Tim Ferriss: Kelly, what did you have for breakfast?
Kelly Starrett: I ate 20 dwarves while doing a handstand on the carpet.
Tim Ferriss: That’s key: that carpet.
Hello, ladies and gentlemen. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to
another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I am thrilled to be
bringing you yet another example of world-class performance. And
of course on The Tim Ferriss Show, what I attempt to do is
deconstruct those performers to give you the tools and tricks that
you can use, whether those people be from the world of finance,
investors like billionaire Peter Thiel, celebrity, like Arnold
Schwarzenegger, or sports.
And this episode is going to focus on the one thing besides politics
and religion that gets Americans all hot and bothered, and that is
We will delve into the good, the bad, and the ugly of all things
CrossFit. We will answer many questions, including: what are the
three most dangerous exercises in CrossFit gyms, generally
speaking? What are the most common nutritional mistakes in
CrossFit? What do elite CrossFit athletes do differently than the
rest? For example, what do Rich Froning and Jason Khalipa do for
warmups? Is the CrossFit Games really CrossFit? And what is the
future of CrossFit?
The man to answer all of this, and much more, is Kelly Starrett.
He’s trained CrossFit athletes for more than 130,000 hours, and 10
years at San Francisco CrossFit, which was one of the very first 50
CrossFit affiliates in the world. There are now more than 10,000.
His clients include Olympic gold medalists, Tour de France
cyclists, world and national record holders in Olympic
weightlifting and powerlifting, CrossFit Games medalists, ballet
dancers, elite military, on and on and on.
This is going to go very deep. It involves significantly less alcohol
than the last long conversation I had with Kelly, which is also
included in the blog post at fourhourworkweek.com/podcast,
where you can find show notes and other things.
And, without further ado, enjoy, discuss, debate, yell and scream.
Here you are: Kelly Starrett.
Sir Kelly, welcome back to the show.
Kelly Starrett: Oh, thanks for having me. A little more lucid this time, perhaps.
Tim Ferriss: A little lucid. A little less alcohol, a little more caffeine. Whatever
you gave me here I mistakenly thought was one cup of coffee. And
you’re like, “It’s strong.” I was on the phone, and I was like, “No,
don’t worry.” Yes. Fucking strong coffee. Whatever.
Kelly Starrett: I think it’s supposed to be diluted at like eight-to-one, but it’s fine.
I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Tim Ferriss: So we are here at San Francisco CrossFit. And you have quite an
anniversary I suppose you could call it.
You’ve spent ten years in this world called CrossFit.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. This year now is ten full years.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to dig into this. Because we’ve known each other for
quite a while. And to perhaps lead off, for people who may not be
familiar with this world, or have heard the word a million times but
don’t know what it really means, for you, what is CrossFit? Or
how do you define CrossFit?
Kelly Starrett: You know, there’s the official definition of trying to get people to
work at higher intensity, in movements that replicate the
movements that we see in life. It looks like squatting and
deadlifting and pushing and pulling and running. If we had to mash
up the tenets of gymnastics, Olympic lifting, power lifting, and all
the aerobic responsibilities that come along with that, that’s what
the programming looks like. But that’s not what it is. For me now,
ten years – we estimate, even in our gym here – we’ve been doing
it for nine-plus years – we’ve done maybe 130,000 athlete hours
Which is a lot of pattern recognition. That’s a lot of people going
up and down, squatting, moving. And what I’ve really come to
understand – this is my own interpretation, and it’s basically
saying we have figured out now: here are all the things that a
human should be responsible to be able to do. “Can you put your
arms over your head? Yes or no? Well, can you do that in a
handstand? Can you do that with a dumbbell? Can you do that with
a kettlebell? Can you do that with a barbell? Can you go from
ground to overhead to do that? Can you press overhead?”
What ends up happening then is we’ve been able to winnow down
to say: here are the positions, the archetypal shapes, that are
represented in every sport, in every situation, every position. But in
the gym, I can say, “Do you have this position? Yes or no?” And
then I can say, “Oh, you do? Well, let me challenge it.” And the
obvious one for the gym for most people is load: “Let’s make it
heavier.” And you know, because you’ve come out of a serious
strength conditioning background in the past, in power lifting, that
a long time ago our answer to everything was, “Oh, just get
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Kelly Starrett: “Oh, he’s got glute weakness.” I’m like, “Seriously? That guy
deadlifts 700. You think is glutes are weak?” Or “She plays in the
NFL.” People are ridiculous. It’s not a weakness problem. And
what I found for a long time was that we were throwing bigger and
bigger engines onto cars that couldn’t handle it, right? Well, how
much do I need to squat if I’m a runner? 400? 500? 600? Guys like
Pavel were like, “You can double body weight your back squat?
You’re probably good enough. You’re excused from getting any
stronger.” Right? Dan John was like, “Hey, you should front
A long time ago, Greg Glassman was like, “Hey, look at the
overhead squat versus your front squat,” just presupposing that you
could do those two movements. “And then look at the difference
between them. And that’s a pretty good indicator of how robust
your spine is and how good your shoulders are.”
Tim Ferriss: Totally agree.
Kelly Starrett: So now we can start asking a little bit different question. Because
what we evaluated was “I put more weight on the bar so it must be
better,” right? But now we can say, “What about if I have you run
around the building and you start breathing hard, and then show
me how strong you are?”
“Show me how that position was. Oh, okay. So now I can
challenge your position with cardiorespiratory demand.” And that
starts a lot like sport, huh? Like fighting. Looks like skiing at the
bottom of a bump run, or running all the way down and having to
cut. It actually feels like to feel like sport. What happens if I start
to burn or am fatiguing. Metabolic demand. What happens if I add
speed? I make a lot of errors if I go fast. What happens if I’m
competing? Like you and I just decide right now we’re going to
have a push-up contest. Whether you are the world champion in
push-ups or not, a little bit of your brain starts to freak out because
it’s on the spot. So we add the psychological pressure. What
happens if I make you change mechanics?
So there’s a bunch of block practice. Instead of doing 100 swings,
we’re going to do a burpee and then into a kettlebell swing. So
suddenly I can change the motor programming. And what we’ve
found – and this is my own language around this – is that all of
those things are really the definition the intensity. Metabolic load,
right? Car-respiratory demand, load, speed. The other aspects of
the training are the sort of intellectual piece around programming
But my estimation is that the people who can maintain the best
positions are the best athletes and remain the most robust and have
the biggest work capacities, and as a side effect, because we teach
all these principles, can apply them to things that matter like life
and sport, not just more exercising.
Tim Ferriss: I was having a conversation with – you mentioned Pavel. He has a
tendency for very short answers, which is fun to listen to. He has a
great voice too, for those short answers. But somebody asked him
for basic advice related to endurance, and he said, “Fix your
posture. Work on your posture. Whether that is running posture,
standing posture, or sitting posture.” And what I’d love to ask you
is: if you look at the CrossFit community as a whole – there are so
many gyms, so many boxes – what are problems that are very
often not being addressed? So people come in; they jump straight
into the workout of the day or metabolic conditioning.
What are some common mistakes of CrossFit instructors or
trainees, where they come out six months later and, from your eye,
you’re like, “A, B, and C has not been fixed”?
Kelly Starrett: Sure. Well, I will correct and just play the devil’s advocate around
this statement because my experience has honestly now been: no
one jumps right into a gym anymore. You can go on the internet
and go explore in your own garage. But I think about 100 percent
of the gyms I run into have some sort of “Holy crap; you don’t
know how to move. You may have a big engine, but you don’t
have any exposure to this.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: Like our cyclists are the worst. They come in with the most robust
aerobic engine. They generate huge amounts of concentric force,
have no eccentric control at all, right? So that means they can’t
lengthen under load basically.
Tim Ferriss: Right. For those people listening who are not in the gym much, if
you’re in a squat position and you move up into a standing
position, you can think of that as concentric. Doing the reverse,
eccentric, where you’re lengthening.
Kelly Starrett: So what we saw was that people were coming in relatively aerobic-
fit. I mean, people aren’t slouches anymore. They really aren’t.
They’re exposed. They’re doing intervals. I mean, the internet has
blown – I think people’s general conditioning now is much higher.
I’ll come back to the question, but, for example, the unofficial
CrossFit mascot that everyone loves to show is Pukie, right? Pukie
the clown. I haven’t seen someone vomit in a CrossFit in eight
years. It used to happen all the time: people used to come in, do a
workout, and vomit. Because, technically, there’s an area in the
back of your brainstem called the area postrema. It samples your
blood circulation. And what ended up happening was people were
generating so much lactic acid that their brains were like, “You’ve
poisoned yourself, [makes vomiting sound],” and activated your
vomition center. That’s the mechanism for vomiting from
That doesn’t happen anymore because people’s conditioning,
whether you’re at SoulCycle – go to SoulCycle; blow your brains
up on a bike. You’re going to be protected. Not from movement or
But you’ll be able to buffer some lactic acid. So I’ve seen the
general fitness go up. But what has happened now is that people
have said, “Okay, look: you can’t just come in here and train
because you’re going to wreck yourself. And, more important,
you’re not going to understand what it is we’re trying to do, which
is: here are the fundamental movements that are the sort of
signature positions of the CrossFit method. And you don’t know
any of them.”
So we force people to come in. And the mistake is, as a coach, that
I need to get people moving. And this is why, if you go to a
CrossFit Level 1 seminar, they are going to teach you. And they’re
really excellent: excellent coaches, very thoughtful. The course has
evolved in ten years, a ton. We’ve become more sophisticated in
ten years. But we teach you with really low loads, i.e., a PVC pipe
or a medicine ball. Because I’ve never seen anyone die from those
things. But the ego gets involved, and pretty soon, there’s a barbell
And you can still see people performing a tremendous amount of
work in bad positions. And what ends up happening is, as we get
people in, we have to give them a little taste of the intensity. And
we do that with the rowing machine and some burpees. We get
them seeing, “Hey, I need to see what happens when you start
breathing hard.” And we end up making, I think, a set of decisions
about getting people moving.
Because if you’re my mom, maybe you don’t have the ankle range
of motion – you have an artificial hip – the most important thing is
that we start squatting. And I have a lot of ways of making that
difficult. “Oh, we’re going to be on this airdyne and we’re going to
sprint a little bit and then come back and air squat for me. That’s
enough for a lot of people.” And I might turn your feet out and I
might be okay with you rounding your back a little bit. It doesn’t
have to be perfect. But now at least you’re squatting. We can have
a conversation about what’s next. Right? I can make errors.
The problem is we start loading this inefficient, compromised
movement because we’ve said, “The first thing is let’s get moving.
And “what” is we need to continue to refine the mechanic for life.
And that’s the biggest mistake I think people aren’t understanding.
They’re like, “Well, they’re squatting up and down now.”
Tim Ferriss: Define the mechanic, meaning the movement.
Kelly Starrett: The principles behind the movement. And it’s all there for us. And
it’s always been there for us: “Hey, limit the motion of your spine
under load.” Everyone agrees. And yet, when I take the average
person off the street and just have them squat very fast, I see a ton.
I had a young NFL prospect in today getting some advice about his
knee. He was going to go to the combine. I asked him to just do an
air squat. And the amount of reversal in his spine – he literally
rounded into a dumped dog taking a poo position. And he had
massive fins in the middle of his back where his musculature has
overdeveloped from him basically rounding underneath.
And I was like, “So, that’s not really good. Let’s do less of that.”
And he’s like, “What? What are you talking about?” He couldn’t
even identify that this thing was going on.
And from the physical therapy side of things, from the sports
performance side, the highest level form –
these issues that I hammer and hammer people on are the limiting
factors to you stopping getting injured. And they’re the limiting
factors to you being the best in the world and winning a gold
medal: these little details. And so we should be constantly refining
technique to express what is full physiology.
There’s so many voices in fitness now and so many people coming
in. But do you know what apologetics is?
Tim Ferriss: I get the first part, not the plural.
Kelly Starrett: Apologetics is basically, in religion, where people come around
and explain a phenomenon in terms of the dogma: “This is what
that meant now.” It’s because a lot of it was allegory and metaphor
and lesson. In science fiction, apologetics means you can explain
any technology away based on some other thing.
Well, I see apologetics happen in human physiology: “Oh, the
reason you can’t squat all the way down is your hip structure. Oh,
some people just don’t have long femurs, so they can’t take a poo
in the woods and squat all the way down.”
And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” The issue is that we
haven’t given people clear benchmarks about what is normal and
what is disnormal? Cook and Burton and the Functional Movement
Screen have tried to establish baselines for performance. But those
don’t even go all the way to show me that you have full range of
motion in your ankles.
One of the secrets I don’t think people understand is that you have
good positions. And those positions have protected you for a long
time. You can squat with your feet together, ankles together, all the
way down; full hip function, full ankle function. But people are
coming into the gym basically as demi-human. They have big
aerobic engines because that’s what someone said they should do.
But they don’t have even 50 percent of the ranges of motion they
should have. And they don’t even have the motor control to start to
be able to express this stuff.
What is it? “If you want the great tranquility, be willing to sweat
the white-hot beads”? Right?
I mean, Olympic lifters got it right. And you can see why the
Olympic lifters are like, “What the hell? Why aren’t you Olympic
lifting? You can’t even put your arms over your head.” You know
what I mean? And the Olympic lifting demands that we have basic
capacities in all of these shapes. The only thing that’s missing is
the bench press shape. But guess what? Olympic lifters do some
bench pressing. So they’ve figured it out.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a lot easier to go that direction than the other way around.
Kelly Starrett: Right. And so, it’s interesting: I think that what we have not done a
good job of is showing people how far away from normal they are.
You should be able to keep your back flat and legs straight and
hinge over and pick up a barbell. I know you can do it, because
I’ve seen you do it. But I bet that 95 percent of the people on the
street are stiff, don’t have the motor control, tight hips, whatever. It
doesn’t matter. It’s not an indictment on their lifestyle. It’s an
indictment that we don’t understand what good function is and the
training we’ve been doing for the last 50 years has not necessarily
Now, there are populations – the Jiu-Jitsu guys have been on this a
long time, right?
That you have to have these good positions. They’re requisite.
Tim Ferriss: Hip flexors the size of camels.
Kelly Starrett: It’s true.
Tim Ferriss: Causes a little low back soreness. But otherwise.
Kelly Starrett: But what you’re seeing is: a lot of people have worked this out
may times. But we haven’t applied it to the rigor of modern
humans. And that means modern strength and conditioning. And
we haven’t couched it in the terms. So when people walk into the
gym, I don’t think people realize, as a coach, it is an enormous
fucking challenge to say, “Oh, by the way, you have no
understanding of how you move, and if I make you breathe a little
bit hard, you throw it away and you move like crap. And, by the
way, you eat like an asshole and you don’t sleep. And what are we
going to do in this hour?”
We have to start a conversation. So, for me, there’s this line of: we
have to get people in the door and we’ve got to get them started.
But that’s not the end of the conversation. Yeah, you can squat
with your feet turned out like ducks. You totally can. You can set a
world record in power lifting like that. But you know what you
You can’t run. You can’t jump and land. It really causes all these
problems. I see it. And I also see people losing performance that
way. So the question remains. This dichotomy then is: “Sure, my
feet are turned out because that allows me to squat all the way
down.” Great. That’s a beginning of a conversation. But the
optimal position is the position that allows me to take my fitness
and transplant that into motor patterns. Instead of just saying,
“You’re really fit now, so you’re protected,” now I’m going to say,
“I’ve practiced these shapes and this pattern and the theory and the
principle, and I can then apply that to whatever I’m doing.” And
that’s what’s missing from the gym.
Tim Ferriss: So this is a really fascinating topic for me: the gym-to-sport
Kelly Starrett: Huge.
Tim Ferriss: And whether that is a worthwhile goal also. For me, just as a side
note, I’ve been spending time exploring. Just chanced upon
meeting the cofounder of Acroyoga. And I’d never had much
interest in yoga –
Kelly Starrett: Well, let’s just stop. I mean, Acroyoga sounds really stupid, but
it’s not really stupid.
Tim Ferriss: No it’s not. And it’s partner yoga involving gymnastic and
acrobatic positions. So if you’ve ever seen say a Cirque du Soleil
performance with two strongmen where they’re linking arms and
holding handstands overhead and so on, the motions are quite
similar. But you spend a lot of time on your back balancing people
on your feet and so on.
But coming back to your squatting position, I remember asking
Jason Nemer – really excellent coach – why he was recommending
that I hold my hands a certain way when practicing handstands.
Because I’d been instructed elsewhere, by other gymnastics
coaches, to do it a different way. And he said, “The reason you’re
holding it that way, even though it’s a little more uncomfortable, is
because when you go into the actual positions in Acroyoga and
you’re doing at speed, you’re going to maintain that exact hand
position. So you want to train that pattern.” And I was like, “Oh.”
Kelly Starrett: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about athleticism though, the training versus athleticism
conversation. I hadn’t heard of this, because I’m not exposed to the
CrossFit Games much. But can you talk about the softball
phenomenon a bit?
Kelly Starrett: Well, CrossFit, as originally conceived by Greg Glassman – if you
look at the original Fitness in 100 Words or Less, in there it says,
“Regularly learn and play new sports.”
Tim Ferriss: Hey, nice middle splits, bro. You started doing the middle splits.
We’re sitting here on the floor in the gym and I was getting
adductor jealousy. Although your ties look like swollen ticks and
mine look like – I don’t know.
Kelly Starrett: I just woke up and I was like this, bro. I don’t know what
happened. It came with the kit.
So the tenet always has been, “Hey, you need to keep learning and
keep diversifying.” They call that lateralization, right?
People have been talking about it. And surfers, or some skill; the
big wall-climbers suddenly are doing breath-holding.
Tim Ferriss: Or slap lining.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. Exactly. Lateralization. Steven Cottler’s been all about it. So
that’s an important piece of saying, “Okay, you have this skill set;
let’s go challenge it in new domain.” What is interesting and is
always going to be a problem, for me, with CrossFit, is that
CrossFit is, for me, the single best integrated way of training I have
ever come across. I’ve seen it refined. I’ve seen MacKenzie apply
the concepts and principles to endurance athletes. I’ve seen
Welborn apply it to power athletes. The kernel and the
methodology is the same.
But I haven’t, to date, seen something that looks better at general
physical preparedness. Like I want my daughters to have a skill set
and a base fitness and strength, and this is the model.
Would I have all of my NFL-ers do something that looks exactly
like CrossFit? No. But I can still keep the tenets there. The base
code is so good. The problem is sometimes we confuse the ability
to perform a lot of work with the ability to be athletic. And one of
my definitions of “Who is the best athlete?” is: who picks up the
new skill the fastest? This is why your little experiment, the Tim
Ferriss experiment about “How fast can I learn?” really piqued my
interest. Because I’m like, “That is the limiter. How fast can I
apply this base skill set? What does that base skill set look like?”
Remember Robert Heinlein had that little quote? It was like, “A
man should be able to” –
Tim Ferriss: “Butcher a hog, captain a ship,” etcetera.
Kelly Starrett: Like: plan a war, set a bone, right? Specializations for insects,
But the issue here is: what we should be doing is trying to ask
ourselves, “What constitutes the right skill set to quickly pick up
new skills and to reapply myself as a learning animal?”
And what I can tell you – and I believe this in my soul of souls,
and I’ve seen it – that good strength and conditioning programs –
and I’m talking about at all now, beyond CrossFit – reinforce skills
and positions. Ido Portal, for example, is a good example of this. I
don’t know if many of his guys are going to play in the NFL, but
that doesn’t mean he isn’t right about this concept. But what’s the
language of creating a ready state in the human so that I can
constantly be not limited by my physical capacity?
And that is position too. That’s positionally driven. That’s my
ability to pick up and learn new skills. And I think what you’re
referring is: in the CrossFit Games, what we saw is that people
were freakish about their work capacity.
I mean, very strong; huge aerobic engines. And then they were
like, “Just throw this ball.” And you were like [makes awkward
Tim Ferriss: What was the event? I didn’t see it.
Kelly Starrett: It was a softball toss. “Throw this softball as far as you can.” Now,
check this out: it turns out that Rich Froning played football in
college. Guess what? He’s a pretty good athlete.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: Graham Holmberg, two-sport college athlete. Oh, what did he do?
He was the pitcher and the quarterback. He’s a mutant.
Tim Ferriss: He did all right.
Kelly Starrett: Pretty sure these guys throw it. But there’re some other kids who
obviously had deficiencies in their – have thrived because, in
CrossFit, by the nature and the limitations of challenging people’s
fitness, it’s hard to see the aspects of athleticism. It’s not always
the case. They really do try to program those things in. But it’s also
limited by: how do we have a pickup game of basketball? You
can’t really see and judge that stuff. You know, they make people
swim; they make people run; they make people bike. The obstacle
course was a great example: the expression of just moving through
I love that event. But there were some people who had some really
horrific – they ended up rolling it underhand. And that really begs
the question. Because the central tenet of what this experiment was
– and it’s important for, I think, the average person who is
CrossFit-ing – is there’s sort of two CrossFits. And I think
CrossFit HQ would back me up on this: that we have the highest
expression of CrossFit-ing, which is the CrossFit Games. And I
just came from an athlete camp that Reebok put on in the
Bahamas. I’m not going to lie. It was okay.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Sounds rough.
Kelly Starrett: But we did a bunch of training sessions with some of the best
athletes on the planet, and the first thing that all of these gamer
guys did – these are Rich Fronings, Jason Khalipas, really
extraordinary athletes: they all went and played pickup football on
some AstroTurf. Boom. Immediately. And you were like, “Oh
wow; these guys are pretty legit athletes.
“There was some aspect of athleticism that they carried to CrossFit
and then CrossFit allowed them to heighten these functions.” And
what I think happens sometimes is: because now people can’t
separate that out, it’s easy to put on a pedestal: “If I can just work
really hard, then I’m going to be a really good athlete and be able
to pick up all these new sports.” And, yes, one of the things that
I’ve seen Greg Cook pivot on, and some people pivoting on around
CrossFit, is they’ve realized that people aren’t giving up capacities
to CrossFit. Most of us still have full ankle range of motion
because we do pistols.
Tim Ferriss: It’s additive, not replacement.
Kelly Starrett: Yes. And, for a long time, in the strength and conditioning world,
we have seen people get a really big power clean, and then
everything else sucks. It all sucks. So what’s interesting about the
programming here in our gym is that we really ferret out all the
crappy movement patterns, you know?
Tim Ferriss: So let me ask you this. This is just top of mind right now. I guess
If someone were to ask you, “Is CrossFit Games really CrossFit?
Should the multitudes of people in CrossFit gyms aspire to that as
an objective?” – let’s start with number one. But I’ve got a bunch
top of mind. But that’s the first one.
Kelly Starrett: No. I don’t think they should. But I would tell you that the athletes
involved and the athletes involved and the experiment involved has
been so informative for me as a coach, as a physio. Because I can
really see what the deficiencies are at day five, at day three, under
these loads. And it really starts to matter when we see that the best
athletes refine position, refine position, refine efficiency, and win.
That’s been the name of the game. It used to be that you could just
outwork people. People are training two and three times a day.
They are the most meticulous athletes I’ve ever seen in any sport
anywhere. They’re on top of the nutrition game, on top of the
recovery game, on top of hydration, adaptation, mechanics.
They are really havved up. Rich Froning, he’s a little tiny guy.
Tim Ferriss: How much does he weigh?
Kelly Starrett: I think he’s probably like 190, 195. Just something like that.
Snatches 315. In tennis shoes.
Tim Ferriss: That’s amazing.
Kelly Starrett: In Reebok flat Nano shoes. Not Olympic lifting shoes. And he
does that in the context of also being able to do all these other
things. So the reason, for me, that the games are so important is
that it’s changed the consciousness about what’s possible: by the
way, you can still run this mountain 7K and be brutally strong; in
fact, why aren’t you? And I think people have been having that
conversation for a long time.
It also has gotten us really clear about what works and doesn’t
work in a very sort of pressure cooker situation in terms of –
Tim Ferriss: You’re talking about programming and training load and all that?
Kelly Starrett: A little bit of the programming. But I would say about nutrition.
I’ve never seen any athlete in the history of the world do more
work than these kids. I know the Tour de France guys. I mean, I
know them personally.
And their wattages are insane. Everyone’s putting out hard. But no
one – the CNS load, the crazy loads. And that has really made it
very clear about the lessons that we’ve been able to pull out of that.
So, as an experiment, as Formula 1. But not all of us should aspire
to be Formula 1 drivers or even drive our cars like Formula 1. And
very few of us have the genetics, which is also the sort of lie.
Tim Ferriss: Of course. At the highest level.
Kelly Starrett: The lie that we tell ourselves: “Well, I can train like them.” No.
You’re not them genetically. I’m sorry. But –
Tim Ferriss: “Sorry, Tim Ferriss. You’re a bad [inaudible]. Sit in the corner.
Kelly Starrett: You know what? You are a relatively strong – you’re strong-ish.
Tim Ferriss: I’m strong-ish.
Kelly Starrett: You’re aerobic-fit. Good thing you’re a smart kid. And you’re a
good dancer. People don’t know that about you.
Tim Ferriss: I learned to throw javelins at the people who are stronger.
Kelly Starrett: And I can run away.
So I think that it’s vital to understand the role the games have
played in terms of raising boat.
Also sort of distilling down the essences of what’s important and
not important, and the lessons we’ve learned out of that, and how
to program. Because I think a long time ago even guys like Louis
were like, “Well, we’re all power lifters. So we’ll just apply power
lifting.” Well, that didn’t work at all. And what we’re seeing is
very sophisticated training; Omegawave, heart rate variability.
Tim Ferriss: What’s Omegawave?
Kelly Starrett: It’s a way of looking at biorhythms, heart rate variability, and
really coming up with a recovery score so you can understand, in
real time, the effect of yesterday’s training.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. So the HRV would be part of that.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. Absolutely. But HRV on steroids. And so what’s amazing
now is we’re seeing that level of sophistication. And I’ve been able
to take that and apply it to the NFL. Not, “Hey, we do thrusters;
we’re going to be good at the NFL.” But really the principles. And
also it’s given me the view of understanding all the corners that
we’re missing, that you have to have the corners of your range of
motion and capacities.
Otherwise we’re going to have issues.
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by corners? Sort of the edge cases? Like this is
a ten percent case, [inaudible]?
Kelly Starrett: No. But more: “Show me that you don’t have 85 percent-ish of
your shoulder range, but you have stability and capacity in the
fullest end ranges.” So in the corners of your range of motion,
right? So all the way overhead is one of those corners; I have my
arm over my head. If you can’t hold two dumbbells over your head
with your arms straight like you’re holding hammers, and your
ribcage down, that’s an incomplete position. And it’s that position
that’s costing you when you swim; it’s that position that’s costing
you when you throw a ball; it’s that inefficiency that’s costing you
when you fall. Now we have a way of really understanding.
And what I’ve been able to do is: for me, I’ve been able to
repurpose CrossFit into the greatest diagnostic tool ever. And it’s
independent of you breathing hard. The intensity is an important
piece that people don’t understand.
So the GPP that everyone has been talking about for a gazillion
years, general physical preparedness – the Russians I think
invented that word. And they got into it. They’re like, “You have
to be able to jump off a ladder without your knees wobbling.”
Because that was a really simple way of just loading a squat.
That’s what that was. It’s not mystical.
What we said for a long time was, “Get your kid in gymnastics.
That’s really good. It’ll make good athletes.” Well, why the fuck
does that matter? Really, tell me why. Well, it turns out that the
things that you have to be able to do in gymnastics teach you
certain positions and principles that you can then apply.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah: use your skeleton and not just your muscles.
Kelly Starrett: Yes. And then we can get away with big musclebound guys who
get their asses kicked. Or the little skinny cardio whippet who falls
apart, can’t lift 60 kilos off the ground when they’re breathing a
little bit hard. Those are both ends of the spectrum that aren’t good.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned nutrition, and I’ve got a bunch of questions, but: in
brief, what would you say are the most common nutrition mistakes
or detrimental beliefs that CrossFit-ers have?
Kelly Starrett: Well, this is a first – for a lot of us, me included. I’d actually heard
the Zone was the first thing that Greg talked about.
Tim Ferriss: Back when I was first training in CrossFit – I think I’ve told you
this before, but back when the Santa Cruz guys would come to
Mountainview to train at the Helf Gracie Academy, it was all about
the Zone. And I remember training with those guys.
Kelly Starrett: So, again, let’s get to understanding why that mattered. Because
people’s macronutrients, their combinations in terms of what they
were eating, was way wacky: not eating any fat, barely getting
enough protein, massive amounts of carbohydrate. And that was
the first way we could just identify the problem, right? But then we
started measuring and weighing. So then we had an idea of what
we’re taking in. And, to this day, I look at a banana; I’m like,
You know? That’s 30 grams of carbohydrate. It’s been useful. It’s
like a metric unit: that’s a kilometer; that’s a meter. It gives me a
baseline of understanding how much food I need to be eating. And
it was always about food quality. That was always an important
conversation. But then people would be like, “I can eat this bacon
and drink this beer and I’m still in the Zone.”
Tim Ferriss: [Inaudible].
Kelly Starrett: Like: come on. So what happened then was that we saw this paleo
revolution wash over the CrossFit-ers. And the first time I said this
to my wife, Juliet, bless her little heart, Googles online. Because
Juliet’s the biggest skeptic. And she was like, “This is some
bullshit.” I’m like, “What?” She’s like, “The first thing that came
up was hornet’s nest soup. Wasp nest soup, Kelly? That’s what
you fucking mean?” And I was like, “I think it means no grains?
And we should eat vegetables?” And she’s like, “This is some
But that was really, again, a conversation about food quality, right?
Well, then we saw this revolution –
Tim Ferriss: Free-range hornets.
Kelly Starrett: Juliet literally is just the greatest bullshit detector. Thank you.
Everyone, just get yourself a Juliet. But then what we saw was that
everyone got super squeaky-clean, like didn’t even use salt. And I
was like, “Salt is really useful.” I saw a bunch of my friends who
cleaned up their diet and they literally tanked. They were blacking
out because they weren’t getting any salts ever.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. No shit.
Kelly Starrett: Like: “There’s this thing called
invented the salt routes for it.”
salt. It’s amazing. Humans
Tim Ferriss: I read a study on primates and why humans are so fond of fructose,
you know, the naturally-occurring sugar in fruit, and why it’s so
problematic to have high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar; it’s
like 75-percent-plus fructose, and we get fatty liver disease. When
we were migrating apes, the way that we would sustain higher
blood pressure without salt was with fruit.
Kelly Starrett: Oh. Doesn’t that make perfect sense?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: It makes perfect sense. Salt.
Tim Ferriss: Guess what, folks? Pretty important.
Or like blood pressure: [inaudible].
Kelly Starrett: It’s so important. Stacy Sims is a good homie of ours. She’s an
exercise physiologist out of Stanford. She’s been exercise physio
to the best athletes on the planet, especially the best aerobic
athletes. But she assists everyone. Her company is called Osmo
Nutrition. And her thinking about hydration is vital. But she’s like,
“Hey, there’s this stuff called sea salt. Take a pinch of it, throw it
in your water, and quit being a jerk and diluting yourself.” Not
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Kelly Starrett: And what we’ve seen is that people are not applying the lessons
that we have learned in sport for the last 20, 30, 40 years to day-today
life. So people got really squeaky-clean, and they could not eat
enough carbohydrate to support the level of training that we are
doing. And all the endurance athletes were like, “Dude, you can’t
eat 100 grams of carbohydrate a day and expect to thrive.” And,
sure, just be a keto-adapted athlete. I’m like, “Yeah, that works if I
have to do it. But, man, that’s not working for me so well.
Tim Ferriss: You have to be very meticulous if you’re going to pull that off.
Kelly Starrett: And you have to have the genetics to really support that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: And like boot: “Oh, I looked at some sugar; now I’m not ketoadapted.”
And the key is: always – and this has always been the
CrossFit HQ position number one – eat enough carbohydrate to
support exercise. Well, I’ve finally figured out what that means.
And that’s a fluctuating norm. And also, in the last ten years we
have figured out, for example, through the miraculousness of blood
testing, genetic testing – we can actually get that stuff done now
Turns out, for example, I’m an aerobic responder. That means big
aerobic workouts cause my body to be in nirvana. And power
athlete stuff: I have to train that stuff of course, but that is not
where I should be making my money. Why? My genetics tell me.
And it’s interesting that any success I’ve had as an athlete, I’ve
basically been swimming against that stream my whole life. Well,
my genetics also tell me that I don’t process saturated fats very
And they call it lean paleo. Which means: “Eat high-quality food,
Kelly, but you don’t need bacon every day.” I don’t eat bacon
every day, and I don’t eat nuts. Because when I do, my cholesterol
goes through the roof. And I know: we can be sophisticated about
cholesterol. But when your cholesterol’s 400, there’s something
Tim Ferriss: More points than calories in a Whopper?
