Fix Your Body, Feet First
– The MOVEMENT Movement with Steven Sashen Episode 114 with Kelly Starrett
Kelly Starrett is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, author, speaker and CrossFit trainer. His 2013 fitness book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, was featured on The New York Times bestselling sports books list. He is a co-founder, with his wife Juliet Starrett, of the fitness website The Ready State, formerly MobilityWOD.
Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Kelly Starrett about fixing your body feet first.
Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:
– Why it’s important to have your foot at a straight angle when you’re standing or walking.
– How humans default to their most practice behaviors and movement positions.
– Why you should have 50% of your weight on the ball of your foot and 50% on the heel.
– How losing movement choices shuts down your brain’s ability to access positions.
– Why having limited range of motion can cause your foot to spin out to compensate that position.
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What if the number one thing you could do to improve mobility, performance, maybe flexibility is change the angle of your feet when you walk. We’re going to take a look at that and a whole lot more in today’s conversation on the Movement Movement podcast, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body. Starting feet first because you know, those things are your foundation. We break down the propaganda, the mythology, and often the outright lies you’ve been told from frankly big shoe about what it takes to walk or run or play or hike or do yoga or CrossFit, whatever it is you like to do and to do that enjoyably, efficiently. Did I mention enjoyably as a trick question? I know I did. Because look, if you’re not having fun, do something different till you are. You’re not going to keep it up anyway if it’s not a good time.
I’m Steven Sashen, CEO and co-founder of Xeroshoes.com, your host of the Movement Movement podcast. We call it the Movement Movement because we’re creating a movement, we’ll talk about that in a second about natural movement, letting your body do what it’s designed to do and showing people, helping them rediscover that that is the obvious, better, healthy choice. The same way we currently think about natural food. And the first movement is involving you. It’s nothing you have to do, you don’t have to pay anything, there’s no membership card. There’s no secret handshake other than just sharing what you discover about natural movement. And one way you can do that, go to our website, www.jointhemovement,movement.com. You’ll find the previous episodes, all the ways you can interact with us on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram, et cetera. All the ways you can download the podcast in different places.
And look, you know what to do, share, like, thumbs up, review, et cetera. In short, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe. So let us jump in. Kelly Starrett, it is a pleasure to chat with you and I’m going to let everyone know we should’ve started this conversation a half an hour ago because that’s when you and I started it and we just could keep going for hours, but here we are. For the five people on the planet who currently don’t know who you are, tell them who you are and what you do.
Oh boy. Great dancer, connoisseur of cookies and ice cream. Look, I am a physical therapist by training, but I’m a strength and conditioning and movement coach. And what I would say is I’ve actually spent a bulk of my time thinking about how we can help people take care of their own bodies. And whether that’s, how do I get out of pain myself? How do I improve my positioning mechanics, how do I self-soothe? We’re really trying to help launch and continue to nurture this revolution about you being able to understand what’s going on with you.
I love it. Now, before we jump in, I have to confess something. The last time you and I talked, which I think was in, what, 1927, something way back when. We had this great conversation, I recorded it, I was planning on doing really neat things with it. We got off, I hit save and my computer crashed and I lost the whole thing. And I emailed you and told you that. And we basically have had almost no conversation since then. And I was convinced that you thought I was snowing you in some way or mad at me for something. And I knew I was making this shit up in my head, but nonetheless I was so upset because it was such a great conversation gone into the ether thanks to the magic of computer technology-
Well, the good news is that we are much more reasonable men, reasonable people now. And we have even more experience so we can actually try to solve some of these problems now.
I think it’s fine that you said more experience instead of saying, dude, what happened with all that gray in your hair, where’d that come from?
Ended up in my beard is where it happened.
Yeah. Luckily, I can’t grow a beard because if I did, it’s all gray, it’s really crazy. That’s what happens apparently at 59 and a half, at least that’s what seemingly happened in me. So let’s jump in and talk about what I teased things with about feet. This is a really provocative thing about some things you’ve discovered about biomechanics, and I’m going to let you just lead. And I know I’m going to have a bunch of questions that I’m going to ask you once you start doing that.
One of the issues I think is that we are all having a conversation about what’s the fastest way of Everest, which equipment do I take? Do I carry oxygen or not? And meanwhile, no one is at base camp yet, we don’t have bodies that are durable and done all the preparation for exercise or for performance or going along or straining ourselves. And one of the things that ends up happening a lot that we witnessed in high-performance environments in which we work, which is everywhere, we see that people are coming in with either complex behavior solutions, complex technology solutions on tops of complex behaviors. And that means that, oh, we have a fitness problem and a health problem America, everyone gets a Peloton. Well, it just doesn’t scale, maybe it’s incomplete thinking. Certainly Peloton can help us out of this thing a little bit, but it’s maybe an incomplete thought.
So, what is it that humans need to do? And more importantly, what are the places where I can recognize that a lot of people are really busy, that they are working at their limits of their available capacity, they have jobs and families. They’re trying to do the right thing, they’re trying to make better decisions. So how can I constrain the environment so that it’s not another thing I have to do? I don’t have to go through some foot activation program but my environment is nurturing my positions, it’s nurturing my tissues, it’s nurturing my movement behaviors. And it turns out that learning and practicing to stand with your feet straight and walking with your feet straight means that when we start to add speed to that, when we start to add load or intensity to that, it’s a behavior that my brain has practiced for thousands of reps.
And if you want to have a foot that works well, then you’re going to need to have that foot be straight when you walk, when you stand. And again, this isn’t about pain or no pain because that certainly can be an ongoing run-on aspect of having incomplete foot function. But if you want to have the miracle, the full bounty of the miracle of your big toe, of your plantar fascia, of your ankle, of your hip extension, having your foot straight is going to at least unlock that potential to you. So again, this isn’t a conversation of poverty like, “Oh, you’re above the poverty line, great, by $1. I want you to have full access to the miracles that are your feet and body. So one of the things you can start doing is practicing standing and walking with your feet straight.” And it turns out you can walk with your feet turned out like ducks your whole life until you want to run fast and run far or cut or jump and land your strongest position.
So, there’s a great saying that one of our friends a coach says, there’s more variation in waltzing than there is in sprinting. Which means that low load, low speed, we can buffer a lot. But when we start to extrapolate that out, when we start to go long or start to go fast, you’ll see that the best functions and methodologies of how the human body functions, what our physiology says we should move, all sorts of approximate. And guess what, the fastest runners on the world walk and run and jump and land with their feet straight.
It’s interesting if you watch … I had this conversation with Nick Romanov who created Pose Method for Running, and we were talking about this and we pulled up a video of you seeing Bolt running in slow motion. And you’re looking at his form, and it’s impeccable. But then you look at the other seven guys in the race. And except for the guy who was last, which was still running super-fast, they all had the exact same form. The better you get, the more it just goes to whatever that ideal is. But let’s start with two things. One, for many people just, they don’t know where their feet are pointing to begin with.
And I know the fact that we’ve already said this sort of poison the well. If they’re going to stand up, they’re going to adjust their posture a little bit because they want to do it right, and they want their feet to be pointing in the right direction to begin with. So can you give people an idea of something they could do, I’m imagining like close your eyes, march in place, stop, and then take a look at your feet or something to see what their natural, I don’t want to say natural, their habitual position is before we talk about what it’s going to take to move them into something feet straight and more effective.
Well, the real question is why aren’t your feet straightened? Now, that’s really-
That’s was where I was going next, man.
So really ultimately let’s look at movement as a behavior, and that’s a choice, and sometimes it’s an unconscious choice. We say that humans will default to their conditioning, they’ll default to their most practiced behaviors, their most practiced positions. It’s almost like we can say practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. And we know the key to adult learning is repetition and that a child has to do something over 10,000 times. They’ll fall and cruise and sit and stand. There’s a lot of tolerance in the system. And I think the foundational issue is it’s okay to turn your feet when you need to cut or you’re walking on a weird surface or you’re … That’s why you’re supposed to have all this variability so that you can walk down a river bed and have to make your feet where they were.
But when we’re standing or lifting or moving, practicing with intention, we cultivate what we call a reference foot position. And that reference foot position is that if you just find yourself standing … And by the way, yoga calls this tadasana, it’s almost like we’ve done this for a long time. You should have 50% of your weight on the ball of your foot and 50% of your weight on your heel. And then you should be able to put your big toe on the ground. And if you look down, your ankles should be in the middle of your feet. So if your knees come in, your ankles are now in the inside of your feet. And if you pick your big toes up and roll them on the knife edge, your ankles are now biased towards the outside of your feet. And so if you just look down and put your ankle so it’s not too far in, not too far out the right in the middle of your ankle, right in the middle of your foot, that’s called subtalar neutral in the world.
And if you’re balanced front to back, you now have a fantastic reference foot position. In that position, you’re going to begin to have all the access to the incredible physiology. So for example, one of the reasons that you’ll see that everyone on the planet who is into performance either starts at the pelvis and ends at the feet or starts at the feet, ends at the pelvis. It doesn’t matter where you go. And eventually, you’re going to become obsessed with feet and obsessed with breathing. There’s the pathway of the modern-
Hold on. Don’t leave your butt out of the equation because you’re getting obsessed with your glutes as well.
Well, it ends up being a little sidepiece. You realize you can’t have your glutes unless we talk about what’s going on with your feet. So check this out. One of the things that we have a poor understanding of generally culturally is how our spines develop stability. Trust me, we have been embracing the core for 10 years at least. Working on core strength and it doesn’t seem to have mattered very much. So let me give you a mechanism for how this works, it’s not just rock solid abs that makes it work. Your pelvis sitting on top of your femurs and you have these two balls and sockets. And so imagine your pelvis can just wobble around on your femurs. The way that your body creates stability is not by making your butt pull down and making your quads pull forward and then you’re in some kind of tug of war with two long ropes.
It’s through the rotation developed by the femur to pelvis relationship. So everyone the rotator cuff of their shoulder, but do you know you have a rotator cuff of your hip? You have six rotators. In fact, I think you have upwards of 13 to 18 if I’m not wrong muscles that externally rotate your leg or have a movement that externally rotates your leg. Now, this is important because even the connected tissue systems of your leg create an automatic passive extra rotation. What I’m saying is by external rotation, if you lay on the ground and you’re taking a sunbath, you’re lying in the sun, well, your toes will fall apart, your legs will fall out to the side. That is the connective tissue systems of your body unwinding. And so that tensionality, that torsion is automatically opening up.
So when you stay with your foot straight, one of the things that happens is you automatically capture these mechanism of winding that makes your pelvis stable on your femur, which makes your lumbar stable on your pelvis, and your thoracic spine stable on your, and up the chain. And so what ends up happening is that if I’m forward too far or back too far, then I’ve got to have to make up for that sway in the system, I’m going to have to push the rope a different way. If my feet are turned out, I can’t access the power of the musculature, the power of the connective tissue winding that makes my pelvis stable. So we can’t talk about your pelvic function without talking about your feet. And I can’t talk about your feet without looking at is your pelvis in a catawampus, over-extended compensation position. So there are some base organization positions that work pretty well when we want them to go fast or under a big load or a long way.
If you look at the triple jumpers in the Olympics, not a single one of them, that’s probably the most force anyone can possibly take off a single leg in any sport. So you’re seeing these superhuman people run down and triple jump on one leg, boom, boom, leg, leg, leg. And all of them have defaulted to a foot straight position where their arch doesn’t collapse, where the knee is in valgus because that’s the only way the system can actually create enough stability for them to create force. And so by constraining that system on a single leg, you’ll see they don’t have the choice of staying with their legs out. So what’s interesting is that so many of our modern behaviors where we’re not walking a ton or sitting on the ground of we don’t have dynamic strong feet and we’re in these sensory deprivation coffin feet, thinking Muscles and Meridians, Phillip Beach.
And the idea here is when we begin to help people by constraining the system, hey, when you get a chance and you can think about it, get your feet straight. If you’re washing dishes, just practice with your feet straight. When you’re walking, just try to bring some consciousness. Don’t worry about it, you’re going to need lots of reps, lots of behaviors. And pretty soon that becomes your default learning so that when you want to go fast or spring across with the feet straight or pick up a 5K, it’s not one more thing we’re going to have to train you out of.
I had a conversation this morning with Dr. Isabel Sacco in Brazil. She did a study where she took elderly women over 65 who had knee osteoarthritis and put them in a super cheap minimalist shoe. And she wanted to do something super cheap because it was available in Brazil and studied them for six months. And at the end of six months, one of the first things she said was one of the results was they went from having their feet turned out to having their straight. And I said, did you look at glute activation as well? She goes, “Yeah, their glutes were working better too.” I’m curious if you have any thoughts about if someone’s going to practice walking with their feet straight, obviously you and I agree barefoot whenever you can. But if that’s not going to happen, what might help people do that? Or in other words, I’m thinking … Let me back up and do it this way.
I had something going on with my right leg where it was externally rotated a bit. And someone gave me an exercise where they had the idea that somehow I’d be able to relax enough where my foot would come back to being straight. And after weeks of doing this with no effect, I just forced my foot straight and tried to see if I could relax into that. And I did, and then it was solved in 20 seconds. So I forced my way there and then found a way to chill out, and that made it change. Do you have any suggestions for people who notice their feet are turned out who want to experiment with walking that might make it not necessarily easier but may … You and I talked about Moshé Feldenkrais before, they might give their brain the information that it needs to make that adjustment more effortlessly.
There’s a million ways into this, right? What I like to think of is sometimes the brain is so clever that if you give it more degrees of freedom it will automatically do the right thing. Let me tell you what I mean. So I work in all levels of professional sports. One of the things I don’t do when I’m working with athletes and teams is I don’t adjust technique. If you have a running coach, it’s your running coach’s business to teach you running. And I’m not ever as a physio or performance coach or certification coach going to give you running advice. My job is that you’re prepared to be able to receive the information that your coach is teaching you. It gets me out of hot water because I’m not arguing about how this NFL quarterback should be throwing the ball or how this Cy Young Award winner pitcher should be going or how this skier should be skiing.
What I do is to restore what it is you should be able to do that. We move and teach to the highest expressions of the movement. One of the ways that we can begin to do that is by saying, well, do you have access to your native physiology? I’m talking about the range of motion that every physician says you should have on the planet, every physical therapist say, every chiro, every naturopath, every osteo, every kinesio. Everyone agrees that within a standard deviation unless you have some weird congenital thing going on, which happens very, very rarely, very rarely. What you’ll see is that everyone has about the same range of motion within about five degrees. And that five degrees doesn’t matter, that’s irrelevant because you are missing 100% of your range of motion in some ranges or, excuse me, hyperbole 80% of your range of motion in these ranges.
So, what ends up happening is that your brain when it starts losing movement choice and options starts to shut down potentiation and starts to shut down your ability to access positions. And so your center of balance is a little bit off or you can’t react as quickly. And it’s because your brain is again the most sophisticated structure in our universe. So one of our hypotheses, which we’ve been running forever, and remember, I’m a classically trained physical therapists, and so range of motion matters is that when we restore people’s native ranges or help them move towards those ideals, and what I’m saying is not Simone Biles gymnast craziness, I’m talking about basic range of motion, then we don’t have to have a lot of these this is my Kung Fu grip, this is your Kung Fu grip style conversations because suddenly what we’re doing is reintroducing choice to the brain.
And so, here’s a simple way of thinking that, we tend to see as modern people that we do not spend a lot of time with the leg trailing the body in a big lunge position. We call this hip extension. So if I stood up from a chair, I’m extending the hip. But taking the hip where my knee comes behind my butt like I’m sprinting, that’s hip extension. And it turns out that most people are highly deficient in hip extension. You’ll see it if I look at your total movement language for the day. You may walk around a little bit and your knee is going behind you a few, but it’s not going towards its native range of motion very much, the limits of its native range. So yes, it’s important that you spend some time there and learn how to control that.
And we have things like lunges and isometrics and a whole toast of millions of ways of training those positions and shapes. But ultimately, you can’t get into that shape whether you want to or not actively or passively because you’re stiff or your brain is trying to protect you. Both things are valid. So what ends up happening is that people don’t recognize that when their foot comes down when they’re running or walking that foot started from somewhere, and it started behind your body. So if you don’t have the range of motion behind your body, then what you’re going to do is you’re going to spin out that foot to compensate for that position. And so as you start to stride over the foot, the foot will turn out or stay turned out and then you’ll end up swinging around. And when you come through to put your foot down again, guess what, it’s no longer straight. And it takes a very conscious person to straighten their foot in high-speed. In fact, I would say it’s impossible to do that. And so what ends up happening is that you have-
I got to tell you about that. when I was in the lab with Dr. Bill Sands, former head of biomechanics for the US Olympic Committee. He films you at 500 frames a second when you’re running on a treadmill, in this giant treadmill. It’s like 5 feet wide, 10 feet long. You’re in a mission impossible harness in case you face plant, so you hover over the ground instead. I said, “Why are you filming at 500 frames a second?” He goes, “You can’t get any information at anything less than that.” The last two frames, so one-250th of a second, my right foot was averting about 15 degrees. And there was nothing I could do consciously about it, I didn’t even know it was happening. And what was going on for me was I’d had a bunch of hamstring pulls, and so I had the tightness part that once I resolved that it all went away. But to your point, it’s like, yeah, some of this stuff at high speed, it’s just so wired you can’t consciously do anything. So back-
No, no, you’re absolutely nailing it. And nor should we have to be consciously thinking about … Those are called running drills that we do for practicing physicians for five minutes because turns out human movement is skill based, running is a skill. That ultimately we want to work on and refine and work on. And this red-eye and this marathon jumping afterwards and sitting at my desk for this deadline may have altered my range of motion temporarily. So I’m trying to reclaim that through my movement skill, movement training, movement practice, movement prep. So what ends up happening then is when we start to see that my start position is actually dictated by my finish position, then it’s going to be really difficult for me to understand why I overstride, why my arch hyper collapses. Yes, there’s pronation that happens in the foot but not when the foot is under your base of support.
If you put that foot way out in front of you and give it an hour to collapse, it will take an hour before that foot goes to its end ranges of the seatbelt, hangs on all the ligaments. You’ve power stretched all your torso, your plantar fascia, your posterior tib is locked down. And then you’re trying to put pulse on that. Your big toe doesn’t work, you can’t spring off this thing. And all of a sudden you’re like, “I don’t know why I’m so slow. Why am I so slow coach?” Well, it turns out you cannot run your fastest overstriding, hitting your brakes. So one of the things that we do, for example, when we work with runners is we’ll constrain the system. We automatically say you have to run 96, not 94, not 92, not 90 cadence on the right foot, but 96.
I make them so high that they can’t actually overstride off the back. So I make it so that their stride legs comes up, they get spring air, they’re powerful. Of course, 90 is fine on hills when you’re a skilled master, you can do whatever you want. But we immediately say, okay, well, it’s going to take a second to improve your hip extension, but let’s constrain the environment so that we have a better foot contact. Because now we’re talking apples to apples not apples to oranges. And you can imagine now we’re seeing a shifting sands of a human being continually molded by the amount of sitting we’re doing, the lack of exercise, the lack of hip extension. And then all of a sudden we’re like, fitness is cool, running is school, everyone can run, so rad. By the way, I have the shoe that has some magical control that when you come sliding in the shoe will be there to prevent you from going through the windshield.
And all you have to do is think about it in those terms enough and you’re like, “Well, that’s a crazy sport I engage in. I find out what the limits of my tissue tolerance is. And can I find the right biomechanical cushion to limit this technique error?” So what I’m saying in shorthand is if we start doing some, we call it the couch stretch, it’s a position we invented. You can Google couch stretch and do it while you’re watching TV. It’s an exaggerated running hip extension position. You can do ELDOAs in a hip extension position, you can get into a lunge. You can just lunge and squeeze your butt. But what you’ve also talked about was that if you can’t extend your hip, one of the things that first turns off is your glutes. And so if your hip is inflection or fluxion biased, that means your hamstrings now are doing what? They’re extending your hip and flexing your leg.
That means your hamstrings always are doing that, but now they have to do the work of the butt. No wonder you’re a runner with a flat butt, you can extend your hip because your hips are so short in the front or you don’t have access to your hip extension. So when we teach hip extension, we also teach it with, can you practice squeezing your glutes there? So the faster you walk, the faster your run needs, it’s your glute that’s predominantly driving your hip extension and that springiness, it’s not just your hamstrings doing double duty. And that means your pelvis is more stable, your lower limb functions more effectively. And all I did was give you your hip extension back. And sometimes when we’re talking about all this complex behavior modulations, I’m like, hey, do you notice that you can’t squat all the way to the ground? Isn’t that weird? You can’t squat and take a poop in the woods or lower yourself to the ground or sit cross-legged or extend your hip.
And yet we’re arguing about what the fastest way of Everest is. So let’s get to base camp first and then you can take any way of Everest you want, then we can argue about what shoe you like the best or which shoe is the cutest or which training template allows you to handle the most volume. I don’t care about that stuff because we’re arguing based on these logical fallacies underneath.
So, I’m going to say two things thing or maybe three. Thing number one, for anyone listening slash watching this, you’re going to want to … First of all … I’m not going to do it this way. Kelly, I need to give you an award. You’re the only person I’ve met who talks at least as fast as I do. So a pleasure for me. And people have said to me that they listen to most podcasts at double speed except for mine. So I’m going to suggest that people go back and listen to this at like half speed because you threw out so much so quickly that … Even if you’re taking notes and you’re a stenographer, people will miss a lot of the subtle little things that you said, which is totally dreamy.
