About the Author
Dr. Kelly Starrett is a world renowned coach, physical therapist, author, and educator. He and his wife Juliet (above) are the owners/founders of San Francisco CrossFit, and Kelly has worked with countless professional athletes during his career. He is the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Becoming a Supple Leopard, which I own and highly recommend to everyone from movement and rehabilitation professionals, to recreational athletes looking to improve their athletic potential, performance, and readiness. Kelly has had an enormous impact on my thinking as a physical therapist, and also as someone who wants to maximize my personal athletic performance not just in the short term, but for the long haul. If you want to learn more from him, you can find him online or social media at The Ready State (formerly MobilityWOD).
Ready to Run Intro
The goal of this book is to provide actionable steps and habits to the recreational runner to improve running performance and reduce risk of injury. Kelly acknowledges the busy lives/schedules that we all have, as well as the challenges they pose to us. If you’ve ever heard Kelly speak before, then you’ve heard him say something like “all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.” Part of being ready to run means establishing a personalized maintenance routine including mobility work to address “hot spots,” mobility restrictions, or inflamed tissues.
He says right away in the book that there is no “magic pill,” and that change in habits requires self-discipline and commitment in order to create lasting change which will allow you to run well into your elderly years. Kelly identifies a fatal flaw within the running universe, which includes the “magic pill” solution to a particular problem. For example, you have some nagging knee pain when running, but instead of addressing your crappy posture, poor movement habits, achy joints, and stiff soft tissues; and task-completion mentality that tells you to finish that 5 mile run at all cost, you decide to buy a new pair of shoes instead to solve the problem. As Kelly says in the book, “[the cause of your problem] is not about the shoe. It never was, and it never will be.”
Kelly references Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard paleoanthropologist, for the natural readiness of our warrior-hunter-gatherer ancestors to run at any time. Running while scavenging for leftovers, or running to hunt a faster, more powerful animal which lacked the endurance that Homo erectus possessed for “persistence hunting.”
Kelly points to our anatomy and physiology as evidence for our natural ability to run. He references our natural springs - the interaction of our joints, muscles, and connective tissues that use gravity and elastic energy to bounce along while running. A running human’s legs store and release energy so efficiently that running is only about 30-50% more costly than walking in the endurance-speed range, and “it costs the same number of calories to run 5 miles at a pace of either 7 or 10 minutes per mile” - Dr. Lieberman. Kelly points to our stable, springy arches, which help to reduce the energy cost of running by up to 17%. Our super-elastic Achilles tendons store and release 35% of the mechanical energy produced when running, which is due to our 6 inch long Achilles tendons (compared to that of a chimp which is ⅓ of an inch long). Our powerful butts allow us to sprint, prevent us from falling on our faces when we run, and have enormous endurance capacity. Lastly, our ear canals are like spacecraft guidance computers and computers with gyroscopes, keeping our head and gaze stable as we bob along while running.
All of this evidence that we were born to run paves the way to Kelly’s 12 standards in which he advises to become Ready to Run. These include: (1) neutral feet, (2) flat shoes, (3) a supple thoracic spine, (4) an efficient squatting technique, (5) hip flexion, (6) hip extension, (7) ankle range of motion, (8) warming up and cooling down, (9) compression, (10) no hot spots, (11) hydration, and (12) jumping and landing.
According to Kelly, pursuing, achieving, and maintaining these 12 standards produces:
- Tissues that are healthy and hydrated and not stuck together like glue
- Joints in the proper positions
- Restoration of normal range of motion at the ankles, knees, and hips
- Essential mechanics and motor control patterns so you aren’t abusing cartilage and connective tissue
- Optimal hip function for more power with running and less stress on the knees
Goal of Book Review
The intent of this book review is to provide useful information and education regarding the prerequisites for running successfully, including lifestyle and behavior strategies, as well mobility/range-of-motion requirements. Links to videos for mobilization techniques are provided at the end of each Standard.
“We must be fit in order to run, rather than run to get fit.”
This review does not go in detail for specifics regarding running technique, but additional information can be found here on that topic.
For the sake of keeping things concise, this book review is broken up into 4 parts:
Part 1: Standards 1-3
(1) Neutral feet, (2) Flat Shoes, (3) A Supple Thoracic Spine
Part 2: Standards 4-6
(4) An Efficient Squatting Technique, (5) Hip Flexion, (6) Hip Extension
Part 3: Standards 7-9
(7) Ankle Range of Motion, (8) Warming Up & Cooling Down, (9) Compression
Part 4: Standards 10-12
(10) No Hotspots, (11) Hydration, (12) Jumping & Landing
STANDARD #1: Neutral Feet
**Question: Do you stand with feet straight or with them turned out, most of the time?**
“Long periods of sitting that atrophy your joints and muscles; shoes that jack up your heels and weaken your heel cords; the rounded-shoulders and slumped-head position that so many people adopt: These are just a few of the debilitating practices that work together to weaken your feet and collapse your arches.”
By setting this foundational behavior of maintaining feet in a neutral/straight position while standing, walking, and running, you are building the foundation for efficient movement, which is the way your body was designed to move. Taking advantage of how we were designed to move reduces stresses that lead to overuse injuries and worn-out joints.
The neutral foot position is also most useful when you create a braced neutral spine, including squeezing your glutes and abs just enough to keep your pelvis and spine in a neutral position.