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. So what we’ve found is that people who’ve gone back
to rice, they’ve gone back to – “Hey, I’ve got to source my
carbohydrate intelligently in order to support the amount of
training I’m doing.” And that was, I think, a reaction. People are
less afraid of gluten. I think they really try to stay away from it.
Maybe that’s just Monsanto that’s talking there. Sorry. You’re
going to have to edit that out.
Tim Ferriss: No. They’ll send a letter [inaudible], not mine. It’s fine. Just
kidding. I love you, Monsanto. That spot’s free.
Kelly Starrett: You know what’s funny about wheats? Nothing’s funny about
So the bottom line is I think we’ve seen that correction.
But, once again, we should take that lesson from the highest level
of sport. That’s what coaches are trying to do: distill principles, not
Tim Ferriss: And also, particularly when it comes to macros, is: know thyself,
and know thy sport or trending load, right?
Kelly Starrett: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So Dr. Pete Attia – have you ever spent any time with him?
Kelly Starrett: No.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve have to meet this guy. You guys would love each other.
But he was on the podcast, and we talked about cancer research.
Kelly Starrett: He’s the sugar-cancer connection guy?
Tim Ferriss: He would talk about that certainly, but is a former oncology
researcher. He’s also been a surgeon. And he would not want me to
say high-level, but he’s a high-level endurance athlete. You know,
100-mile swims and things like that.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. I’m going to call that high-level.
Tim Ferriss: But he’s also very strong for his body weight. And he loves doing
time trials for cycling. And so he is almost always keto-adapted.
He’s in ketosis.
For those people who haven’t heard my conversation with Pete
Attia, all that means is you’re utilizing fat – this is highly
simplified, but fat instead of glucose, as your primary fuel. When
he’s doing these intense rides, though, he knows exactly his
respiratory quotient, when he kicks over to anaerobic, and how
many calories he can consume, and how many calories his liver
can store so that he never comes out of ketosis. So he can be
pounding gels, but he’s like, “Okay, I know that my liver at my
body weight, I’m going to store about 400 calories of
carbohydrates. Based on this target distance and this target
wattage, etcetera, I can end my race and still be in ketosis, or my
Kelly Starrett: And my probably with that, of course, is that that’s true, and he is
the freakish outlier with the data.
Tim Ferriss: And very few people are going to do that.
Kelly Starrett: That’s amazing, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: So the paleo community. Are there any other common dietary
mistakes that you find people make?
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. People are terrible around.
Coffee has been the cult. Like black fluid. What did we call it? The
“Cup of fear”?
Tim Ferriss: Cup of fear.
Kelly Starrett: Cup of fear. And people are like, “I don’t need to drink water. I
drink coffee all day long.” And then this Kill Cliff, which is an
amazing CrossFit soda. It’s not related to CrossFit, but it’s
sponsored by some – anyway. You get the idea. It’s amazing with
vodka too, by the way. Which also can be gluten-free, so you’re
still paleo. It’s fine.
Here’s what’s crucial: you can be at 80 percent of your function
and come in and do relatively okay once you move well, once
you’ve been doing this for a while. You can just be on the edges of
your sleep, on the borderline. Eat some extra ice cream, budge a
little bit, not deal with stress. But of course we know all of those
things I’ve got to keep an eye on. This is what a physical practice
is. And what we’ve seen then is: for me, it’s important that you’re
actually signing up for a race.
You’re signing up for an event. The gym is not the event. This is
the place where you train. And, yes, it feels like competition in
here. Because it’s intense; it’s deep practice. Daniel Cool, thank
you. It’s me really practicing.
Tim Ferriss: Is that the telling code?
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. Nice, dude. It’s deep intention. It’s hard aerobic
conditioning. But it’s still not the same thing as stepping into a ring
or lining up on a 5K or signing up. And what you realize is how
important all those aspects are to your training. You have to eat
That’s why I’m like, “Look: CrossFit does the CrossFit Open,”
which is the biggest sporting event in the history of mankind.
That’s what it is every year. More people sign up for the CrossFit
Open. They do five workouts. And it’s a big international
Tim Ferriss: So it’s a virtual Games?
Kelly Starrett: It’s a virtual Games basically. It’s a feeder to regionals. So whether
you like it or not, I’m like, “Why don’t you do it?” For no other
reason than: why don’t you have something hanging over your
head for five weeks in a row?
Tim Ferriss: Which also gives you a target other than the next days’ WOD.
Kelly Starrett: More fitness. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: So you can actually decide what the optimal diet is, given that five-
Kelly Starrett: You just make a whole bunch of different decisions. What do they
say? “Deadlines focus the mind”? Mr. deadline guy. And you stay
up all night because you realize, “Wow.” It really does force your
thinking about this. And I think that’s what sometimes gets lost in
the CrossFit gym. Initially it was terrifying. I didn’t know if I was
going to survive.
Let me give you an example. When I started this thing ten years
ago, Adrian Bozman, who is a CrossFit headquarters uber-mensch,
was one of our first coaches. I did all the coaching. This was all
unknown. We were the 27th CrossFit, I think officially 50th. Now
we’re 27 on the list.
Tim Ferriss: How many are there total?
Kelly Starrett: 11,000, roughly. Which is a revolution. It’s not a gimmick.
And what ended up happening was there was a workout that was:
snatch 135 pounds 30 times. Adrian and I didn’t know if we could
do it. We didn’t know anyone who had done it except Olympic
lifters who had seriously trained and were strong. And one day we
were like, “We’re going to do this even if it takes us all day.” And
we psyched ourselves up. And now they throw that as an aftereffect.
You can do that in 90 seconds. I mean, things have changed
dramatically in ten years. It’s like the four-minute mile.
Everyone’s like, “Oh, you’re still running four-minute miles.
That’s so quaint.” You know? “We’re in the one-minute mile
But ten years ago, we didn’t know. And so now we’re starting to
see that –
Tim Ferriss: What’s possible.
Kelly Starrett: For sure.
Tim Ferriss: Now, coming back to the snatch for a second, I’ve never been a
practitioner of Olympic lifts, for a whole host of reasons, but
primarily because I had reconstructive shoulder surgery in 2004
doing silly stuff like grappling that made my arms jut out of the
front of my chest.
Kelly Starrett: Maybe you should’ve been an Olympic lifter.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe I should have. So I had a lot of apprehension about that
Kelly Starrett: Rightfully so.
Tim Ferriss: Like terminal overhead, the last 15, 20 degrees. But I found a lot of
value, particularly in the last six months or so, with focusing on
overhead squatting movements. Still not to the point where I’m
going to do snatches. And I think that’s where I’ve become smarter
over the years: recognizing that you can really refine movement
patterns. I don’t have the “Go big or go home” mentality anymore
that I used to because the risk/benefit’s so unfavorable to me. But
why is Rich Froning so good at the snatch? And what are the
common mistakes that people make with that movement?
Kelly Starrett: Well, Rich has excellent mechanics. He has full range of motion in
his ankles. He has excellent shoulder range, and understanding of
stability. He just does things that are naturally important to
snatching; he does them effortlessly. In terms of getting his torso
Obviously it’s a lot of training stimulus in these things. But he
understands how to create stable shapes, and he’s able to get into
those shapes. So he doesn’t have to work very hard.
The work he does goes into – he gets 100 percent benefit from that.
He’s not working at 80 percent of 70 percent efficiency. Does that
Tim Ferriss: That makes sense.
Kelly Starrett: He’s working hard on those shapes. What you discovered, though,
it’s a part of the Functional Movement Screen since 1996. Dan
John – all his throwers say, “I wish I had overhead squatted more.”
Glassman valued it as one of the most important capacities. And,
in fact, one of the earliest, best CrossFit workouts – I think it’s
called “Nancy” – and it’s: run 400 meters. So innocuous, right?
And then just overhead squat 95 pounds. Fifteen times. That’s
Tim Ferriss: 15 times 400 meters doesn’t sound pinche to me.
Kelly Starrett: You only have to overhead squat 95 pounds 15 times. Run 400
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see.