And I want to throw out a variation on what you just said about using your glutes for walking and everything we were just talking about. When I, quote, teach people how to walk, I give them a drill to do or something to play with. I go, think about being a skater. So when you’re skating, you use that one foot that’s on the ground that’s actually active to drive back, to drive your heel back. That’s the thing that moves you. You’ve got one foot that you’re sliding on and a foot that’s pushing back that’s moving you forward. So let’s do the same thing when you’re walking. I say lift your left foot slightly off the ground, half an inch off the ground. Don’t do anything with your left foot, leave it there. Don’t lift it, don’t put it in front of you, leave it alone.
And now like you’re skating, push back with your right leg and just use your left leg to keep you from falling on your face. And then repeat on the other side, lift your right leg slightly off the ground, push with your left leg and then just use your right leg to keep you from falling on the ground. Make it look a little less mechanical and a little less robotic. Basically this is just training people to start using their glutes as the prime mover for walking. And eventually it becomes much more subtle. But then you notice you’re walking and your back doesn’t hurt, your knees don’t hurt, you’re gliding along a little more. It looks like you’re having a good time when you’re doing it instead of pogo sticking from one leg to another to another.
And like you were saying before, then that’s going to go … If you’re going to start with the glutes and go down to the feet, that’s one way of doing it. Start with the feet, you’re going to start feeling the blues. It’s a two way communication.
And to your point, it’s like until … One of the things that’s really interesting to me about humans, and by interesting, I mean annoying as crap is that if we get some minor injury, we forget that the goal of our body, if you will, is just to get back to the point where we can survive not get back to the point that we were pre-injury. So these little things we do, I mean little things can get us having some little imbalance or some little tightness or stiffness or laxity that if we don’t pay attention to we’ll habituate to it. We’re not going to notice it, and then it’s just going to get progressively worse as we work around it instead of getting back to the way it should be.
And like you were saying, getting back to the basics. I like the idea of basics and base camp, getting back to the basics to make sure that the fundamental stuff is working properly before we try and do the heavy duty stuff that is just much more refined that you’re not necessarily ready for. And of course, the biggest problem is we’re not going to know we’re not ready for it unless we do something to check and see where we are with those basic movement patterns. That basic flexibility, that basic mobility.
I agree with all of that. And one of the things that I really like that I stole from a running coach in the Olympics, she would have her athletes speed walk an 800 before they ran. And the reason is you don’t actually require a lot of glute recruitment to walk, it’s because the glute is the biggest strongest muscle in the body. People can squat 1,500 pounds, 1,400 pounds, that’s not hyperbole. They squat a lot, they can deadlift a ton. That butt is really, really strong. Look at our sprinters, why do our sprinters have such big, strong, beautiful butts? Because they use that butt to extend the hip. So walking quickly is a really easy way to upregulate the demands of your glutes while you’re walking. And it’s an easy way just to remind yourself.
I love your walk drill. And I used to say, I’m like squeeze your butt as hard as you can and walk. Just take 20 steps like every minute or so and you’ll be like, “Well, my butt’s burning.” And all we’re doing is just trying to remind your brain your butt is actually in the back there, it’s there. But that 800 meter walk before you go for a run, walk quickly and you’ll be like, “Wow, I can feel my butt working,” otherwise you may not. One of the things that we try to help people understand is that I have a concept called positional inhibition that you’re not weak but in some positions you don’t function as well as other positions. So here’s a test you can do, and I’ll give you two examples of what I’m talking about. I’m going to have you stand up and stand with your feet straight, and you can imagine this if you’re doing this, so standup while you’re listening.
And all I want you to do is try to rip a hole in the floor. So pretend your feet are on dinner plates, they have to be straight. The right foot will go clockwise, the left will go counter-clockwise. But don’t do it from the foot, do it from the glutes, try to do the whole chain. And your job is to try to create as much tension and torsion as you can. Okay, great. Now, turn your feet up to 30 degrees, which is a reasonable standard position for a lot of people. Now try to create the same amount of power there. And what you’re going to see is that you can’t. As that hip moves externally, as I mechanically unwind and put it out, I put those hip rotators into a position where they don’t have a lot of efficacy, where they don’t have a lot of purchase on the system.
So, I’ve become positionally inhibited, that position of inhibition. And so when my feet is straight again, oh, I’m so strong. When I throw my feet out, wow, I’m super weak and less effective. Now, that’s a good example of, hey, I can begin to access my functionality when I start to constrain the system. And in this system constraint, I’m talking about, for example, if I don’t want to eat cookies in the house, I don’t have cookies in the house. If I want to have better glutes, I just stand with my feet straight and I’m suddenly going to automatically have that. And don’t get me wrong, it may be uncomfortable initially to practice standing, so don’t worry about it. Do what you can, move around, do what you can, move around.
There’s another thing to notice when people do that is watch what happens at your arch when you do that because for all the-
Oh, stop, stop. 100%, 100%. Let me just say this on record, I have never met a human being that does not have an arch. People have little arches, people have some arch. But we have taken a room full of, this is not hyperbole, 800 people in a room, and we teach them how to create this passive rotation. And what you realize is that the arch is connected all the way up to your butt and that when you actually rotate that system, everyone creates an art. So even the most flat, horrific elephant feet all of a sudden have an arch. And again, it’s not a huge arch, but it’s integrity back in the foot. So you’re absolutely right that we’re making decisions about losing some of the springiness. The Russians say when you stop jumping you start dying.