*Think squeezing your glutes just enough to make your imaginary tail point to the floor, instead of up in the air like a duck which results in an arched low back. From here, to brace your abs in this neutral position, imagine bracing in preparation to get punched in the stomach. Of course, if someone were to punch you, you would want to create as much stiffness as possible to counter the blow. But with sitting, standing, walking, and running, think of maintaining ~20% of that full effort.*
Creating this new habit should be thought of just like tucking in your shirt or washing your hands; if you notice that when you stand up that your shirt is untucked, you fix it. If you notice that your hands are dirty, you wash them. Similarly, if you notice your feet turning out and your low back arched when you are sitting, standing, walking, or running, then fix it.
The feet straight habit is the first step in taking responsibility for the health of your feet, rather than continuing to choose a less-optimal position/posture until you break down. Developing the habit of keeping the feet straight will also allow a fallen arch -- from years of overpronation or feet turned out posture and habits -- to engage and restore to its optimal position and function.
“When your feet are turned out duck-style, stability bleeds away. With each step, your body has to work extra hard to compensate for the loss. The arch of your foot flattens out, your knee caves in, you lose power, and stresses on the soft tissues and joints begin to pile up….This oblique load, falling through a compromised skeletal system, exerts shearing forces through your joints and their soft tissues. Also, when your feet are turned out, your quad ligament/patella tendon gets pulled off-axis...Does it come as any surprise that runners [suffer from] medical problems like Achilles tendinopathy and patella tendinitis?”
Need help standing with feet straight? Try these:
STANDARD #2: Flat Shoes
**Question: Do you wear shoes with a high heel, or shoes that are flat, most of the time?**
“Overbuilt running shoes, costing small fortunes, tend to be the worst. The heel cushion the size of an ice cream sandwich? The patented plastic stability system baked into the EVA foam? This is more about the science of marketing than any valid science of injury prevention.”
The default position of the feet, based on anatomy and biomechanics, is to be barefoot and straight. Those who insist that running in a shoe with an elevated heel -- and stability technology that ultimately restricts natural foot function -- need to prove that being barefoot is “a broken state that requires fixing.”
“You were born to run, but you weren’t born to heel-strike when you run. Is there any gray area here? No, there isn’t. Small children don’t heel-strike...If you’re heel-striking, you have to stop. It’s eating you alive.”
Of course, we all have busy schedules with work, kids, routines, and variable environments that may not allow being barefoot as much as we probably should be. Kelly recommends “Barefoot Saturday,” basically choosing one day/week to be barefoot as much as possible “in order to strengthen and mobilize your feet.”
Also, don’t expect to just be able to stop heel-striking in a high-heeled shoe and start forefoot striking in a minimalist zero-drop shoe. This will take time, so be patient. But understand that addressing feet health in Standard #1 will help you achieve Standard #2.
If you want to make the transition to a zero-drop shoe (heel and toe are at the same height, as opposed to standard running shoes that commonly have up to a 12mm difference between heel and toe), do so slowly and cautiously. Injury is likely to occur if you simply substitute your high-heeled foam-cushioned running shoe for a minimalist zero-drop shoe like Vibrams, and expect to be able to run the same distance.
Here are the guidelines for transitioning, recommended by Dr. Nick Campitelli, a runner, podiatrist, and publisher of Dr. Nick’s Running Blog:
- Choose a pair of minimalist shoes that you like. They should allow you to be as close to barefoot as you’re comfortable with, with zero drop and zero arch support.
- Plan on a minimum of 6-8 weeks to transition into the new shoes. Longer is fine. Shorter is not. Two months is not a big deal when it comes to your running life.
- Use the 10% rule. If you’re heading out for a 3-mile run, run ⅓ of 1 mile (10% of the total distance) at the beginning of the run in the new minimalist shoes. Then change into the regular shoe, including orthotics. Wear the minimalist shoes at the beginning of the run when your feet are fresh. Or, run 10% of your total weekly mileage in the minimalist shoes.
- Each week, increase the amount of time you spend running in the new minimalist shoes by 10%. Always use caution and listen to your feet. Feel free to skip a week if you feel you are not ready for increased time yet.
Need help working on your feet? Try these
STANDARD #3: A Supple Thoracic Spine
**Question: How much time during the day do you spend sitting?**
“A tight, hunched thoracic spine shuts down the flow of power within the body’s systems.”
“The modern runner is often the modern desk athlete. Unless you’re vigilant about your positions, that’s a big problem.”
There are 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine, which tends to get very stiff with our modern lifestyles including significant amounts of sitting throughout the day. Wake up, sit and eat breakfast. Leave for work, sit in your car/bus/train. Get to work, sit at your desk for 8 (or more) hours. Leave work, back to sitting in your car/bus/train. Get home, sit and eat dinner.
Our tissues, bones, and joints slowly adapt to the positions that they are in the most. On one hand, this speaks to the amazing capabilities of the human body. On the other hand, after countless hours, weeks, months, and years adopting less than optimal positions/postures, our bodies (and the stiffness/mobility restrictions we feel) will reflect those postures. The result is the classic “desk-jockey” posture of a hunched/rounded back with a forward head and rounded shoulders. This posture can contribute to neck pain, low back pain, shoulder pain, as well as pain further away in the hip, knee, ankle, or foot. How? The body functions as a whole. So if your thoracic spine is a gummed up mess that can’t move, your body will figure out how to get the job done anyway, resulting in a domino effect of compensations that will slowly break you down. This is not ideal for anyone, including runners who are trying to run without pain and improve their pace in the process.
Need help achieving a supple thoracic spine? Try these: