Crossfit's Most Authoritative Expert Demoted to Bro Science Peddler?
I like Kelly Starrett. He was able to spread the word on mobility to a lot of newbies over the past few years. Also thanks to Starrett, Crossfit enjoyed so much more sophistication of technique in its last 5 years. However, his initial insights have given way to hyperbolic overstatements which are being eviscerated by movement experts of all kinds.
For those of us who've used different banded variations, corrective strategies and fascia work for 15 years (or more), we've seen his fame rise in kind with laypeople becoming more acquainted with the same concepts. Different body workers have done this stuff for 150 years. But when I first did self-myofascial release in the 90s, I couldn't find anybody who understood what I was doing. Now, it's the opposite: you have a hard time finding people who haven't heard of a foam roller. And we have to thank famous advocates like Starrett for getting the education out there.
With all popular trends, there is some good and some bad. It's great that a lot more people are thinking about how their bodies should move, what optimal technique is, and what a movement practice should be. Unfortunately, the downsides are innumerable.
Many people having this "enlightenment moment" about mobility are doing far more harm than good. Some don't have sufficient strength or muscle mass, but they are obsessed with breaking down tissue with a lacrosse ball or roller. They get trapped in a nonstop pain cycle which didn't exist prior to knowing the word "fascia". Others, not understanding active control, spend excessive time on passively jamming tissue into positions it isn't prepared to handle. When they experience pain from tissue damage, their "remedy" is to traumatize the tissue more with various stretches and direct pressures. No healing ensues.
None of this is singularly the fault of Starrett or the Crossfit organization. Crossfit was one of many attempts to make variable training modalities more popular. As it succeeded in spades, more people than ever began teaching and being taught workouts without sufficient understanding of human movement. Starrett worked to create sanity within that. He worked to reduce the firestorm of orthopedic injuries. He wrote the book (literally) on how to move for various exercises in April of 2013. He did good.
The oddity with Starrett's book is that it is devoid of any references for the statements he makes about human movement. Somehow this glaring omission didn't stand out upon my first reading of the book. Largely because I was viewing it as a perspective of recommendation, I found little fault. But there's another perspective which holds it up as the final word on directives or even a reference textbook, which creates a lot of problems off the bat. However, this shouldn't have been a surprise, because Crossfit founder Glassman has had a similar track record of making claims about human movement which find no substantiation in rigorous scientific literature.
I don’t need to go into detail here, because Dr. Quinn Henoch (GREAT article with notes here: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2013/11/15/supple-leopard-vs-world/) and a whole litany of others have done blow-by-blow analyses of Starrett’s claims. The simple fact remains that Starrett did not ever provide a dataset for his “torque” claims, force production testing results, references, or EMG tables to substantiate anything; and his panacea claims (which amount to little more than hand-waving blasé anecdote) are even more specious. Again, it’s not to say he’s some evildoer. I like a lot of what he tried to do. And I've found that many clients needed to learn the skill of knee-pry (which, by the by, was being recommended by Pavel and Dan John before Starrett was born). But as Henoch illustrates, there are ZERO world record holders who practice excessive or exclusive knee pry á la Starret and his ilk. And, frankly, watch the slow motion of every top ranked Olympic Weight Lifter in the world. I'm not talking about the top Crossfitters. I'm talking about the people who weigh 50lbs less than the top Crossfitters and lift 100-200 more pounds than them. You won't see ANY excessive knee-pry. None. I was actually shocked to find that just about every rock bottom snatch or clean catch/rock-bottom squat of Olympic competitors has the knees substantially INSIDE the feet. Go ahead. Do a quick search.
Henoch also made several valid observations about well-accepted and known realities with some of the oddities and nuances of hip rotator muscles (some internal rotators above 90 degrees become externally rotating below 90 and vice versa). These important pointers are essentially devoid in any of Starrett’s numerous posts, videos, interviews, or the book. We have the additional and more significant problem that certain skeletal differences in the layperson would put a Starrett student in potentially, severely threatening risk.
Thus, despite the ostensible thoroughness of Starrett, and despite just how likable he seems, his techniques are certainly not universally true. His penchant for hyperbole has landed him closer to the bro science than science camp. And this has some fairly obvious implications, given that, at least in my opinion, he was one of the more sensible and knowledgeable guys toeing the Crossfit line. Add to that his relative lack of experience (i.e. - most of my colleagues have logged thousands more hours of coaching time), and I’m really just disappointed to see that he’s avoided seriously answering these growing criticisms from well-meaning clinicians, strength coaches, trainers and experts around the globe.
Some average blokes doing the exact opposite of Starrett's sermon pictured below:
Starrett demonstrating his knee pry belief: