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Kelly Starrett is the co-founder of San Francisco CrossFit and mobilitywod.com, co-author of Becoming a Supple Leopard and Ready to Run, and is a an adviser to professional athletes and military members. M&F caught up with the Supple Leopard himself to talk movement, sports injuries, and rehabilitation.
“What we’ve tried to do with out work is establish benchmarks and bookends for positional mechanics,” Starrett says. “If we get people into the benchmarks of mechanics, they’re able to practice any movement patterns they want afterwards.”
Starrett’s first assessment of a person’s mobility starts with addressing their weaknesses.
“The easiest way to start a conversation with people is to say, “Hey look, let’s talk about what’s normal and not normal in your body.” Starrett says. “If anyone rolls on a ball the first thing they experience is pain, we start there.”
Follow Starrett’s top five tips for moving better and understanding your body for improved mobility, flexibility and athletic performance.
“Basic human function goes out the door when we sit at a desk, sit in a car, or wear high heeled shoes,” says Starrett. “You may not be aware how compromised biomechanics are affecting running and predisposing you to injury or loss of running performance and economy.”
Starrett establishes baseline ranges of motion for people, or tests, to see if they are runners with proper mobility.
“One of the things you should be able to do as a runner is, with your feet and knees together, squat all the way down without your heels coming up,” Starrett says. “That means you have normal hip range of motion and flexion and you have baseline human range of motion for your ankles.”
The second test is the couch stretch, where one leg is bent at 90 degrees and the other is parallel against a wall.
“If you put one knee into the wall, you should be able to bring the other leg up into a high kneeling position with you back against the wall and butt squeezed,” Starrett says. “The average runner will get their knee against the wall but won’t be able to get the other knee up into the bent position. That’s how tight and restricted they are.”
Starrett has two full range of motion benchmarks for weightlifters. One is the upright squat, in the form of the overhead and front squats. If can’t do those two movements, then you’re hiding a serious mobility issue.
“The fullest range of motion happens when the torso is in the upright position,” Starrett says. “If you regularly back squat but can’t front squat, that’s a red flag.”
A dumbbell overhead squat is Starrett’s fullest assessment of quality of range of motion. Aside from upright squatting, there’s another way to assess overhead shoulder mobility.
“Grab two 50-pound dumbbells and hold them straight up overhead with elbows straight in a neutral grip,” Starrett says. “You should be able to hold those a while and have a conversation.” If your elbows bend or your back breaks from neutral position, you’ve failed the test. “The bent elbows are a sign missing overhead range of motion,” Starrett says. “You need to explore the problem on mobilitywod.com or read Becoming a Supple Leopard.“
Starrett advocates a dynamic warmup before both weightlifting and running workouts. Static stretching can also increase range of motion but it’s also been found to impair force output. A 2014 Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research study found that 60 seconds of four different static stretches resulted in significant decreases in jump height and power compared to not stretching at all. Furthermore, a 2014 Journal of Sports Medicine study found that an upper body static stretching protocol negatively affected peak jump force.
“If you’re going to prepare for lifting you should be covered in sweat before you add any load from a dynamic warmup,” Starrett says. “Lunges, squats, hip hinges, carioca, leg swings, all the same warmups you did in high school/college football.”
Starrett says this warmup is best for running too. For lifting, Starrett and his team spend works in joint mobilization such as laying on a lacrosse ball and joint distraction during warmup sets. And, Starrett emphasizes the need for more warmup sets.
“The average lifter does 135 pounds, then 225, 315 and 405 but they actually need more practice grooving the pattern,” Starrett says. “At our gym, we say ‘Show me five sets of 10 with light weight’ and we assess where you are.”
“We’d rather you save the soft tissue work for after you train,” Starrett says. “We don’t think foam rolling is the best use of time before a fight.”
The mobility guru went on to explain that soft tissue works helps turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate and induces muscular relaxation. Also, the workout should be view as a diagnostic tool, and the time afterwards is spent fixing the problem.
“If you squatted heavy and found out your quad are tight, go fix them afterwards. If you’re deadlifting, you can take what you feel during the lift and improve that body part afterwards.”
Maintaining proper posture is crucial to athletic performance in Starrett’s vision. There are certain things you don’t do while lifting and a universal stance for running, lifting and living.
“If I’m pressing something overhead, do I look down? No. If I’m deadlifting, do I crank my neck up? No.” Starrett says. “I’m keeping my spine in a good base position which is head stacked over rib cage and rib cage stacked over pelvis. If you stand up tall with feet straight and squeeze your butt, your pelvis shouldn’t change position.”
The basic standing position for everyday living, deadlifting and running is the one you take when you unrack a barbell for a back squat, Starrett says. “If I looked at your from the side, your ears should be at the middle of the shoulder,” he adds.
Starrett even has advice for text messaging using cell phones, and if you think about it, that’s often the reason for slouching.
“Bring the texting device to eye level so the head and back don’t round,” Starrett says. “Some people’s habits affect their athletic performance even if it doesn’t lead to pain.”