Kelly Starrett: And then just do that five times. And what you’re going to see
really quickly is: everyone can fake it for three. But then as you
start to fatigue or your positions aren’t robust, you bounce off the
tent. You no longer have access. The world gets really small, and
then you start suffering.
Tim Ferriss: And then you eventually Labrador Retriever in the closed sliding
Kelly Starrett: True fact. So I think what is key is understanding what are the
salient positions. All we’re doing when we say overhead squat is
I’m saying: “Show me you can squat with your torso upright.” And
that looks a lot like sport, doesn’t it? And if you have to lean
forward really far to do that, then it says you have incomplete hip
and ankle function and you don’t know how to create stability in
your trunk. And that is a very powerful idea, right?
And what’s nice about the overhead squat is – I call it a category
one movement – I can get very organized.
And I can grind down to a position where, whether we agree that
it’s full range of motion or not, or until I start to lose position; I can
come back up. What I’ve removed out of it is the element of speed.
So, for my nine-year-old, Georgia, for example, the overhead squat
is something we do all the time. Sometimes we just bring the little
kiddie barbell into the living room before she goes to bed.
Tim Ferriss: Fifteen pounder?
Kelly Starrett: Or even less. Maybe ten pounds. And she just has to do three sets
of five. Why? It’s practicing the shape, practicing the position.
And that’s where we’re going to get bang for the buck. You don’t
need to snatch heavy. You should be able to snatch heavy.
Tim Ferriss: Do you think too many CrossFit-ers focus on working out and not
Kelly Starrett: Well, totally. Let’s take it out of CrossFit for a second and let’s put
it into running.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Kelly Starrett: Running is a very technical skill that we should be developing
from a very early age. And there are only, what, 30 million runners
in America who run 3 times a week, and only 80 percent of them
are [inaudible]? That’s like the worst statistic ever. If you’re
listening to this, do not let your children run.
It’s dangerous. Comma, if you’re a runner – and running is one of
the things that makes us human – you should be able to run. That is
one of the tenets of being a good athlete. In fact, look at the NFL
combine, for example. They jump; they have to bench press, which
is a joke. That’s the one piece that’s a joke. But everything else is a
run drill, change-of-direction drill. It’s about fluency and economy
of running and changing mechanics. No wonder a couple years ago
CrossFit put this big cone drill thing in there. Because they were
like, “Hey, look: this thing you should be really competent at, and
you’re going to get punished if you suck at it.” So if we look at
most people’s running, how much actual skill development do they
do in running? I mean, besides tying their shoes.
Tim Ferriss: Next to none.
Kelly Starrett: None. And they just start running.
Tim Ferriss: Unless you’re with say a Joe DeFranco, planning on being in the
NFL combine. He’s like, “Actually, if you’re right-handed, you
should switch your feet this way because you cut one step out of
the shuttle run.”
Kelly Starrett: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And then: wow, now you’re a superstar.
Kelly Starrett: And Joe does a whole bunch of stuff about: “Do you have the
positions to run?” Like, for me, the most dangerous sport to
middle-aged men is a track workout.
Tim Ferriss: Oh my God. So dangerous.
Kelly Starrett: You’re just asking for a pulled hamstring. Because you’re at the
end ranges, and when your back starts to deflect because you can’t
buffer your huge engine, and then you have a neural mechanical
compromise, tear hamstring. It’s the same thing that happens in
basketball. We don’t even talk about: “Do you have the required
range of motion to run? Yes or no?” And, resoundingly, the answer
is “Hello no.” And do we do any skills or drills about improving
So what ends up happening of course is that we should. And what I
can tell you that I see is that I see very intelligent coaches
practicing skills, teaching skills, and then challenging those skills
in a workout. And that is good programming.
Tim Ferriss: So if I am getting to a point where I’m comfortable with overhead
squatting with a barbell, and can –
Kelly Starrett: That never happens, by the way. Because it always gets worse.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’ll send you some photos. They’re hilarious.
If I’m considering going into training for the snatch, what are
common mistakes that I should be aware of, that I should avoid?
Kelly Starrett: We have basically been able to break those fundamental positions
down. So how about this? Show me that you can actually put some
tens on the bar. Get a women’s bar. Make it really light.
Tim Ferriss: Better for my tiny little midget hands anyway.
Kelly Starrett: Hey, they’re called dwarf hands, all right? And one of the issues is:
show me you can keep your back flat and actually get to the bar.
And what you’re going to see is that people can’t do that.
Tim Ferriss: Get to the bar –
Kelly Starrett: Get to the bar.
Tim Ferriss: – meaning underneath the bar.
Kelly Starrett: No. Just get into the setup position for the bar.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Kelly Starrett: And what you’re going to find is that people can’t even get into a
decent setup position without rounding their back and dumping
their shoulders. And then we start asking the question, “What the
hell are we doing? Your setup position is so shitty” Tim
Ferriss: “Setup,” meaning that bottom position.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. Show me you can put your hands in a snatch grip, and then
sit all the way down on your ankles. Sit down and get into a good
position. And what you’re going to find is that people universally
can’t do that.
So suddenly I’ve learned something about myself. Why do all the
best coaches teach from the hang? Well, if I teach from the hang,
then I take that portion out of it; I can derive a lot of the benefits
from snatching without taking you to these compromised shapes.
And the problem is: I know you can snatch from that compromised
shape, but that’s not the shape we all agree is the best shape. Does
that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.
Kelly Starrett: So if you can’t even get all the way down to the bar, an issue of
technique is never – we’re never going to solve this because you’re
making basic type one errors from the first inch off the ground.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Kelly Starrett: Or in centimeters, because everything’s in kilos in Olympic lifting.
Tim Ferriss: I want to put you on the spot for a second because I’ve always
wanted to ask you this and I’m not sure why I haven’t.
Kelly Starrett: Yes, these are my real calves. They’re not calf implants.
Tim Ferriss: I was curious about your chesticles. Also real?
Kelly Starrett: No.
Tim Ferriss: It’s just the left. I noticed you only put one in. Just testing it out.
If you had to remove three common exercises from CrossFit gyms,
in the interest of safety, what would they be? If you had to, gun
against the head. It doesn’t have to be three. Three or fewer.
Kelly Starrett: Let me deconstruct that for a second. And that’s crucial. Because,
first and foremost, all the movements in the training language are
inherently safe if you have full range of motion and the motor
control to do them. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Presumably, though, you get 1000 people come in; there are
certain exercises where a higher percentage of those people will
lack that prerequisite, or they won’t be able to check it.
Kelly Starrett: The No. 1 most dangerous skill: bench press. Why? Because
people don’t have any internal rotation in their shoulder. They’ve
pinned their back down. You can press all day long: standing
overhead military press, strict press. You’re going to fail safely.
When you fail in a bench press, that shoulder is going to translate
forward. There’s your labrum. Can you bench press safely? Yes.
Do we love floor pressing in our gym? Absolutely. We floor press
a ton. But what I find is that people do not have the basic
mechanics. And that’s one of the ways that we’ve gotten in our
head that we define strength: “How much you bench?”
My friend Mark Bell benched over 900.
Tim Ferriss: Our friend Mark Bell.
Kelly Starrett: Our friend Mark Bell. And that’s an amazing amount. And what I
will tell you is that his positions and mechanics: it is so technical.
Tim Ferriss: Hyper-technical.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: In all seriousness, the assistance work and everything that he does
related to it is so sophisticated.
Kelly Starrett: After knowing Mark and Jesse Burdick for several years, I feel like
I finally learned how to bench press. Even though I’ve been bench
pressing since I was what? A man. I came out: my testicles
dropped and they handed me a bench press, you know? And so I’d
pull the bench out of that.
I also would pull the rings out. And the reason is: what we see is
that people can do movements that look like ring dips.
They go up and down. But they don’t lock out; their shoulders are
in terrible positions. And what we value is them doing work going
up and down. But if we put the rings back in for stability work,
show me you have a good start position and finish position.
Here’s one of my problems. The TRX is a great piece of home
equipment. One of the things I’m a big fan of is understanding that
if your hands are on the ground doing a push-up, then you can
cheat off the ground; you have what I call a closed torque
environment. If you grip a barbell, that’s closed torque. It’s
basically a circuit. And I can create stability off that in really
strange positions because I can still bend the wrist.
Tim Ferriss: Sure. Like bending the bar.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. I should be bending the bar, but I can still bend the
bar even though my body’s in really strange shapes. And as soon
as I put a dumbbell in your hand, you can’t do that anymore.
