O2 had the pleasure of spending time recently with Kelly and Juliet Starrett, founders of The Ready State (TRS) and partners with O2 in promoting the importance of mobility and hydration in fitness.
We kick off our series with Dr. Kelly Starrett - trainer, physical therapist, and author.
Thanks for joining us, Kelly. So, how did you get your start in mobility? We heard you were once a whitewater rafter?
I used to paddle whitewater slalom, and was even on the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team. When I was in college, there was a new phenomenon of extreme whitewater racing, where we would all pile in and huck ourselves down these Class 5 rivers in these races, and hopefully all end up a little richer at the end. We were really willing to sacrifice ourselves to make a few dollars.
What ended up happening was, there’s an international whitewater rafting circuit. My friends and I won the spot in the United States for the men, and that’s how I ended up meeting Juliet in Chile - at the World Whitewater Championships, in 2000.
I was an athlete, racing full time, and then I managed to injure myself - paddled myself right out of the U.S. team. That was really the beginning of why I decided I needed to go to physical therapy school.
I was always obsessed with training, and that’s the beginning of when I went from being a raft racer to a physical therapist and coach. I started teaching kayaking when I was 14 years old, so I’d been teaching adults complex motor skills my whole life.
“I was an athlete, racing full time, and then I managed to injure myself - paddled myself right out of the U.S. team.” - Kelly Starrett, The Ready State
When Juliet and I opened the gym in 2005 - San Francisco CrossFit - it was the 21st CrossFit gym in the world.
There was a real opportunity, and a missing hole in the world, to try to help people resolve their positional deficiencies, their common pain problems; and when we started doing that we noticed we were really radically able to increase their performance and make them a lot more durable.
That was the birth of our current business, The Ready State.
You wrote a bestselling fitness book titled Becoming a Supple Leopard - can you tell us the origin of the supple leopard metaphor?
Juliet and I were developing a model to help make the invisible visible, when people are moving; to simplify really complex human movement into ways where we could understand positional competency and rate limiters in terms of performance.
We had been teaching a course around these ideas for the CrossFit community in 2008, and we realized we probably had enough information for a book. We were struggling for the title, and things like Optimizing Performance in Athletic Development didn’t capture who we were, weren’t inspiring, and didn’t stick in your brain.
Tim Ferriss is one of our good friends, and he wrote a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. That title really stuck with us; its succinctness, and quirkiness. And, at the time, we were joking around at home with this two-word couplet: supple leopard.
One of the reasons we really loved the leopard idea was they have this amazing ability to have full, instantaneous access to their “leopard-ness”; their ability to attack and defend. We liked the idea that humans should also strive to have that instantaneous, full range of motion.
Juliet’s brother, who is an architect of some renown, and actually designed the cover of the book, said, “What about ‘becoming a supple leopard?’” and we loved it.
Everyone else hated it. But, we really stuck to our guns.
“We were struggling for the title, and things like Optimizing Performance in Athletic Development didn’t capture who we were, weren’t inspiring, and didn’t stick in your brain.” - K. Starrett, on bad book titles
We liked that it was sort of this aspirational idea around human potential. Really, most of us are walking around with an incomplete idea of how much and how well we can move, and how durable we are, and that’s really the story of what we’ve been trying to do over the past 10 years - to give people back the sovereignty of their bodies.
Jul and I try to keep reminding people: over the last 10,000 years your body really hasn’t changed all that much, and we’ve been endowed with this really incredible human physiology, which is durable and resilient and tolerant.
But, we’ve really cut people out of the conversation about what to do if something hurts, or if they can’t do something. In a lot of ways, this book is very subversive, and our content is very subversive, because we’re really trying to shift this loci of control, and shift agency back to the individual.
We’re trying to classically disrupt our industrial fitness / industrial medical complex. There are a lot of things you’re capable of if you're given the right tools.
When did you and Juliet start The Ready State, and how would you describe it to newcomers?
We officially launched The Ready State in 2010. When we set out, we called it The Mobility Project, and we tried to make a video every day for a year, explaining everything we knew about the body - a basic library where people could come in and begin to understand how their bodies were supposed to work, and what they could do to help themselves feel better, or restore their native positions.
When we started this, there was no Instagram. The iPhone did not have a video camera. YouTube was a new phenomenon.
As soon as the iPhone made it possible to make a video and directly upload it to YouTube in one step, we started going wild. We could be transparent, and topical, and whimsical. We could be radically transparent to help people feel better and improve better.
When we set out to begin to change this conversation, ultimately we wanted people to appreciate they needed to have the raw tissue range of motion. Can you flex and extend your joints? Are your tissues stiff? Do you have access to your range of motion?
“When we started this, there was no Instagram. The iPhone did not have a video camera. YouTube was a new phenomenon.” - K. Starrett, on the limits of ancient technology
What we set out to do through The Ready State was to create the most efficient tool so people could simultaneously help themselves when they were in pain, restore their range of motion, improve their mechanical efficiency, and help them self-soothe, down-regulate, and relax.
We try to make it as easy for people as we can to on-ramp by saying, “How does a modern human being take care of herself? What are the things we can do?”
