they should do, even multi-sport athletes. Instead, we’ve seen an artifact of things that look and only exist in the gym, and I think the problem is that it is a satisfying practice, but the real application is getting out. And that means we need to make sure we are learning new skills regularly and playing.

The play is the heart and soul of the matter. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet

So at some point, if we don’t dissociate fitness-ing from training, we’re going to see that we can work really hard and not become better-skilled movers and have a set of skills that don’t transfer toward carrying a heavy pack for 20 km or something like that. If you look at a lot of programs, they’re requiring you to spend two to four hours of day in the gym, and I’m like, “That’s untenable.” So it doesn’t scale, it’s untenable, and it doesn’t necessarily transfer to the sport.

What we need to do is make sure that while we’re training, we’re not just working hard on fitness-ing, because I think a lot of what we’ve seen in the strength, conditioning, and fitness community is that it looks like modern-day bodybuilding.

It’s all about the ego; take your shirt off, it’s your selfie. And it’s not about the application of that toward something else. And again, I think sometimes it gets confusing, because gymnastics is a sport, Olympic lifting is a sport, and power-lifting is a sport. But we’ve forgotten why we’re using those tenets to become better volleyball players, have better skills. I think that, coupled with the fact that we are doing a pretty bad job of down-regulating, and we’re continuing to refine our skills and not identify our success by, “Do we add another pound to the plate, to the bar, or not?” Or “I did one more pull-up.” Those are important metrics, of course, but it doesn’t tell me about the quality of what’s happening.

We need to continue to put breathing practice down, regulation practice, so this is all really sustainable and goes beyond just becoming a huge, huge, jacked athlete who can no longer run or swim.

Abel: Right. That’s the most tragic thing. You see these people who are so accomplished in this one particular area and they’re at the top of their game. Then all of a sudden they might get injured, lose interest, and they’re not the best anymore. And that’s the tragic end of their career.

This is human beings just being human beings. We’ve done this for as long as there have been human beings.

And we’ve been struggling, and you do pay a price for being a specialist. One of my friends is a good mate and he’s been on the podium, in the Tour de France, and we’re rebuilding his squat so he’s more efficient on the bike now. You don’t get something for nothing.

It’s okay to specialize and make those compromises, but that’s not what most of us are doing. Most of us need to be ready for sport and life. One of the things that I’m really heartened by is that we’re seeing a shift now, and I think this is completely reasonable. About 10 years ago, 15 years ago, we saw people had big aerobic engines, but they were weak and poorly skilled. Now we’re seeing that people are much, much stronger, like brutally strong. It’s amazing to see what people can do. They’re becoming much more skilled, but now we’ve lost sight of the aerobic engine.

Now people are having to go back and pick up that base aerobic work, which isn’t junk mileage, mind you—it’s not just mindless 5Ks, but really being a little bit more skilled and putting energy back into developing that practice.

There’s a good study that came out that one of the key metrics of longevity is VO2 max. And so it’s not your ability to suffer under a bar for a set of 20 that’s important, vitally important, but your ability to go and actually blow out the carburetor. So we’ll all get there, and it’s okay that we have different interests.

I just want to remind people that the point of all this is to get out and go be a human being.

What Happens When You’re Too Strong

Abel: Over the years, how has that changed what you’re doing day to day? Are you always changing it up and evolving?

What’s interesting is that I spent some time for my wife, and we started to free up a couple of years ago, and I went back to professional paddling. I was a professional paddler for a long time, and I’ve done it nonstop since I was about 12. So I’m, like, on my 32nd year of boating.

But I went back and I paddled the Molokai and I started racing outrigger again, and that demanded that I was really competent at an hour-plus at aerobic. And the last Molokai race took me over six hours, and I was in a boat that was a little small, but it was kind of flat. So it’s a six-hour aerobic effort without stopping. And that’s short compared to what some of our friends are doing.

When I came back to it, I realized: there is a point where you are too big. There is a point when you’re too strong.