The Russians have a concept, Nikolai talks about springiness, Doctor Romanov in his book. And that springiness is a concept of I need to put my body into position where I can leverage my bony mechanics, my fashion mechanics, my muscular mechanics. I need to be able to have all of those things working to help me be springing. When you run slower than 90 contacts per minute on one side, guess what, you’re not able to tap into those fashion spring systems as effectively as you do when you’re at a higher cadence. It’s one of the reasons why we like a higher cadence. And higher cadences automatically happen with people when they run barefoot. Here’s another test around glutes because I want you to have choice so that if you’re running and you don’t need a lot of glute it’s fine. But if all of a sudden I’m like, “Sprint,” and you can’t find your glutes then, that’s a problem.
I want your brain to be able to get into that turbocharger. So we do a jump rope drill all the time, I’m a huge fan of jump rope. And I jump rope with feet together because it forces me to land with my feet straight, and it forces me to teach myself to land on the ball of my foot and to be springy. It’s an easy way to practice springiness. I jump rope every day, it’s part of my biking part before I warm up to run before I warm up to push a sled, before I warn up to lift, I always jump rope. When you’re jump roping, see if you can, one, continue to breathe through your nose while you’re jumping roping. That’s an important skill. And number two, you’re not going from breath hold to breath hold. See if you can make a choice about squeezing your butt or not.
And if you’re jump roping and not squeezing your butt, you are landing when you’re running and not using your big shock absorber to absorb the weight of your body. So I want you to be able to choose. Now, look, you don’t have to jump rope like a cobra flexing its hoo at 100% butt squeeze, but I want you to be able to choose that amount of butt squeeze. If I needed it, I could have 100%. But I’m just going to trust my body will use as much as it needs. And so we use those tests, in this position, can you squeeze your butt? If you can’t, get into a position where you can. Okay, that’s a position that allows and gives your body more movement choice and more access to its native physiology, which means it’s more robust, which also means it can run faster or longer.
And FYI, I used to be a competitive jump roper. You nailed it again, we’re talking-
Glutes to feet and back because when you watch people jumping rope, it looks like they’re landing and then having to recoil and then jump again rather than bouncing off the ground. You know that their glutes aren’t engaged. And jumping rope should feel like you’re a drop of water hitting a super-hot plate, it just bounces off. That’s a weird analogy, I couldn’t think of any one better at the time. That was annoying just watching my brain come up with a crap analogy, but what are you going to do? I mean, it really should feel like a hot potato like you’re barely touching the ground rather than landing, jumping, landing, jumping. And the only way you can do that is if you’re using your glutes or if your glutes are making you a spring by being engaged or before you think you need them.
I don’t want you to think about your glutes while you’re running, I want you to think about other things. I shouldn’t have to think about that. When you’re under heavy load, I don’t need you to be worried about are my glutes working? It doesn’t work. I want you to worry about, can I keep up with this person running next to me? Can I sprint ahead and win the championship and the love of this beautiful person? So much of what we talked about today is here’s what we know about best function. Now, stay with me for this logic jump. I talked about reference foot position, hold the foot in 50%, heel 50%, foot straight. Now, put on any shoe in your closet. Once you’ve been barefoot and organize that foot position and see how your shoe is either pushing you out of that reference foot position or sustains that reference foot position.
So, if you put a shoe on all of a sudden you feel like you’re falling off a cliff or you’re unbalanced or there’s a twist in your arch or your weight is thrown onto your toe, then that shoe is not a great shoe. The best shoe on the planet is the shoe that does not interrupt your foot function and your feet being able to perceive what’s going on with the ground. How much cushion you need or how hard the durometer of the shoe is depends on the surface that you’re on. It’s a variable idea. I do this with a big high school. Once a year, I go to High School, and I always make the kids take their feet out, shoes off, we do a squat drill. I have them run, and then I have them put their shoes back on and they’re like, “Whoa, gross, oh my gosh, I can’t feel anything. Look at my foot position, my pressure’s off.”
And I’m like, “Okay, now run kids.” And they’re like, “No, I’m not putting my shoes back on, don’t make me do it Dr. Starrett.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So that is an easy test if your toes are compressing, if you’re being driven. And it’s interesting that all the shoes behind you pass that test. So there are a whole lot of shoes on the market actually that do pass that test. But if you’re looking for a good shoe, stand barefoot, bring your awareness, slip into any shoe on the planet that you like that makes you feel pretty, makes you feel handsome, makes you feel like a person and not interrupt. And suddenly what you can see is, hey, this is a fashion implement. I’m going to wear this with jeans for two hours, it’s not going to wreck my body. But that is not the shoe I’m going to live in day-to-day or try to practice my function in because it’s asking me to do something.
I’s like your car is always pulling you to the left, that’s so annoying. Why is my car drifting to the left? That’s the analogy, like a water droplet always going to the left on a hot plate.
I like that you gave people permission to, let’s say, wear shitty shoes for temporary periods of time. I had a couple of-
Those are bike shoes and ski boots; you have to wear crappy shoes once a while.
We have a couple of professional hockey players who reached out and said, “Just you know we’ve been wearing your shoes when we’re off the ice, and we’re skating better now because when we were in our boots it was destroying our feet because we weren’t able to move them at all. And then we weren’t doing anything about it afterwards, and we just got progressively weaker. And now it seems weird that we’ve gotten stronger from wearing these shoes, more accurately from using our feet. And we’re actually skating better even when we’re in a position where our feet can’t move, which I just love.”
