Kelly Starrett is one of the most influential voices in fitness today. His books Becoming a Supple Leopard, Ready to Run and Deskbound are on almost every personal trainer’s bookshelf. His approach to healthy mobility and injury prevention, as expressed in his daily MobilityWOD videos, has fans from coaches to Crossfit enthusiasts to Olympic athletes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Parvati Magazine: What is the inspiration for the title Becoming a Supple Leopard?
Kelly Starrett: Most of us, as modern humans, can’t do or express all the things that our body is supposed to do. I’m not talking about running a marathon or doing 100 pull-ups. I’m talking about just being able to move our joints and our tissues through the range of motion we are supposed to have. A leopard can instantaneously attack and defend at full physical capacity. It doesn’t have to activate its glutes or warm up. It doesn’t worry about if it can put its arms over its head.
PMAG: Many of our readers have experience with yoga-related injuries. What have you come across and how do you address them?
KS: It’s important to understand that yoga is one of the more complete movement practices on the planet. The problem for most of us is that we do with yoga the same thing we do in the weight room. As long as I put more weight on the bar, I must be getting better. So we see a lot of people who do yoga who are missing hip extensions, who don’t have normal ankle range of motion. If I can’t get into the right shapes, my body is going to compensate around it.
PMAG: What’s the difference between an injury you can recover from and one that may never fully heal? How do you know which it is?
KS: That’s a good question. What we should do first is define injury. We look at the spectrum of human function on a continuum. On one end, we would say we have simple, limiting ranges of motion. Sometimes, those things cause a problem. Or sometimes we just overdo it and we end up with something called incidents. I should not drive my car around with the check engine light on. But it turns out that most people are cruising around with incident level problems. A little pain, my back is sore, my knee hurts when I jump. Those things are very, very fixable. People should take a crack at fixing it themselves. An injury is at the level where I have done significant tissue damage to a level that requires medical attention, and (this is the important part) I can no longer occupy my role in society. It’s difficult for me to do my sports. I can’t do my job. I can’t pick up my daughter.
The body is a miraculous human machine. [You] never really know when you’re injured, if those tissues will ever be completely normal again. But that doesn’t mean [you] still can’t go and win another world championship, or be pain free, or do all the things [you] want to do. One of my friends, for example, has three herniated discs. He looked like a crippled person. And then 18 months later, he set a world record in squatting.
PMAG: Here’s a scenario. You’ve spent your day in transit – sitting on airplanes, in taxis, at conventions. What are the first things you do when you get back to a hotel room and can get moving?
KS: We recommend walking. The second step is 10 or 15 minutes of simple soft tissue work and some positions you can get in to remedy and restore your normal function. That could be rolling around on your quads, that could be doing the couch stretch, that could be doing something like pigeon pose on the conference table. Your body is telling you where you are tight. Go be curious about that. Exercise is a component of physical practice. But if you are not sleeping or moving enough during the day, maybe start there first.
PMAG: Anything else you want our readers to know?
KS: They have no idea what they are capable of.
Kelly Starrett is a coach, physical therapist, author, speaker, and creator of MobilityWOD, which has revolutionized how athletes think about human movement and athletic performance. In his current practice, Kelly continues to focus on performance-based Orthopedic Sports Medicine with an emphasis on returning athletes to elite level sport and performance. His clients have included Olympic gold-medalists, Tour de France cyclists, world and national record holding Olympic Lifting and Power athletes, Crossfit Games medalists, ballet dancers, military personnel, and competitive age-division athletes.