I just don’t need to deadlift 600 pounds anymore. If I can check the box on 500—and it doesn’t mean I don’t deadlift heavy once a week. I deadlift heavy to make my back work and my hips work well. But I’ll throw the Dan John; hell, I’ll throw 315 on the bar and deadlift it every thirty seconds for 20-30 minutes, Texas cardio. But the idea here is that I literally am now the biggest aerobic athlete in the world. And four days a week I am suffering. Bryan McKenzie of Power Speed Endurance does my aerobic programming. His wife Erin Cafaro and I live off a spreadsheet, and there are a couple of things that I think are really notable about my own practice. One is that it took me over a year to re-find my aerobic legs.

This doesn’t mean I wasn’t fit. Now I’m almost two years into this aerobic experience, and I can tell you I have doubled my aerobic capacity at least. My ability to suffer has gone through the roof, coupled with it opening up a whole bunch of interesting doors about breathing and inefficiency, and it made me a much better all-around athlete. The things that I could do, the volume I could handle. And I realized that maybe I was still always a well-conditioned athlete, but I didn’t have this aerobic base. I’d taken my eye off that.

As I was digging out of that hole a little bit, I realized how much I need to front squat to make everything work. I weigh 236; last time I got into the body fat sink tank, the dunk tank, I was 7% body fat, and I was like, “Well, come 43, that’s good enough. I like to drink a glass of wine once in awhile. I’ll sneak a cookie, so I’m not going to ever be a super shredder.”

But I was like, “Yeah, I’m under 10, I’m good.” But what I realized was that when I started living off the spreadsheet and had some goals, when I actually was forcing myself to compete again, saying, “I have a big race,” I really paid attention to my sleep density. I paid attention to my ability to recover. All the details came on board. I started being much more interested in this aerobic engine, figuring out how much of the strength training I could pull back.

I still bench or press heavy once a week. I’m still checking the boxes for being a strength athlete. But my focus has really shifted. And then really making sure that I understood that the things we were recommending to our athletes we had to do, because I’m living off a spreadsheet, and I literally can’t hit my numbers if I’m hypo-hydrated, I’m not poorly fed.

And I think that’s one of the mistakes around fitness: You can drink a bottle of wine and not have any sleep, and you can still go smash at the gym for 12 to 14 to 20 minutes. But you can’t do that and see the gains, especially as the aerobic conditioning comes up as little pounds. You have to pull back on that stuff. That’s why it’s important to have something that you do—you challenge yourself. Here’s a good example: go do a Spartan Race, just do the sprints and tell me how did you do. That’s just a five-mile run with some obstacles; you should be able to nail that.

How To Get Results with Breathwork

Abel: It’s amazing how many people can’t.

Yeah, or are surprised to realize that the 400s they run once in awhile aren’t enough.

I think that’s it. And so what’s really interesting is that this is about reaffirming the concept that we can never become too skilled. That skill is an infinite capacity. But ultimately, fitness is a cup that fills over. Fitness-ing. I don’t know how many mountain climbers it takes, but you know what I mean? Just at some point there’s enough. A hundred burpees. Okay. Let’s have a more interesting conversation.

One is developing better skill, and the second one is trying to be more conscious about our own practice. However we get there, I think there’s a lot of information to be had that then translates to how I handle stress, how I handle these other things.

I’ll give you an example: One of the things that’s changed in my life in the past two years is I started hanging out with this guy named Leonard Hamilton a bunch. And I met him through Brian Mackenzie, who was one of his partners. And Leonard had developed a breathing practice, a modified breathing practice, from a guy named Wim Hof, who was all over the Internet.

Abel: I did some of that this morning.

It’s great. I don’t do Wim Hof’s stuff, but I have a breathing practice now every day. And my wife… I’ve been in the ice just about every day for the last two years.

Two years I’ve been doing this. And what I can tell you is that the things I have learned about myself… The consciousness shifts, the awareness. The ability to assess my ready state, handle cold. That’s what’s really interesting, is we make this about an intellectual conversation. And adding in some of these other practices really makes me feel like I’m a much more mellow guy, that I can handle stress better, and it translates to all the other aspects of my life.

That’s really what we’re supposed to be doing in this sport anyway. Using sport not just for nutrition. Using training not just as nutritive experiences, but as gateway to self-understanding. And that sounds airy-fairy, but that’s why we should be squatting heavy: to find out who we are.

Abel: I think that’s why so many people get in trouble when they reach the pinnacle, especially once they start to waver a little bit. They’re up at the top, they punished themselves for years on end, and then it’s like, “Why am I doing this again?”

That’s right. And it’s interesting, we have a friend named Chuck Glen who is one of the best stand-up paddlers on the planet. He’s an all-around water man. He’s a designer for Lance boards. He’s one of my favorite paddlers and he just went on representing the USA for this big Fiji paddle. And on his way down, his board got crushed. And he couldn’t repair it. He had to borrow a board.

So there he is, at this huge international event, representing USA and his design, his board, which he is really fast on, is broken. So he has to borrow another board, and that puts him… Wrong board, wrong conditions, wrong thing. Doesn’t understand, you know what I mean? But instead he goes through the experience.

It challenges us not to have everything perfect every single time. One of the things we’ve seen is that now we get into the gym and we have our pre-WOD and I have my knee sleeves and my little band. And then I do my little routine, and it’s like step aerobics that I don’t know the steps for. And seriously, that consistency is important.

When my wife and I did the Spartan Race like a month ago or something, one of the things we said was, “Hey, let’s not carry water. We’ll drink whatever we find out there. Let’s not take a snack. And let’s just deal.” We were well fed and well rested and well prepared. But that was a two-hour race and I had three Dixie cups of water. Of course that’s not my best effort. But what was so great was being un-precious about it.

I was like, “It’s okay to be hungry.” Because what am I training for?

One of the things we did in the last year was we started fasting once a month. You go for 24 to 36 hour cycle. And again, I don’t fast around competition, but I had never gone 24 hours without eating until about six months ago.

One of the ways that we got into it was we’d been toying with some friends who have these genetic testing companies. So understanding sort of the genomic possibility of your body, what the potentials are. Of course, it’s not genetic determinism at all. But it turns out one of the things that I have a weakness in is fat utilization. I do not utilize fat very well and that’s a genetic problem.

So there are two ways of addressing that. One is that I eat a standard athletic diet. So I eat enough carbohydrate to fuel my athletic self, but I guarantee you, if you add too much coconut water, coconut oil, or MCTs or fat to my coffee, I’m going to get diarrhea. Like, boom, diarrhea. And it’s not that I can’t absorb the fat. I’ve tinkered. But turns out I just don’t process that. So it’s actually a hole in my armor when I’m in the endurance capacity, because I don’t have access to these fatty acids.

I either train to it and think, “Okay, well, I just have to make sure that I have right carbohydrate on board.” And we have those tools. Or I really try to lean on the availability of the system. So if I’ve got 10%, let’s not make sure I’m getting 5% of that 10%. Let’s make sure that I’ve got 10%. A 36-hour fast is a way of really clicking on some of that fat adaptation machinery, without having to suffer for two or three weeks. So that was one of the entries. And also I was like, “Juliet, I don’t know the last time I just chose not to eat.” Because I’m not hungry sometimes.

It turns out it was easy to do that because I’m not out of balance; I don’t have cravings. And at 36 hours, though, I woke up in the middle of the night and ate a chicken at 36 hours. My body was like, “Let’s go.” But I think that’s what’s interesting about this is continuing to refine our own practices and our understanding skills, because we hear about these things.

I was listening to an interview about one of the world’s best climbers, and as a kid, he and his brother would go out and climb for two days without eating. Just to see how tough they were. They were Austrians. And then, one of my friends, Jimmy Chin, who is an amazing climber—and if you haven’t seen his documentary Meru, I highly recommend that.

What ends up happening is we come to consider ourselves very tough, because we can suffer in the gym, and then I go have my post protein. But Jimmy was on the rock with Conrad Anker and another climber, and they tried to make the successful attempt of the summit, and they get turned away about 100 meters to the top. What people don’t know is that they had run out of food, and they had two days of down climbing after they’re out of food. So each of them had a third of a power bar a day, and they have to down climb. They’re like 20,000 feet, 22,000 feet, and so they’re doing this high-altitude climbing on no food.

