How Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Seminar Ruined Me

I know that tearing down to rebuild better is a great thing. Kelly Starrett did not ruin me, he just opened my eyes. It’s time to relearn movement basics – maybe even learn them for the first time.

Over the weekend I took a CrossFit Movement and Mobility trainer course given by Kelly Starrett, doctor of physical therapy, healer to world-class athletes, and, in general, the guru to whom we run to fix our shit. If you recall, this course was number one on my holiday list. When I wrote the “wish” list, I had every intention of taking the course, but what I got out of the experience was way more than I thought I would going into it.

In the CrossFit community, seeing KStarr is a celebrity sighting. Many of us have watched – and have been helped by – countless videos from his MobilityWOD site, which was voted a Top Ten Fitness Blog of 2012 here at Breaking Muscle. So having the opportunity to hear him lecture and painfully demonstrate techniques on us left us a little star struck. Having him twist my arm around into a correct, externally-rotated front rack position during one demo was certainly an honor no matter how reminiscent it was of a playground bully jacking your arm back to steal your lunch. Take my lunch, KStarr, I promise to front squat better.

Starrett exudes a charm laced with intimidation. He is funny, which is a relief because the fact that he is smarter and stronger than us would be too much to bear in straight doses. With ease, he speaks intimately to a room of a hundred people because he will say whole sentences while staring at you, at everyone. He burrows his knowledge-stare into your brain the same way, I imagine, he’d like to bury a lacrosse ball into your tender psoas until you weep. He seems nice, but you have to be on your guard or else he’ll slap you around for texting during the break while slumped horrifically in your chair. He’ll make you do burpees if you get up off the floor wrong. He showed us a beautiful photo of Rich Froning at the top of an effortless L-sit muscle up and then pointed out the five things wrong with Froning’s technique. By hour one, we weren’t sure if we were even holding our pens correctly to take notes.

kelly starrett, kstarr, mobilitywod, physical therapy, crossfit mobilityAs we tried to sit in our chairs straighter than we had in years, we hung onto every word Starrett said. We listened to every syllable because we know he’s right. Deep down we know we aren’t standing correctly or moving well enough. We know we are losing power to mechanics. After a couple squat demos, most of us came to terms with the fact that our technique, in general, sucks, and so does the technique of our students. Before the seminar, we had an idea that some of us might get injured some day, maybe. After the seminar, it seems that most of us are tracking injury in our not-so-distant sights if we don’t make solid corrections.

Yet the only thing that drove us to really listen to Starrett was the idea that our flawed mechanics affects our performance. Injury-sminjury, did you just say I could add forty pounds to my deadlift? The majority of us are not worried about getting injured. We feel pretty good minus the stiffness, aching, soreness, and general yelping when touched. We have six-packs for god’s sake, of course we can continue to lift heavy things, rounded back be damned. We are spontaneous warriors who have been doing CrossFit for months, maybe a couple years. Of course we can do things that Olympians have been practicing for many hours a day for many years, decades even.

It turns out we can’t. Or more, we shouldn’t without relearning some basics – maybe even learn them for the first time. I had come to this seminar hoping to learn more about mobility and healing because fixing stuff instead of preventing it is a deeply-engrained, misguided Western notion that’s hard to shake. But Starrett knows we need to take care of basic posture and movement first, which is why he wisely spent most of the day speaking on that.

kelly starrett, kstarr, mobilitywod, physical therapy, crossfit mobilityDuring the lunch break, Starrett invited Jill Miller and her team from Yoga Tune Up to give a talk. Miller is the Kelly Starrett of the yoga world in that she tries to slow down and reeducate yoga practitioners who also drive too hard to master movements without proper technique. She did an amazing diaphragm-respiratory demonstration on us to help with our breathing. She had us use a soft volleyball-sized ball to self-massage our stomachs and lacrosse-like balls to dig down our thoracic vertebrae. (For the record, just because balls are inscribed with the word “yoga” and are dyed pretty pastel colors does not make them less painful.) Bringing Miller into the seminar was an incredibly insightful integration of practices to help us improve another crucial basic. I learned that breathing correctly is yet another hole in my game, right next to posture and the air squat. Awesome.

I know that tearing down to rebuild better is a great thing. Kelly Starrett did not ruin me, he just opened my eyes. I am grateful for any opportunity to do things better as an athlete and as a coach. I have to be willing to get it right from the floor up if I want to move better and if I want to help those training under my care to stay injury free and reach their best potential. Good news, guys: back to square one.

I’ll leave you with a few scratch-the-surface pointers from the seminar. Many of us might already know these things. Do we actually do them? After this weekend, I would bet a lot of money that we don’t.

  • Set up well before you touch a weight. Get your back organized before you even look at the barbell.
  • Squeeze your butt to eliminate an arched back. Squeeze your butt before you do anything in life. Ever. Or KStarr will make you do burpess.
  • Before you lift, screw your feet into the ground externally without splaying them out like a duck.
  • Push your knees out whenever you bend your legs. “Knees out” is forever embedded in my brain almost as maniacally as Ace Ventura’s “laces out” bit. I have an image of a room spray painted with the words KNEES OUT repeatedly. But seriously, save your knees on your squats and push them out. Squeeze your butt first.
  • Shoulders back and down. Like, now. Don’t pretend you’re not slouched while reading this.

You too can take this Movement and Mobility seminar with Starrett. Check out the CrossFit seminar site for dates and locations, though this particular seminar sells out fast, for good reason. In the meantime, the MobilityWOD site remains an incredibly useful resource. Also, look for Starrett’s book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, due for release in April.

Photos courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.

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