Winning Strategy: Kelly and Juliet Starrett Are Keeping You ‘Built to Move’
Mobility pioneers Kelly and Juliet Starrett have had successful careers spreading the wellness word that everyone, at any age, can be “Built to Move.” Yet, just when you think today’s wellness trends—from technology to, yes, even TikTok influencers—should have made spreading the movement message more accessible to more than just the hardcore, muscle-building masses, the Starretts ditched the app (sort of) and went old-school and hardcover, creating the aptly titled book “Built to Move.”
The book was written to address long-term and often overlooked issues caused by sedentary lifestyles, which research has shown affects more than a third of the world’s population aged 15 and over, despite the fitness industry exploding to a near trillion-dollar industry. Those affected by this range from average Joes to grandparents wanting and needing to continue spending quality time with their grandkids.
The book is less tech-savvy; instead of swiping up, flipping 200 pages will provide a much-needed health and wellness reacquaintance with common-sense ideas behind the long-term importance of gaining mobility and your range of motion in your shoulders, knees, ankles—and not just for weight room warriors or athletes, but for those who hope to extend a productive lifestyle into their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. Not everyone got the message as the couple saw a downward trend developing as more people avoided the downward dog and instead spent a lot more time on the couch than necessary.
When Kelly, a renowned physical therapist, was helping professional athletes, company CEOs, and military bigwigs regain their range of motion to continue maximizing their performance, the couple hoped to generate the same successful results for everyday people when they opened a physical therapy office inside their San Francisco-based CrossFit studio in 2007.
However, the opposite occurred: more people were coming in, but were spending hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars out of pocket for everyday issues such as stiffness and neck pain that could be treated at home with a few moments of stretching. Instead of performance-related issues, treatable wear and tear aches, mainly caused by lack of activity, became the norm. The message wasn’t getting out as hoped.
“I think Kelly started realizing that if he could figure out a way to take these manual techniques he learned in physical therapy school and help people do them to themselves, he could create this whole universe of mobilizations that people could do on their own on their living room floor,” says Juliet, a three-time whitewater rafting world champion.
The long-term effects are far greater than a stiff back; a 2020 study showed that a third of the world’s population over 15 years of age lacked sufficient physical activity, which increases the risks of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer. “Built to Move” provides 10 benchmarks to test your mobility, or lack thereof, that almost anyone can do at home for nearly no cost and minimal equipment (think lacrosse ball, broomstick, foam roller). The first step to regaining mobility, according to Kelly and Juliet, is to start by simply getting off the floor. Can you do effortlessly? Congrats. if you’re like most of us and either have to place a hand or knee to the floor or support yourself with a wall or even lose balance, each problem becomes an indicator for the work needed to regain mobility in your hips and other areas.
From there, the tests focus on recognizing your breath patterns, as well as shoulder mobility tests (yes, you’re supposed to lift your shoulders overhead without pain) and reintroducing you to the simple art of squatting. Of course, no 21st century training manual, book or app, comes without a 21-day Challenge—featuring one or two daily movement tests, practices and mobilization work that can be done at home—which the couple offers in their book, making it an active reading experience.
“Part of this wellness revolution happened when we started to recognize that people were not mobilizing to improve or restore positions in order to have better bio motor output, so they can lift more weight and go faster,” Kelly, who also founded the Ready State website, says.
The couple, now nearing 50, are looking to their own future, hoping to live their golden years the way they do in their prime – more skiing, more hiking, and of course more deadlift PRs. The couple’s Winning Strategy for not only this, but for helping others maximize aging, is to not only show that we don’t have to live with pain, but by starting now, and setting attainable body movement goals, we can fix ourselves to lead physically productive lives for as long as possible.
“We’re trying to give people more of these objective measures in their lives toward creating a more durable and resilient body,” Kelly says.
You can get Kelly and Juliet Starrett’s “Built to Move” at Amazon.
Pain Doesn’t Have to Be Permanent
JS: We as a health and fitness or physical therapy community have not done a good job of telling people that pain isn’t always a medical problem—pain doesn’t always mean you’re injured and that the resting state of a human being is meant to be pain free. If people started with that base knowledge and then added that there are some tools that are easy to do on their living room floor or on the gym floor that could relieve some of that pain, it would be revolutionary. Part of what we’re trying to do with this book is say that there’s a lot you can do here to feel better.
There is a subset of people who super into fitness, but the vast majority of people want to feel good and be able to move their body— those are very different objectives. For those people, And, you know, to the people who want to just feel good and move their body. I don’t think we’ve given them the message that there are a few things they can do on their own without having to spend tons of money on professionals to just feel better and move better.
KS: Because Juliet and I have worked in high-performance environments, we were able to see all the dirty laundry. Here, we used pain as a diagnostic tool. If an athlete came in and was experiencing loss of wattage on a bike, we would be like, what’s going on? Is it [a problem] with hip range of motion? Sleep? Nutrition? We’d use that loss of wattage as an indicator of some aspect the system we might look to improve.
Most people should be in that same category. “My knee is sore after a big run.” Well, why is that and what can we do about it? And the easiest thing we know is to actually just restore someone’s range of motion around that.