That’s the reality. They get to the bottom, go to find their food cache. But the reason they run out of food was the snows. They can’t find their food, so they have another 24-hour walk to get back to food. And the choice is, I’m going to do that or not going to do that. What I really appreciate about that is that it’s a non-issue for them. They’re like, “This is the way it is. I’m not going to be precious about it. I still have to accomplish this.” I think that’s made me a lot more comfortable with, “Hey, it’s okay to go for a long hike and not be fed every 18 minutes.” Again some of this is consciousness, and it’s nice to be able to dial that in for a race. But also to sort of let go and enjoy the experience of this corporal thing.

Abel: Well, it seems to me that the pendulum is swinging from way too much of everything, back to less of everything. Simplicity.

I don’t think it’s less; I think it’s more refined. Show me that you can be a human being, and really functional. Laird is really reasonable. He eats like a ninja, his heart rate… He did a little step test; I think he only got his heart rate up to 200 at age 50 last time. He’s just a beast. But he’s like, “Look, if you ate a hamburger and your knuckles swell up and you get diarrhea you’re also just as big a liability.” If you bulk, you’re a liability. So work those things out.

Expand our definition of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and for me that’s about consistency.

Abel: It’s about consistency combined with trying new things. I’ve been doing that for five or six years now in various ways, and it taught me so much about meditation, and about how to work on business issues, and emotional issues I was going through. The idea that you can just put up with whatever the world throws at you, or doesn’t throw at you, is a really powerful thing. And also I found that with breathing as well. If you can get better at holding your breath, then all of a sudden when you’re out of breath doing sprints or an intense workout, you’re like, “Oh, I know what this is like, I know this state, I can deal with this, and I’m going to relax into it.” That’s a powerful skill.

These things serve us on so many different levels. My daughter is 11, and she gets in the ice water every day with us, but her breathing—it’s her breathing that we talk about.

We don’t talk about time, we talk about, “Hey, try to get 20 breaths or 30 breaths.” It’s about her being able to control that. What I really feel is exciting is that we’re finally being able to sync up sort of our modern sensibilities and deep understanding of strength and conditioning principles with the movement traditions of the past.

And Iyengar, that guy’s a genius. He said something like, “The breath is the king of the brain, and the nerves are the king of the breath.” So one of the ways, in the ice water, that stress, that breathing practice—you can see how that is rudimentary and why good strength conditioning always centers around the spine.

That breathing in yoga, breathing in Pilates, breathing in dance, breathing. And you’re seeing that we’ve come back and we’ve been able to integrate these things that didn’t feel like they were important to us in our strength and conditioning performance world, it turns out they really are, and we can wrap our modern sensibilities around them and incorporate them in a way that, again, respects the time of the person. Because I think the easy dart in all this is, “When do I do this? I have two kids, and a job, and my wife and I are like, meal prep, what are you talking about?” This morning for breakfast, we were like, boom, Trader Joe’s prepackaged salad and scrambled eggs. We were like, “No meal prep.”

The idea here is we need to show people what a 24-hour cycle looks like. Here’s an example. We’ve been working on our StandUp Kids initiative, and if you’re on the web or seen us, our daughter’s at the first all-standing fidget desk in the world. Moving desk, so there’s no more sitting. There’s a lot of movement; the desk is involved. We have about 35,000 kids now around the United States, mostly in poverty schools, because of our project on standing.

Switching kids from sitting desks to moving desks is a silver bullet for obesity. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet

Literally, we can wipe out obesity; we can reverse body mass index. Why? Because people are moving. It’s not about standing still, moving or not moving. One of the things we did this year is we started a walking school bus in our neighborhood. So we walk, and we have about 40 kids. Parents drop off. Some parents walk. We walk about a mile and a half to school, and then about a mile back or a mile and a quarter.

So many adults there came up to us after a couple months, and they were like, “I’ve lost 10 pounds. My sex life is better. I sleep better.” And I’m like, “Because you walk your kids to school? That is really messed up.” How far away from center were you that a two-mile walk a day has such a profound change on your experience?

That’s one of those ways where it’s easy to integrate those practices so you’re not feeling like you’re plugging and playing. I always use the example, like, “Hey, I take this turmeric at 2 a.m.; I do this special secret school program.” It’s consistency, and that’s why you can see guys like Dan John and Pavel have been saying, “Hey, keep a kettlebell in your garage. And if you’re toast, well, go walk and then make sure you get a hundred kettlebell swings a day.”