Tim Ferriss: Different game.
Kelly Starrett: That’s why kettlebells are so important, why dumbbells are so
important. I call it an open torque system. I have to create all the
stability at the big primary engine.
I can’t cheat it up through the chain. And so: why are rings so
important? Well, one of the reasons dips are important is because
they force me to show my hand, what’s really going on at the
shoulder, in an open torque environment.
So one of the reasons TRX is great is that you’re basically taking
really simple movements and being able to apply this: I’m in a
strap; I’m hanging. And I can’t cheat anymore because if I’m
disorganized at the shoulder, I don’t show any force. But the
problem with the rings is that you can still cheat yourself into a
terribly internally rotated position, cranking your neck back, and
you can still go up and down until you can’t.
And remember: the gym is a diagnostic tool. I should be figuring
out what’s going on. I think the hips will handle a lot more silly BS
a lot longer than the shoulder will. If I had to pull out one more
movement, gun against the wall, I would say the butterfly kip.
Only because, if you asked me to do a bunch of pull-ups, guess
what I’m going to do? Butterfly kip. But I understand the
principles, and I have good range of motion. It’s a completely safe
position. But what we see is that people do not have – I ask them to
put their arms over their head, for example, and they can’t do it. So
suddenly, magically, hanging from a bar is going to increase that
range of motion? No. They’re going to compensate.
So what we do is we add speed to a bad position, and then that’s
really the recipe.
Tim Ferriss: Kapow goes the piano wire.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. But, once again, we program all that stuff in our gym.
But you’ll notice that we have a lot of static ring stations. Because
what we saw as well: people can’t even get into the start position
on the rings, which is elbows locked out, butt squeezed, thumbs
turned out. They can’t even get into the start position. So what are
we talking about?
What we’re doing is we end up arguing about bullshit. “You can’t
even get into the bottom position of a snatch. Why are we talking
about your snatch?”
Tim Ferriss: Right. And I’m getting into more gymnastics these days, and I
want to be able to do a back tuck. I’ve never been able to do a back
Kelly Starrett: Really?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Attribute-wise, I have the attributes necessary. But it’s a
Kelly Starrett: No. I was obsessed with that too. I totally get that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I want to get to that point. You can do that safely, but
you can certainly do it very unsafely, or attempt to do it unsafely.
And I think that the question of sequencing and how you put things
in a proper order, from diagnostics to refinement to training –
Kelly Starrett: Totally. We have not given people the background or the language
of how their bodies work. I get to work with children like first
graders and kindergarteners in our swim team, all the way up to
masters Olympic athletes. I see it all. And what I can tell you is
that, along the way, no one gets any formal training.
And the mistake has been always – I think CrossFit is doing it
more right. The DeFranco’s Gyms, the Mike Boyle’s, Stan Turley
at Stanford – places like that are all pockets of really excellent
thinkers who are teaching people how to move. And that’s a
specific thing. And that’s not just jumping back and forth and
chasing a bouncy ball. That’s very specific skills, and challenging
those skills with the things we talked about.
So what we’ve seen is – and CrossFit is an example – a
decentralized Soviet sports system. We have 11,000 states. And
what you’ll see is that kids will grow up through the CrossFit
system, in a generation, and they’ll already be like, “Of course I’m
going to overhead squat. What do you mean? Why can’t you
overhead squat?” You know what I mean? And we’ll solve a lot of
problems. But the key piece is: we can’t confuse exercising for full
human capacity. That’s the missing link.
Tim Ferriss: So, speaking of full human capacity, if you look at the most elite
CrossFit-ers, are there things that they do that the lower ranks do
not? Commonalities that you’ve observed that people can borrow
or emulate or incorporate?
Kelly Starrett: You’re saying the top CrossFit-ers that the bottom aren’t doing?
Just the recreational?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Like top quartile or decile.
Kelly Starrett: Most of them, I know, are obsessed with mechanics, and really
spend a lot of time refining that mechanics. Their positions are
more effortless. Like I had this physical therapy instructor, and she
taught pediatrics, and she was like, “Let me be fucking clear:
muscles and tissues are like obedient dogs.” And my mind was
like: gadoosh. This is coming from the pediatric physical therapist,
who was like, “What the hell’s wrong with you? Why are you so
And the key is that people aren’t spending enough time working on
full position. And maybe it’s because I have not made the case for
it. Because we know you can get by at 80 percent. But show me
you have full capacity. Because that’s the thing that these top
athletes have. I mean, they obviously can work really hard.
Tim Ferriss: Full capacity, meaning the corners of these positions.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. Full positional. And I always use this example, but squat
down with your feet together. Keep your heels on the ground,
knees together. Can you do that, yes or no? If you can’t do that,
knees together, all the way down, chilling out on the bottom, like
we’re at a campfire, then you are missing full hip range of motion,
ankle range of motion. One of those things is missing. And that’s
the mechanism for your hip impingement. That’s the mechanism
for your plantar fasciitis, for your bunion, for your torn Achilles,
for your pulled calf. That is the fucking problem. And you should
be obsessing about this.
CrossFit or any good modern strength and conditioning system –
because we’re not the only ones doing it now, but they force us
into the shapes that are diagnostic. And if you’ve been around
Pavel, then you probably have done a pistol at some point. That’s
because you have to be able to have that open torque control on
your leg. That’s how he gets away with not having to do lots of
step-ups: “Show me that you can squat up and down on one leg
with that strength.” And immediately I can tell if you have the
ankle range of motion, hip range of motion to do that. So it’s
interesting that that got pulled into the language, because it was so
Tim Ferriss: If there were two or three movements that people listening to this
could videotape themselves performing for maximal diagnostic
value – let’s just say it’s a busy professional who’s like, “I’m
probably letting go, but I want to get back into training –
I want to be able to videotape myself at certain points just to see
how screwed up I am before I try to do something I did when I was
20 years old” – is there anything in particular you’d recommend?
Kelly Starrett: Well, the problem with that is that you somehow devalue some of
the other positions. And in physical therapy school they have this
great statement; they’re like, “Test something you think you
changed and something you didn’t think you changed.” And I was
like, “That is so eternal and amazing.” And then I was like, “Well,
fuck, it’s my fucking shoulder. And if I’m compromised on this
end, I maybe don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand
how that compromises me on the other side.”
And so what’s crucial is that you can go from the start position –
so, for example, you may not think that Olympic lifting is
important to you as a swimmer. But Olympic lifting, or swinging
kettlebell, forces you all the time into having full internal rotation
of your shoulder. So even just doing the Burgener Warmup with a
PVC pipe – he’s an Olympic lifting coach. You can Google
Tim Ferriss: How do you spell his name?
Kelly Starrett: B-U-R-G-E-N-E-R.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Kelly Starrett: Mike Burgener. And if you just get into this high hang position,
like you’re doing the robot dance out to the side –
Tim Ferriss: Do that all the time.
Kelly Starrett: – you should be able to get your hand all the way down to your
hip, and your shoulder shouldn’t twist forward. So people are like,
“I don’t need to Olympic lift.” Well, you should be able to snatch a
PVC pipe without hurting your shoulder. But those same people
will go to the pull and not recognize that the finish position for the
crawl stroke is the same position.
And so what ends up happening then is, in the swimming
language, if I’m missing that internal rotation at the end, that
means my shoulder comes forward, and that means my neck stroke
Tim Ferriss: Impinged. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: And that’s why you have to have full range on both ends of your
shoulder. Because I’m going to compromise, and that’s going to
mess up my next start or my next rep.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve been amazed how much my entire physiology has changed
just focusing on terminal knee extension.
Just: lay on your back; put your legs straight up in the air; pull your
toes back; straighten your legs. And if you can’t straighten them
completely – I was like, “Wow. My legs are shaking like a hamster
Kelly Starrett: It’s true. I handed that over to two NFL-ers today who were
coming back from an ACL repair. They sit all day long. They’re
sitting 14 hours a day, knees slightly bent. They don’t have that
range. Posterior chain is – why can’t you do a long sit?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Last time you saw me, I could barely do this, and now I’m
out to the –
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. One of the things that you –
Tim Ferriss: I was touching my toes first.
Kelly Starrett: PR. Lifetime.
One of the truths is that we’re always talking about putting the hip
back into the socket. That’s the capsule stretch. That’s 4-Hour
Tim Ferriss: Definitely.