Nailed it, nailed it.
That’s a fun one. Look, I know that you’ve got to go and we could keep doing this forever, so we’re going to do a part two. But before we pause for that, and I don’t know when we’ll do that, why don’t you tell people how they can find out more about what we’ve been talking about, what you’ve been doing, and how they can engage in this process of getting back to natural and base camp before they … Well, it doesn’t matter where you are now. I had a weird flashback, back in my All-American gymnast days, my coach who was a brilliant, brilliant guy, still is said during one summer, he goes, “We’re going to work on nothing but round offs this entire summer.” It’s like, “What? I’m already one of the top gymnast in the country, what are you talking about?” “Yeah, but you got some little form things that are going on, we need to clean those up before you’re going to be able to make it to the next level.”
And I was furious because I wanted to work on all these amazing things that summer. And all I did was nothing but round-offs. And then without doing anything else when we got back to the other stuff I wanted to do, I was instantly able to do it. So no matter where you’re starting going back and checking to make sure the basics are in place is critically important. So with that lead in, tell people how they can find you and start discovering this for themselves.
Yeah. I’ll just dovetail on that, that’s really important that when we start practicing better function in all our movements. The gym has been very confusing, especially for runners because basically what end up happening is we’re like, “Get stronger, have bigger physiology, that will make you a better runner. Just put a bigger engine in the car, just more cylinders is all you need. Strength is never a weakness, more cylinders. And what we’re realizing that the strength and conditioning is actually coordination and practice training, and we’re looking for transferability. And so one of the things that I’m doing all the time, your coach did this by practicing this position, it’s that he was able to clean up or address or improve mechanical efficiency in some of your landing positions from the other things. And lo and behold, that transferred better. That’s why good squatting, maintaining your arch and maintaining your balance between front and back makes you a better lander on one foot, makes you a more effective runner, makes you a more effective cyclist.
So, all things improve and support all things. That was really the message in that story, which I want people to hear. You don’t have to be a gymnast, you have to practice. And practice is what physical practice meant. And as you go to yoga and you pay attention to your feet, you’re going to have your mind blown in how smart that practice is. It’s really evolved. If you jump into a Pilates class and really know what’s going on with someone’s foot, you’re like, “Joseph was not messing around, Joseph knew some things here.” If you’ve ever been into a gym or a chiro’s office, a physical therapist’s office, you may have run into a book there called Becoming a Supple Leopard, and that book is almost 10 years old. And that really was about how can you make your body, how can you own your own physical health and restore your positioning?
And then really, it’s also about what do those principles look like in the formal language of strength conditioning? So we now are at businesses called The Ready State. We are @TheReadyState on Instagram, on the YouTubes, on the socials and things. And on thereadystate.com, we actually have a two-week free membership where we’ll teach you how to do the basics of taking care of your tissues. And you can cancel after two weeks and have no subscription. But in two weeks, you’ll be spun up enough to be able to say, hey, something hurts, that’s not an injury. We define injury as I can no longer occupy my role in society, I can no longer occupy my role in family or recreation, that’s injury. Everything else is not injury. So everything else, if you’re in pain, that’s your body’s request for change, which may mean, hey, I wonder if something is stiff, I wonder if there’s something wrong with my technique. I wonder if I was under hydrated or under fueled or overly stressed.
So, when we start treating pain just like lack of wattage, lack of output, couldn’t make my splints today, we went out … Your coach has prescribed these splits, you can’t hit these splits. I’m like, “What’s going on with you?” And you’re like, “Well, I ate five pizzas and drank 16 beers and watched Dune last night.” I’m going to be like, “Okay.” One-to-one, I see there’s inputs and outputs. But if your knee hurts after a run, you’re like, “I have knee rabies, I have no idea I’m injured.” That’s not the truth at all. So when it becomes so bad you can’t go to work or be occupier on the family, that’s an injury. Everything else, I’m going to be very clear it’s not injury, it’s information.
So, on our site, we’re going to teach you how to self-soothe. And sometimes that’s just making your brain change its mind about what’s going on with your body. Sometimes that’s a little mild fascial input to restore position or restore how something slides. There is a lot of reasons why something can hurt, but that is the low bar. Really what we’re going to show you is how you can reduce the session cost from your running so you can run more or do whatever sport you want to do more. Or we’re going to show you how you can relax or self-soothe or restore your range of motion. And all it takes honestly to begin this conversation is 10 minutes a night, a ball and a roller. We have lots of techniques and lots of more advanced skills.
You could start with the things in your house to be able to have a conversation about your skill, your awareness, and even your perception of your body. Because you said something right, sometimes you need to remind your brain what your butt does. That’s why we do this butt walk thing we were talking about. Well, if you lay on the ground and put a lacrosse ball and just scoot around on your butt, your brain is going to be like, “Oh, butt, look I can feel the butt. You’re on the butt, that’s the butt.” And guess what, when you stand up, your brain’s like, hey, there’s a butt connection there, I still got it. So some of this is just bringing awareness and input into your brain. If we can just do that, we’ll begin to start and foment a serious revolution.