How to move like a human and get results from breathwork:

Show me you can be consistent then we can talk about being heroic. @mobilitywod Click To Tweet

Abel: It’s easy to be attracted to that new shiny object, but you can’t beat consistency.

That’s right. And I think one of the nice things is when we wrap all of this conversation, we’re in the mantle of performance; it gives us a chance to make sure that people experience the outcome. And one of the things, especially as a physical therapist, is that we see adherence as a dirty, dirty word in the physical therapy language.

One of the reasons people aren’t adherent is that what they’re doing doesn’t work. They can’t experience it. They can’t more closely conjoin behaviors with outcomes.

One of the nice things about tightening up that control loop is that people see an outcome. They experience positive change, and they can see it right away, and then the behavior exists. If you’re telling me that I have to eat an avocado a day for the next two years, it’s going to be really difficult for me to stick to that avocado-a-day diet.

I think we’ve done a better job of showing people the interrelation between that. And respecting the fact that human beings are such a complex system that sometimes dysfunction doesn’t express itself until decades later. I think that also makes it more difficult. So here’s an example. There are very few research pieces that show that posture dysfunction causes pain. And the problem with that language is saying, “I’m waiting around for pain.” But poor posture, poor organized spine, poor reference organization of your central nervous system expresses itself in down regulation of function.

It doesn’t matter. Yeah, your back and neck may not hurt, but you definitely won’t be able to take a full breath, you definitely won’t be able to put your arms over your head, you definitely won’t be able to deadlift heavy. And then suddenly, people are like, “Oh, I care, because when I improved that, I moved to these standing fidget desks, then I was able to see X immediately.” And that’s where we’re starting to really get the behavior changes.

Abel: I was fortunate because I grew up as a trained musician and singer, and you learn posture early playing woodwinds and singing. Also, I have a deep voice, so when I did performances and theater, you couldn’t hear me unless I projected and learned how to really do it without losing my voice. And that all came from the correct posture, the correct breath, because if you try to do it the wrong way, it just doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work. And that’s what’s great about where we are in the Internet, is that we’re finally being able to reconcile and see how these systems unify. That, hey, the mechanics of breathing and singing are the mechanics of swimming and breathing. They unify.

Look, 12,000 years ago we were not the only species of human being on the planet. But in the last 10,000 years, here’s what’s changed about you: nothing. And so it’s not like I have a different set of organized shoulders for swimming than I do for throwing. It’s the shoulder. Well, I think we’re finally getting to the point where we’re understanding the root function, and that ultimately all of these movement practices, all of these expressions of the shoulder, are best techniques that utilize the physiology.

So, it’s rare that you see a sustainable practice where the shoulders are in a terrible position, the neck is broken, and that’s what we’re teaching. Once you can start to connect the dots, when you jump into a yoga class, you’re like, “Oh, I understand.” You go to an Olympic lifting class and you’re like, “It’s the same shape as my yoga class.” When you’re talking about blocking the ball at the net, it’s the same principles as overhead squatting. And suddenly you’re like, “Okay, I can understand now why formal training in these root positions, teaching people to breathe, teaching people down regulation then gives them the nascent framework to be able to apply the skill on top of it.”

Abel: These positions, are they something that are kind of built into us that we need to re-remember? Or is this cutting-edge stuff?

Well, I would say that for the first time in our lives, we’ve been able to nail down and say what they are. But it’s very, very old, and I think it’s really arrogant of us to say that people hadn’t figured it out before.

So when you’re sitting in lotus, your shoulders are in the externally rotated positions. If you literally went from hands on your lap to grabbing a couple rings, you’d be in the finished position of the dip at the top with the hands. Fully externally rotating the hip, mechanically, not actively, just passively externally rotating the hip when you’re sitting in lotus position, winds up the hip capsule, which makes your pelvis stable so you can then stack your ribcage on top of your pelvis, and then you can breathe more efficiently with less work, because the structure’s supporting it. And if you don’t have that, your legs are going to burn out. Your back burns out; you’re fatigued in those positions.