If, say, your shoulder hurts all the time for no reason, that can be a medical emergency, and you should be under the care of a physician for that. But if you’re like, “My shoulder only hurts when I do pushups,” that’s a specific position related to your shoulder that gives us clues as to whether there’s a full range of motion there, and we can take a crack at that. But then we can also say, Hey, do you you know can are there behaviors or things you can do in your life, that make your brain interpret what’s happening from your shoulder as less of a threat? Because if you’re sleep deprived and stressed and eating like a spoiled teenager, I guarantee you your brain is going to be a little bit more twitchy about what’s going on.
You Have the Ability to Fix Yourself
KS: The problem is twofold. One is that we have never really shown people where to have a set of benchmarks in their own lives around some movement and lifestyle behaviors. And so I don’t think people realize what normative range of motion for my head or what your shoulders are able to do. Typically we’ve told people to work out really hard to be as lean as possible, and when something hurts, we’ll deal with it instead of realizing that this range of motions and its components really make the backbone of being able to have move movement.
Also, people have been firehosed with information that can be very confusing—from static stretching is bad for you to do yoga, here’s a percussion gun—and people become confused and don’t know where to start in order to feel better at managing their bodies. We as an industry have necessarily made the case for taking care of our bodies very well.
JS: In our industry, people who gravitate toward health an fitness think they know about mobility, but I don’t think it’s been clearly defined. It can be difficult to make the distinction between, mobility, flexibility, stretching, yoga, and it becomes sort of this jumbled situation. Maybe we haven’t done the best job in our lane of explaining to people why they should care about doing it. Usually people start caring when they get injured— like a real catastrophic kind of injury, like an ACL tear or chronic low back pain—but haven’t yet made the connection that some aches and pains can be relieved with some really basic mobility work.
We haven’t done the best job of explaining to people that if you put input into your body in the form of, you know, mobilizing basic isometrics doing things like sitting on the floor that you actually can move towards being in a pain free state more often.
Take a Hardcover Approach to a Social Media Situation
JS: Fitness is almost a trillion dollar industry. And it doesn’t seem like we know we’ve done a good job of solving the aches and pains of society. It’s clearly not working, especially if you look at all the data points like obesity, diabetes, depression, injuries such as ACL tears, you name it. From a health standpoint, it’s getting worse as a species.
There’s a billion books about how to weight train if you go on to social media, you can you know, if you’re not an expert, you’re not sure whether you should intermittent fast, and what supplement you should take and what diet you should be on and what you should lift and how much and how often. And so I think by and large people are confused by this firehose of information. hasn’t
So what we saw was, OK, if we continue to be on this downhill trajectory as a group, in terms of our overall health, and yet simultaneously, there’s more and more and more information available, so it was not working. And so we wanted to sort of create this unified place where people who care about their health—sort of like a health 401k—and have this objective set of 10 benchmarks they can keep an eye on their whole life, you’ll over time start to experience less pain, become more durable and feel better for as long as you’re alive.
We are huge fans of the word “durable’—we prefer that over using the term longevity. No one cares about living to be 105 if the last 20 years of our life we’re stuck in bed and our life [and health] sucks. We know we can’t speak for everyone, but for Kelly and I, we still want to be able to ski and ride our mountain bikes, travel, hike—and deadlift. No one’s ever really asked anyone about their [long-term] movement goals. We feel like this is a manual for becoming a durable human. And literally, if people did these 10 things and kept an eye on these 10 benchmarks, it would turn the tide of health overall.
Focus on Your Body Benchmarks
JS: We understand people’s lives get busy and crazy, but that, you know, there’s probably going to be four or five things that everybody should keep an eye on. And they now have a benchmark for it. It’s like your blood pressure like you know what your blood pressure is. And you know, if your your blood pressure benchmark has gotten too high, and once that happens, it’s something you keep an eye on. So we want to we want all these practices to be a benchmark that people keep an eye on.
KS: You are really durable and designed to be durable and you’re probably going to be 100 years old. So let’s start pretending like the person that you’re going to be tomorrow isn’t the person with more willpower or who’s going to be more motivated. That’s how we tend to think. Instead, what we need to do is just get started with the basics today. Every single day is a brand new opportunity to get a little bit better, move a little bit more and make slightly different choices—like going to bed a half hour early for example. And if you blow it one day, don’t stress, you’re human—the most badass animal on the planet. You have the chance to get back on track the next day. And if you have the opportunity to get some more exercise on top of that, then you’re killing it.
In short, we just want to just remind people that their bodies are really extraordinary and built for the long haul.
Plan Now, Enjoy Later
KS: We have to give people better tools. And we’ve spent the better part of now two decades trying to figure out a more effective way where people can integrate these essential behaviors into their daily hectic work life. So we’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about behavior change and sort of mechanics behavioral change, how do we create new habits? How do we know how we reduce the barrier to entry, all of the how do we reduce resistance? And when we apply those two things, let’s make it show people how they don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater that they can live a better life in the context of lives they lead, and they all they need to do is influence to improve or give resources to the people around them. That’s a really powerful recipe for change.
JS: We don’t always want to point to the negative, but when it comes to using your body to do the things you want to do, there’s a lot of truth to either use it or lose it. We were on a podcast recently, and the host had a young child and needed two sets of grandparents to help, and one of the grandmothers was unable to sit on the ground and play with her own grandchild, and she’s just 67! Move it or lose it is a real thing when it comes to your body, and just like saving for retirement, we don’t get to enjoy that money now. You may not see massive changes or set a gigantic PR, but putting some input into your body now is going to pay dividends for you long term in terms of physical success and well being.