I’m looking forward to when … First of all, thank you. And secondly, what’s so interesting to me about this conversation in the same way that we talk about you can start at the feet and get to the butt and start at the butt and get to the feet. At some point, we got to start at the brain and get to somewhere, and then we go up to the brain as well. And we forget that part. And there are a number of people who’ve done this, we mentioned Moshé Feldenkrais is one, and there are a number of other. It’s so fascinating to me how much of the restriction or limitation or problems that we run into are not physical per se, it’s just the brain hasn’t gotten the information that it needs to go, “Oh, you want to do that? Oh, okay, I just didn’t think that was safe until right now.”
100%, you said it best. Your brain knows if the position will generate force or absorb force or is a safe position. And if it’s not, it will find a position. Look, I know we’re trying to wrap up, but when we see kids with cerebral palsy, they actually rotate the leg, slam the knee and collapse the arch into a rotate the hip, shoulder does the same thing, elbow flexes, wrist flexes. And guess what, mechanically very stable position, that child can now generate a lot of force off that position. When we have children with altered aspects of their brain that makes motor control more difficult, the brain still has a movement solution for those children, they navigate the world just fine. That’s how incredible your brain is. So when we start to give information back, if you look, last piece of homework, if you look at the homunculus, which is the sensory motor representations of the brain for different parts of your body, your face and lips are huge.
Your brain has lot of power because we need to be able to understand what’s going on, emote and chew and feed and speak. Your hands, number two, hugely important in your hands. And guess what’s number three, your feet. How weird is that? Genitals are pretty big but so are your feet. And what I’m telling you is that when you start to feel more through your feet, suddenly you’re like, “Oh, is that why I do that pebble walking? And is that why I stand on the spiky mat, is that why wearing barefoot starts to make my back feel better?” Because sometimes you’re just not getting input into the brain, and your brain is looking for input all the time. And so all I’m asking for is a return to sanity, return to input.
This is the thing I say all the time, it’s like you have more nerve endings in the soles of your feet than anywhere but your fingertips and your lips, it’s not an accident. You’re supposed to be getting information from that to your brain so your brain knows what to do with the rest of your body. And if you can’t feel it, numb feet are dumb feet, and it makes the rest of your body do the same. And it’s the simplest thing to say. What’s so fun for me is watching people if they take off their shoes or if they’re putting on a pair of Xero Shoes, that look on their face of oh my God because their brain is just waking up again to, right, that’s what I’ve been looking for.
And sometimes it can feel overstimulating for a while because it’s just information, it can be a little overwhelming. But once you get used to it, it’s like you can’t go back. When I walk around town in bare feet, which I do a lot. In fact if, I’m wearing shoes, which I do sometimes too, I wear mismatch colors, I was in Costco the other day in line at the pharmacy and a guy behind me says, “Hey, your shoes don’t match.” And the pharmacist says, “He’s wearing shoes?” When I walk around barefoot, people ask me sometimes, “Well, why are you doing that?” It’s actually my favorite. When kids say why are you doing that when they’re with their parents? I go, “Is it fun when you take off your shoes and walk barefoot?” They go, “Yeah.” I go, “It’s still fun for me too.” It’s just so interesting. Even if it’s not pleasant, pleasant, it’s just so interesting. And that’s what’s so engaging, that’s what makes it so entertaining. And then I also say to people-
Less anecdotally, I got to jump in because go there’s a great study in Norway. And they were like, why are these kids so behaved? What’s the success of this classroom? And it turns out the kids took shoes off and were barefoot in the classroom.
They do it in Japan too.
And guess what, they behave … Lo and behold, it makes better kids maybe because they feel like they’re at home, maybe because they’re getting better sensory input, who knows? But guess what, I think you’re really onto something there. And I’m not going to lie, I have picked up my children barefoot at school, in elementary school for a long time and it made people uncomfortable for a long time. Then they were like, “Oh, that guy. That guy the barefoot guy.”
One day we had an office in East Boulder, and I’m walking into the office and I could see my reflection in the window and I’m wearing ratty shorts and a Xero Shoes t-shirt that I’d worn way too many times. My hair was particularly big that day, and I’m in bare feet. And I see my reflection in the window and I stop and I go, “Oh, I’m that guy.”
Yeah, you’ve become that guy. I’m that guy too. Go train barefoot, you can swing kettlebell barefoot, you can go press barefoot, you can go lunge barefoot, just get a little more input you. I think what you start to see again is what is the body supposed to do? How can I not interrupt that system? I need to walk more, I need to get sunlight, I need to sleep, I need to eat whole foods, I need to feel, I need to cycle, emotionally have good relationships and my body needs to feel what’s going on. Then we can ask what’s next. And when you start to get into those basic conversations about that, then it doesn’t feel like such a big psychological leap. And what you’re doing by asking someone to be in a more flat shoe where they can feel more, doesn’t seem like such a fringe experiment.
I say to people, when I’m walking around barefoot, and I do it in the winter too, and people ask, “Why are you doing this?” or they make some comment, I go, “Would you ask me that question if we were at the beach?” And they say “No.” And I, “Well, just pretend we have post-earthquake beachfront property in Colorado.”
I will steal that, that is amazing. Steven, thank you so much man, I love talking to you.
Well, for everyone else, first of all, thank you all for being here. Thank you again, Kelly, check out his website, check him out on Instagram and YouTube and all the rest. I look forward to hearing what your experience is when you do. And again, go over to www.jointhemovementmovement.com to get previous episodes, find out everything we’re doing. If you have any suggestions by the way, people you think I should chat with on the show, including people who think I’m completely full of it, I’m open for that or any requests or comments. Whatever you got, you can drop me an email, move, M-O-V-E, @jointhemovementmovement.com. But more importantly, go out, have fun and live life feet first.