It turns out, there are a lot of things we’ve traditionally kept behind a guarded wall of medical expertise; knowledge we really feel belongs in the hands of individuals, in the hands of coaches, in the hands of parents.
How did “mobility” as a concept come about for you?
Juliet and I are the people who popularized the word “mobility.” That’s the reason mobility is a thing today; because we decided to start talking about your ability to get into a position and actively control that position. To have the hardware and the software.
We wanted to make sure we weren’t infringing on an old definition; a word that didn’t have a lot of associated baggage with it, like “stretching,” or “flexibility.”
But, we all have a universal movement language. As soon as I say “push-up,” everyone knows what I mean. When I say “pull-up” it’s a universal language, so we didn’t have to move out of the realm of strength and conditioning, or the realm of classical physical training. If you spoke Pilates, or yoga, or calisthenics, or gymnastics, or weightlifting, you spoke our common language.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t infringing on an old definition …” - K. Starrett, on (perhaps literally) redefining mobility
The shoulder is the shoulder. It doesn’t really matter what sport you’re playing, or who you are. The shoulder is still the shoulder.
When we started moving to The Ready State, what we ended up doing was creating a model that helps explain why people are moving the way they do, and why we teach certain movement principles in techniques of [things like] tennis, Olympic lifting, and swimming, and how it predicts future movement, and how we can all communicate it.
Can you describe the application of your model?
Humans are movement animals; movement-based creatures. The inherent problem with how extraordinary and robust our design is, you can get away with working around problems, or you can get away with compensation - until you experience pain, experience losing, or not being able to do something.
With our current medical model, are we seeing fewer injuries? Fewer surgeries? Are people in more pain or less pain? All the data suggest we’re not doing a good job. Our current model of “exercise really hard, wait until something breaks, and then go see a physical therapist so she can tell you not to do that” - that’s a broken model.
Juliet and I have created a model about how to predict and understand complex human movements, and how to improve that human movement, and then we test that model in every environment we can think of. The NBA, Major League Baseball, Olympics, premier soccer, universities - to work on helping those people eliminate pain, and put them in shapes and positions that allow them to be more durable and generate more force.
“Our current model of ‘exercise really hard, wait until something breaks, and then go see a physical therapist so she can tell you not to do that’ - that’s a broken model.” - K. Starrett, on disrupting the current model
Our outcomes are world championships, world records, gold medals, fewer lost user days, less back pain, more time with family, fewer doctor visits …
And that’s really what the goal is - we’re trying to transform society by making people understand that movement should be a vital sign. It’s a pillar of health. Your ability to move effortlessly and freely in the environment that you find yourself is your God-given right.
So, The Ready State isn’t just for world-class athletes and warfighters?
Juliet and I are realists. We’re busy, working parents. So, what we can’t ask people to do is take a day off work, go see their doctor, get a referral, go wait three weeks to go to physical therapy, get an initial session, go see someone two weeks later … this doesn’t work.
We felt like we really needed to re-empower; to change the conversation about who owned what.
Juliet and I have been walking into rooms for over a decade now and we like to ask this question: who is pain free? Very few hands go up when we ask that question. Maybe two hands out of a hundred. Pain is very much a human companion.
Yet, what I’ve heard for as long as I’ve been around is that pain is a medical problem. If that’s true, then everyone is injured and should be handled with kid gloves by a physical therapist or a physician.
What we end up doing is waiting around until people can no longer occupy their role in society; they can’t do their jobs, they can’t play their sports, and then we say, “Okay, I guess it’s bad enough now. You should go get some help.”
“Pain is very much a human companion.” - K. Starrett, on the painful truth
That is a colossal, colossal lost opportunity. So we have a root system and a methodology that takes into consideration the real world and complicated demands of being a human being.
We’re seeing people are missing these huge swaths of capacity, and they’re leaving a lot of potential on the table. They could run that 5K faster with less dysfunction and less discomfort, and they can do it longer if we pay attention to how well they move and their ability to take care of themselves.
As you know, O2 is kinda big on hydration. How does hydration play into mobility?
There are fundamental aspects of human physiology that allow for good human function, and these foundational pieces make you a sturdy, robust human being.
Fundamentals include eating whole foods and - wait for it - drinking water with salts in it. One of the easiest ways to make tissues more resilient, to improve your power, is to appropriately hydrate.
In this quest to hydrate people, we’ve created a plastic-bottle nightmare, and we’ve confused people about how much water they need to drink.
“Fundamentals include eating whole foods and - wait for it - drinking water with salts in it.” - K. Starrett, on proper hydration
If you drink completely pure water, you’re not gonna absorb the water. You’re gonna pee it out, which does not improve your hydration. But as soon as you add some essential minerals and electrolytes in there, guess what? Your body absorbs it more effectively.
If you want to improve the rate of protein synthesis, your mental acuity, or you want more robust tissues, focusing on hitting some minimum water values goes a long way.
Many people actually go through their lives and don’t drink a lot of water, and we confuse the fact that we can get away with that for … optimal.
Check out Part 3 in our TRS series for a deeper dive with Kelly on the importance of hydration for mobility.