One of the figures in body work that has inspired me for many years is Kelly Starrett of The Ready State. He does more than develop solutions for athletes, he is an advocate for the wider well-being of people of all types and ages. Kelly has such a wonderfully far ranging interest in philosophical topics and he is an advocate for the ethic of injury-free training and performance – something that is high in my conscience too.

In this interview on The Growth Equation podcast he covers so many topics that resonate with me that I wanted to highlight some of those and share them with you.


Minute 5:50 – The purpose of sport is to serve the greater good of people. We have created a community that brings all kinds of people together.

When sports and competition becomes self-serving, reveling in glory at the cost of good character and positive impact on the social system, that is when I think it has lost its way.

Our activities should bring all kinds of people together, in a safe place to explore their strengths and weaknesses, to grow. Competition should ultimately be a positive-sum game.

11:00 – As a sign of how well the we are doing in athletics, how are injury rates?

Kelly decries the still terrible injury rates prevalent in athletics, across all levels, from young to old, recreation to elite competition. While high risk and injury rate might be explained with elites pushing the envelope, injury rates with those young people starting out in their sport is a travesty. 

19:00 – Every body has a personal context. We are to adapt our methods to fit the person we are working with, in their context, according to their goals.

24:00 – What is pain? Who is the solution-provider for pain?

Pain is important information, not something to be ignored and endured. I believe what Kelly was saying is that the causes of pain should be addressed by correcting mechanics rather than going to a medicine only to deal with the symptoms.

26:30 – Running is the most natural human expression. If you can’t run that is a massive red flag that something is fundamentally wrong with your human body.

I think of how many people tell me they can’t run, or that they find it painful or extremely unpleasant. When we view it as a basic human capability then this should raise a lot of questions about why.

29:40 – A day of poor performance in training, or poor output (compared to your best) is a pre-pain signal that something is wrong.

Think about that one for a moment. If poor performance is seen as an early-warning signal that something is off, what’s the consequence of not finding out what the cause is and making sure to improve that issue for the future?

35:00 – The measurements you take on your performance need to be interpreted in your personal context.

Comparing your data against others can be problematic, without a nuanced understanding of your own situation compared to a nuanced understanding of that other person’s situation.

36:20 – “Our training gives us insight into all parts of our being.”

“Do I feel safe in my tribe or not?”

A good portion of the people who come to us for lessons and training or swim camp experiences do so because they don’t feel welcome or like they fit in with the other swim programs they’ve visited. Those programs claim to be universal or inclusive, but the culture, in practice has not been managed in such a way to replace their form of eliteism with a safe, accepting, supporting social environment for people who don’t regard themselves quite as capable yet as the others they are trying to be with.

I realize that real training does expose the whole being and this is vulnerable position. The staffing and the fellow participants need to share responsibility to create a safe environment where people can explore and develop their whole being, in their particular situation.

37:00 – Is all our technology hindering us from listening to our bodies?

38:00 – The three top predictors of injury…

  1. Previous injury
  2. A change in training volume
  3. Stress and Insufficient Sleep

38:50 – The question is: “Does technology bring more consciousness or is it a surrogate for responsibility?”

43:30 – Three levels to injury…

  1. Incomplete mechanics
  2. Incident level problem
  3. Apparent injury

44:45 – The use of cues to develop what Kelly calls ‘feelings’, or what I would interpret him to mean as awareness and sensitivity to body signals.

46:00 – “Technology helps us so much until it gets in the way.”

48:00 – Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.”

50:00 – The problem with valuing only bio-motor output (e.g. speed)…

If we are only focused on performance output, and we don’t see what is actually causing that output (skill), then we can’t see where the athlete is compensating for poor technical control, which will eventually limit performance and lead to injury.

51:20 – It is important to focus on as the foundation for injury-free performance.

52:00 – People might be focusing so much on accomplishing quantities because it is something they can easily measure, record, and share about on social media.

But how do you measure and brag about your technical excellence?

53:00 – The indoctrination of young athletes into a culture that values who’s fastest more than who’s most skilled.

54:45 – People seek out work on their skill only after they are injured or no longer improving or retired.

Paraphrasing… in other sports (like futbol) you drill, drill, drill the skills and then maybe play a scrimmage at the end of practice. But in strength and conditioning (as in swimming) its rarely about skill and more about putting in a few more repeats or a few more yards. Quantities still prevail over qualities. 

I have the impression that its mostly lip service given to skill-improvement in swimming because I observe in so many youth and adult swim clubs big problems tolerated in the positioning and mechanics of the strokes that could be greatly reduced within a few weeks by coaches who knew how to do it and require their swimmers to perform at that standard.

61:00 – The book and concepts presented in the book Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.

I hadn’t heard of this book until this podcast (and will read it soon), but it seems to resonate well with my view that we have to carefully differentiate between short-term goals that contribute to our longest-term goals for well-being and our short-term goals for higher performance or some sort of PR that compete with that. Longevity-oriented training puts us into short-term debt that contributes to a long-term gain, while short-sighted training accumulates short-term debt until it turns into a long-term debt that we can’t recover from in older age.

63:30 –  In sensitivity to their performance, Kelly describes how they no longer eat energy bars, goo, supplements, and processed foods, and reduced alcohol greatly, and have gone back to whole foods, simple stuff.

65:30 – From sports we have learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

68:30 – Over years of training, because athletes learned to deal with risk, hardship, failure, fear over and over again they can be some of our greatest spokespeople for social change and leaders in the effort.


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