Kelly Starrett: But what you figured out was: “Boy, if I have some more load, if
my legs are up and I put some load through that,” that seated that
hip back into the position and reinforced that mechanic. And then
you had to be stable in that shape. The same thing happens when
you squat, theoretically.
Same thing should be happening when you dead lift. But what we
see is that the modern-ness of us is what messes us up. You have to
have a movement practice. Pilates is a movement practice. Yoga’s
a movement practice. Acroyoga is a movement practice. CrossFit’s
a movement practice. But then I also have to probably breathe hard
a little bit on there, and get stronger. And your movement practice
can handle that. It can be kettlebells-based. You can go to the
Olympics that way.
And then the last piece of course is that you have to be able to take
care of your tissues. You have to know how to do some basic
maintenance. You know, one of the reasons that 4-Hour Body
spoke to so many people was that it was like you gave them a
blueprint, a Betty Crocker cookbook of how their body worked and
the things that they could do that were actionable, that didn’t
require a doctor or a physical therapist. That’s the revolution.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. And thank you for helping with that also.
I have to ask this. This is a common question. It’s not that I ask
myself much, but I’m curious how you would answer it. Is
CrossFit a fad?
Kelly Starrett: I would say: totally; totally is a fad.
Because front squatting and running is a fad. It’s a gimmick.
No. Look, gymnastics is not a gimmick. Olympic lifting: not a
gimmick. Power lifting: not a gimmick. One of the things that I
don’t think people recognize CrossFit so much – and you can even
go back to Pavel’s book. He interviews some MMA guy who was
legendary for his conditioning. He does the 100 kettlebell snatch
test. And he does it in like eight minutes, and it destroys him.
I have 13-year-old girls who can do a version of that thing in like 3
and a half minutes. So what we’ve done is we’ve gotten a lot better
conditioned. And I think people understand that CrossFit has
always prioritized conditioning and aerobic engine first. You’ve
got to take care of that stuff, and the bodyweight control stuff is the
easiest way, and the most democratized way. Then let’s have a
conversation about how much you weigh, how strong you are. If
you’re going to be the best at the CrossFit Games, you’re going to
have to be really strong and really aerobic. For the rest of us, we
can keep putting money in that strength bank, but that aerobic
function bank, it goes dry.
Tim Ferriss: I know you’ve got a bunch of people to train here and business to
handle, so I’ll let you go in a minute. But, to thin-slice
conditioning for a second because – for me, of course, I want to
dig into the measurables. When I look at a metabolic conditioning
workout, a MetCon workout, is it primarily trying to push up that
anaerobic threshold so that you don’t get crippled by lactic acid
and the hydrogen ions and all that and puke into a bucket? Is it
VO2 max? What are the primary components that you can track?
Kelly Starrett: The idea is that we could maintain all these other functions,
strength, power, all the things that sort of valued us as powerful,
functional people, and I could get all of the benefits of the aerobic,
anaerobic training with interval-like training, with high-intensity
training. Izumi Tabata proved that a long time ago. But what we
found is that probably you need to go long once in a while to make
sure you can. And there are some adaptations that only happen at
that long, steady state.
I’m signed up for the Molechai. I’m paddling OC1. It’s a five-toseven-
hour race. Twenty-minute workouts are not going to do it
Tim Ferriss: This is kayaking.
Kelly Starrett: Outrigger canoe.
Tim Ferriss: Outrigger canoe.
Kelly Starrett: Right. But my point is that I’m going to have to go long. How long
we need to go is up to my coach. I’m probably not doing longer
than an hour, still maintaining, respecting this aerobic piece. But
all of our energy systems work in concert and at the same time. If
you go longer than 2 minutes – 2 minutes is a 50 percent aerobic,
50 percent anaerobic effort. So, running six minutes, eight minutes,
you’re full aerobic power. That’s much more interesting. Do 1K
repeats. That’s something that people didn’t understand about
Brian MacKenzie’s model: he has me do 5K repeats and stuff, and
on the erg. And it’s brutal.
Tim Ferriss: This is the standing or seated erg?
Kelly Starrett: That’d be the skerg, the ski erg.
Tim Ferriss: The ski erg. Got it.
Kelly Starrett: Those are terrible places to be, you know, 1K repeats.
And I think people are not afraid of working hard anymore. We’ve
gotten past that. Now let’s have a little bit better conversation.
Tim Ferriss: What do you think is the future of CrossFit? And you can answer
that any way you want.
Kelly Starrett: It’s going to continue to refine itself. I think people are coming in,
and all the coaches I know and work with are starting to
understand what it is we’re doing and how sophisticated it is. We
don’t just throw a bunch of random shit up and exercise until we
puke. It seems like that: a bunch of jerks swinging around the bar.
That’s not what’s happening at all.
Tim Ferriss: There are some jerks swinging on the bars.
Kelly Starrett: Well, that happens. I always point out to the physical therapists out
in the world: “You had a business long before CrossFit, FYI.”
People have been fucking themselves up in every sport for as long
as there have been people. Because we’re ego-driven people.
Because we’re driven to perform. So the key is to pull your ego out
of this and really play the long game. What do you look like? How
fit can you be when you’re 50? The conversation changes a little
For me, it’s not “Can I dead lift 600?” anymore. It’s: “What’s this
look like when I run an ultra? How effective I am at running a 10K
or paddling.” Those are, for me starting to be more interesting
conversations than just absolute strength or absolute work power.
“How does this make me a better mountain biker?”
Tim Ferriss: If there were any sort of parting tips, suggestions, requests that you
could make of the people out there who are either currently
CrossFit-ing or considering CrossFit-ing, what would you say to
them, or what would you suggest?
Kelly Starrett: It’s not about who can work hardest anymore. That ship has sailed.
If you are in a serious strength and conditioning program, you are
very fit. Probably, unless you’re a beginner, fitness is not the
limiting factor anymore. Your positional quality at intensity is the
limiting factor. Because you’re going to do the same experiment
that everyone has done.
And you will end up in a little tiny box at some point, wondering
why you’re Georges St-Pierre and you’ve torn both your ACLs.
No one was fitter. No one was more powerful. But his positions
cost him his ACLs. And now that consciousness has come at a
very high price. And you should be able to do these things forever.
There’s not a time where you don’t need to get up off the ground
or do a push-up. But let’s become more sophisticated. Let’s
advance the conversation a little bit.
Don’t be a douchebag.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a big one.
Kelly Starrett: If I walk into the room and you’re rounding your back, I’m going
to cock-punch you. Come on. It may happen once in a while at
your heaviest loads because –
Tim Ferriss: I was drinking coffee and you tried to cock punch me earlier,
which I thought was aggressive.
Kelly Starrett: I think that’s the issue: you need to bring the awareness that we’re
supposed to bring to this. If we’re doing not even a five-rep max,
but we’re just squatting, that fifth rep should look fucking good.
You just did four more. Make it look better.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. We’ve got to run, guys.
Last question: any lesser-known strength coaches, or coaches
period, that stick out in your mind that people might want to look
up and learn more about?
Kelly Starrett: Joe DeFranco is amazing. If you haven’t ever listened to Pavel
talk, he solved a lot of this a long time ago. The internet is rich
right now. Look at who’s been on the podcast. There have been
some serious banner-carriers for a long time. Mark Verstegen at
EXOS has been talking about these basic shapes and positions for
a long time. Who are on his show? Who’s around?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Kelly Starrett: And I think the working coach piece is it. There are a lot of
models, but you just need to start a practice. And then, from there,
we can advance ourselves. But there’s a lot of really good thinking
in the world right now. It’s very exciting. This is a good time to be
in the world.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely. Yeah. Question your assumptions, folks.
Test your own rules.
Kelly Starrett: And don’t be afraid to suck.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t be afraid to suck. Find a place where you can suck.
Kelly Starrett: Privately.
Tim Ferriss: Safely. Kelly, where
can people find you on the internet and
Kelly Starrett: I’m on your couch. Timferrisscouch.com.
Tim Ferriss: Not to be confused with other couches on the internet.
Kelly Starrett: That’s right. We’re at @MobilityWOD, and MobilityWOD.com.
And, man, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for ten years. That’s
a lot of pull-ups.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, to many more decades. All right. Thanks so much,
Kelly Starrett: Thanks. Appreciate you.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.