One of my friends is a super nerd. His wife is a professor of art and he’ll be like, “Kelly, look at this. This is from 900 AD.” And it’s a Chinese sculpture of some kind of monster holding a lantern. And the guy’s in the perfect front rack shape and the head is neutral. And then the other hand is out in a fist, and you’re like, “Oh, maybe, maybe someone was paying attention.” We’re just reconnecting the dots and then also figuring out how that works in a way that is replicable, and I don’t know.

I just heard this piece on NPR, maybe it was Science Friday, but basically we have seen the continued refinement of human function for the last several centuries. The slowest to qualify for the Boston Marathon today would have gotten you fourth in the marathon in 1906. Just to qualify.

And so seeing as people are building, building, building, some of that is really remarkable. So when Thor walks the mast four steps, well, 3,000 years ago, a guy walked the mast three steps. So some of the increment is small, but I think we’ve been obsessed with being human beings. And also, people have been obsessed with improving the human condition for as long as there have been humans.

Suddenly, you’re going to the ancient traditions, and you’re like, “Okay. Let me not throw this out as non-science-based. Let’s say, what were they trying to solve? What are the root pieces around this?” And you can start to view this with, oh, people were really clever.

Here’s another example: When we were in Korea, teaching, we’re in this very traditional part of the town in Seoul and there’s a woman who had a pile of bones and horns on the table that were shaped into shark fins and stuff. I walked right up and I start scraping myself with those, and this woman lit up at the big white guy, and she’s all of a sudden scraping my neck and scraping my arms, and those were tools that they were just selling on the street. So you’re like, “Hey, could you pick me up, hun?” I bought a bunch of these indigenous bones and the feel was really great. And here’s this idea of instrumented tooling, which is around the Internet now, and everyone is scraping themselves. But that is old, old, old school.

I think that what’s fun now is we’re being able to bring up what we think our primary practice is. And that means that once again we’re moving toward simplicity, that what we’re trying to do is say, “Hey, what are the foundational principles of being a human being?” Sleeping, stress regulation, play. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to breathe hard. And now, those things we can argue about and tune up and tune down to a degree, but those are the building blocks of good human function.

How To Raise Healthy Kids

Abel: Knowing everything you know, how does that trickle down to the way you raise your kids?

Well, that’s a really great question, and once again, it’s consistency. I have two. They are really good kids. They’re such good girls, and we don’t think it’s us. We think it’s the fact that they eat food and we’re not fascist and controlling, because we have daughters, so we don’t want to try to create some kind of Paleo eating dysfunction.

My oldest daughter actually self-identified, and she’s like, “Hey, when I eat pasta at our friend’s house, I get diarrhea. When I eat pizza, I vomit.” So she just pulled out the gluten and all of a sudden, that was one of those things. So our kids eat food. We don’t stress; we eat high-quality food with not huge desserts. We treat dessert like a special treat. But I will tell you that our kids sleep like ninjas. They are in bed at 8:00 or 8:30 every single night and sleep until 6:00 or 6:30, and we are consistent about that.

Our kids have blackout shades in their room. We try to get them to be active. What ends up happening is that the principles end up being there, and then we just sort of create it as a context so our kids can start to model those behaviors over time. Now my oldest daughter will choose the salad because she really likes salad, and she’s an athlete, so she has a big strong ass and can front squat. As an 11-year-old, I’m like, “Damn.” But we have a slackline in our yard and the cold tub, and all her aunts train, and the whole neighborhood comes to our house in the morning and basically exercises and that’s just noise.

One of the things my wife and I feel strongly about is the older we’ve gotten, we don’t drink. We just don’t drink much. And if we do drink, it’s a drink, because we feel terrible the next day. And most of the lead athletes I know have all stopped drinking. Laird Hamilton doesn’t drink. Levi Harper doesn’t drink. They just don’t drink, and what’s interesting is, we work with a company called Whoop, which makes a tracking device that looks at heart rate variability and things while you sleep, which is really great. So it can capture some important data while you’re sleeping and then you don’t have to wear it the rest of the time.

But when they saw that with their elite athletes, when they showed them the correlation to cardiac function and drinking, they saw a decrease in alcohol consumption by 80%, because those athletes were like, “Holy crap, four days later my cardiac still hasn’t recovered, because that alcohol is so neurotoxic.”

