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4 Lessons Learned From Kelly Starrett

dr. danny mobility physical therapy Jan 23, 2014

I recently spent my last weekend interning with Kelly Starrett in preparation to start teaching the CrossFit Movement and Mobility Trainer Course. Any opportunity that I get to learn from him and pick his brain, I’ll take. These are the lessons I took away from my last training weekend.  Enjoy!

  1. Focus on performance, not reducing injuries.
  2. Learn how to breath and brace
  3. Movement is Medicine
  4. Eat a Cookie

Number 1: Focus on performance, not on reducing injuries

Let’s be honest. No one cares about preventing injuries until they have gotten injured. This is a terrible approach to athletics and life in general. Everyone has heard an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Even our current medical model has started to shift toward a more preventative approach. This is a great idea and I think could be a huge improvement on our current model of trying to treat everything with medication.

There is one major problem with prevention in terms of musculoskeletal injuries. The problem is that it’s boring. It’s like flossing your teeth. Everyone knows they should do it but most people don’t do it every day. Most people wait until they have a cavity and then try to floss and brush their teeth 20 times per day. By then it’s too late. The dentist already has his drill out and you’re screwed! The way we approach cavities is the same way most people approach injuries to the body.

The fix to this problem is to approach injury prevention from a performance improvement angle. I teach running form to tactical athletes based on the POSE running principles and CrossFit Endurance model. It’s not uncommon to be able to cut 1 minute off some ones two mile time in a week. This is a huge change in a short time and most tactical athletes would love to see this kind of change. The increase in speed is directly due to an improvement in efficiency. It would be like riding your bike for a year with flat tires and then one day I take a pump and fill the tires up. That person would feel like they were flying on the bike now that they had some air in the tires but the only thing we really changed was how efficiently that person could use that bike. Telling someone you can cut their risk of a running injury down by 50% is not as enticing as telling someone you can cut 2 minutes off their 5K time in a week. Performance is what people care about and optimal performance leads to drastic reductions in injuries.   

Number 2: Learn how to breathe and brace

Every day we take on average 20,000 breaths. That’s not a typo, 20,000 breaths a day. Most of us have dysfunctional breathing and are reinforcing that bad pattern 20,000 times per day.  When we teach the CrossFit Movement and Mobility Trainer Courses this breathing concept seems to cause everyone trouble. It’s a simple concept and everyone understandings why you would want to learn to breathe and brace our spine. The hard part is actually being able to do it correctly. We feel you should be able to brace your spine on some level all day long, unless you asleep.

The reason breathing correctly is so important is it’s much easier to brace the spine correctly when we breathe the right way. By the right way I mean with your diaphragm. This braced spinal position is important for many reasons but can be trained in a very functional manner by using the deadlift. Check out this old school video with Kelly talking about breathing and the deadlift.


Learning to breathe and brace is the first thing I go after with my lower back pain patients. Understanding this concept will help decrease your risk of injury when picking your kids up, squatting, running etc. Also, tying in with lesson number one, if you breathe and brace you will also be able to lift heavier weight and run faster longer.

Number 3: Movement is medicine

At Athletes’ Potential, movement is medicine is our philosophy. I’ve heard Kelly say this on multiple occasions so I’m giving him all the credit for my company’s slogan.

We feel movement is medicine is a simple concept but one that is not practiced nearly enough. I get this question all the time “what mobilization is the best to improve the squat?” My answer is always the same, squat more. Kelly recommends trying to get 10 minutes in the bottom position of a squat every day. People like Ido Portal recommend upwards of 30 minutes in a squat position every day. In Asia and the Middle East squatting 30 minutes a day is no big deal. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that they have significantly lower rates of back and hip disease than western societies. You just have to make a conscious effort to do it.

We are designed to move. Over the last few hundred thousand years human beings have changed very little physically. What has changed is our day to day requirements on the human body. We are designed to run, squat, jump, kill a saber tooth tiger and carry it for miles. The only thing most people do these days is sit at a desk on a computer, sit in their cars and sit on their couch catching up on the last season of Game of Thrones. (spoiler alert, the red wedding episode is crazy!)

So give it a try. Move more because movement is medicine and no pill, brace or diet can change that.

Number 4: Eat a cookie

Eat a cookie? That’s right; eat a cookie and no gluten free cookies. This is what I call the Starrett Diet. On the Starrett Diet you eat as clean as possible, drink a ton of coffee and have a peanut butter cookie almost every night. 

You should enjoy life and if one cookie per day keeps you sane and happy it definitely outweighs whatever the negatives are of a gluten laden, sugary, delicious cookie.

​Dr. Danny, PT, DPT

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