They saw a decrease in caffeine about 44%, but those athletes were in bed 40%, 42 minutes on average more, because they could see again that’s the thing. We can conjoin the outcome with the behavior. And so then you’re like, “Well shoot, maybe I’ll have a Mexican beer and then I’m done, and then that doesn’t mess up my sleep.” And so we just need to become more conscious. But when we model those behaviors for our kids, our kids don’t see us drink a lot. It’s just not a big deal. It’s this much wine and that’s all there is. We see those as food. And so our kids now have this relationship with alcohol.

They’re like, “That’s not really that important, because my parents don’t value it. My parents eat a lot of vegetables so I eat a lot of vegetables. My parents sleep, so I sleep.” Well, I think that’s the thing that we’re interested in.

But I will tell you something unequivocally about the world we live in is that Juliet and I have zero aspirations for our kids to be professional athletes. We don’t think that is a goal. I don’t even know if I want them to play in college. I want them to be interested in the world and to be really good at sports, and they surf, and they ski, and they bike. We do as many skills as we can, lifestyle skills. We’ll be on swim team or in volleyball. We still play those formal things, but we’re trying to set it up so our kids are excited about being physical animals their whole life, and don’t see that as the fetishization of sport and loss of love to move. So that’s how we have tried not to mess up our kids, but I’m sure we will.

Abel: I know I can vouch for the fact that it is monkey see, monkey do. And whatever people say, whatever the psychologists say about how to raise our kids, what they see you do they will do without even knowing it, subconsciously. And I know that I became like an okay short order cook when I was young, and then later on worked in restaurants, and got really involved with food because that’s exactly what my dad did. When we didn’t have ketchup, we lived in the boondocks in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, and dad would make ketchup from scratch. And we didn’t have cocktail sauce, so he’d make that too. He just figured out a way to put stuff together. And that is so inspiring. I didn’t know it at all at the time. But that is so inspiring as a kid, and it does trickle down to them in a powerful way.

We love to cook. Georgia now is a pretty good cook, and she’s actually starting a subscription bakery service with one of her friends. Because they really like to cook. Cooking is a thing that everyone does, and there are some things you could control as a parent. One of the principles of being human beings is that you should be wearing flat shoes all the time. And if you want to make a choice about adding some heel, later on in the day for your sport, fine. That’s an adult decision, but you buy your kid’s shoes. So, if you want to not mess up your kid, make sure that they are barefoot as much time as you can, and when they’re wearing shoes that they’re wearing Vans or Cons, or something flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. And if they’re not, that’s your fault, not theirs.

Abel: Things are changing so fast. But you, in a lot of ways, got traction at the beginning, and I did as well, through e-learning. We didn’t call it that, but we had websites where we taught people how to do things. And I think that’s really where things are going more and more.

But if you’re a kid today and you ask Google something, it’s just spitting back a bunch of crap. How do you make sure your kids or the people you’re coaching, your athletes, are finding the right information? Or is there a way that you could tell something’s wrong?

We definitely have experience. We’ve owned the gym now for 12 years, and we have definitely experienced the flavor du jour. People are excited about the new thing, and trying the new thing, and some of that is just being human and being curious. One of the things that you do as a coach is, and even through these podcast kind of projects, the e-learning is that you’re curating a bunch of information. I’m a huge John Berardi fan, and plus, his nutrition is just so reasonable. And so when people have a question for me, I’m like, “I trust that guy.” And I also work with him. So I’ve seen him work, I know he’s vetted, and then I don’t have to worry about that.

There are so many good people thinking about nutrition, but that one is really reasonable… And I think that’s one of the ways. We have forgotten that evolution—we’re supposed to be about a small group of 50 people up to 250 people. We, in that group, can really call out a bunch of BS.

This is where it’s important is that, yes, Facebook lies to us, and there’s a bunch of fad BS out there, right? This juice cleanse, this secret program. But I think one of the things that we forget is that people are really clever, and they will figure out if something is BS or not pretty quickly. I probably did buy some ab thing on the TV late at night when I was 17, but that’s because I didn’t know better.

But now something I think, for example, that physical therapy does poorly is we don’t trust people to figure out what’s going to work for them, whether it’s a placebo or not. But most of the time, if you can snatch more or overhead squat more, or you run faster, unlikely it’s a placebo. You know what I mean? If I improve mechanics, I improve your efficiency.

One of the things that we have not done a good job of is trusting people to know what works.

Without bookmarking and saying, “Hey, look, don’t skid around to the program of the week.” But people come and say to him, “I think I need to get stronger.” Well, are you making progress doing what you’re doing? Well, Stop. Quit jumping; it’s working. And when it stops working, we have the next conversation.

The key here is to look at your community of practice. And if your community counts macros, and it works for everyone, then that’s going to be an easy way to manage that. If you’re in a hardcore Paleo community and that works for you, then good. I think the bottom line is that we can trust the people around us and we should be curating that for our kids, for sure. We just put on Twitter today an article written by one of our staff members about the need for simplicity and how as he has trained longer and longer, he has gotten back to simple.

Even if we are talking about fat burning or being leaner, I ask people, “Did you eat six fistfuls of vegetables today?” First things first, and then we can talk about dialing up and dialing down the fat. Show me you can front squat, then we can have a conversation about your elite program, but you’ve got to show me you can front squat first.

Where To Find Dr. Kelly Starrett

Abel: I love it. Before we go, could you tell folks what you’re working on next, Kelly?

We are on (Workout of the Day). We’ve been doing daily programming for years, but now we have a follow-along format, because what we realized is we were missing a lot of nuance. And now we force people to play along, so it’s like a guided yoga session, but around improving your mechanics, and that has been tremendous. So, I think it’s like $10 a month and we make a daily 16-20 minute video for you to follow along, so it’s coaching around improving positions, and we teach you all of it. I think that’s pretty rad.

We also have a level two course. One of the things that we’re trying to do to is put the coach into the driver’s seat of being able to identify mechanical restriction and understanding the components of that mechanical restriction. So if someone squats and their feet turn out and their knees dump in the backgrounds, it’s not like, “Hey, well, let’s just do a lot more squats and wait until someone breaks.” Now we can become curious and say, “Oh, look, you don’t have any dorsiflexion. Here’s how we’re going to fix that.” We’re teaching blood flow restriction, we’re teaching tooling, we’re teaching more advanced techniques. And what we think is, the coach is really going to be the person who can tightly conjoin: “I see someone move, they have a problem, I can fix it.”

Because what’s happening right now is, let’s say you went for a run and your knee hurts. Are you injured? No, your knee just hurts after a run for whatever reason. You just flew from the East Coast, you’re stiff, whatever. It doesn’t mean your running technique is not perfect. And people are not taking that immediately to their doctor or the physical therapist, the chiro. Maybe some people are, but most of us are not. We’re just kind of hoping it goes away. What we want to do is give the coaches a way of being able to say, “Okay, let’s start. Is it tight quads? Are you missing total knee extension? Is it your dorsiflexion?”

We become curious at solving these incident-level problems. So that’s launching and then we have a couple new books out that are coming out next year. One is about paddling called Water 2.0, which I’m really excited about. And then we also have another book called Flight Plan, which is about how to survive in plane travel, which we’re also very excited about.

I think that one’s going to change because again, what we keep trying to do is say, “Hey, here’s what we’ve learned in our elite formula one experience. Here’s how it actually matters to all of us who suffer.” So anyway, we’ve got a lot of fun things happening.

There was a time where I was a little concerned about where the strength and conditioning was going, because on Instagram it looks like it’s Olympic lifting and gluten-free vodka and hamburgers without buns, and lots of butts. But I’m seeing a great sophistication across the board. People are so much more sophisticated, and we really feel excited about being able to meet them on that sophistication.

When we started teaching 10 years ago on our course, I’d be like, “This is your leg.” And people were like, “This is amazing. I have a leg. I PR,” and I’m like, “Okay, it’s really bad.” But now people are much more sophisticated, and we’re seeing that the techniques and tools for understanding are ubiquitous, which means we’re moving the ball. It means we get to have the next conversation.

You can find Kelly Starrett on Twitter and Instagram @mobilitywod, and Mobility Wod on Facebook.


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