Get Photo Fit — How to Properly Maintain Your Body: Interview with Dr. Kelly Starrett


I originally met Kelly Starrett through my pal Tim Ferriss (cjLIVE episode here) – who had nothing but amazing things to say… Kelly is a coach, physical therapist, author, speaker, and creator of, which has revolutionized how athletes think about human movement and athletic performance (and he’s teaching a workshop with our friends over at creativeLIVE today btw…..) In fact, I remember that Tim told me he thought that Kelly could really “help me”. I was curious. “wadaya mean, help me? I’m fiiiine I thought to myself…I’m fit, healthy etc etc.” But it turns out he’s right. Most of us (me included) experience body pain that is the product of not treating ourselves right. So I started listening to Kelly. He’s amazingly articulate and enthusiastic, his deep knowledge, combined with the energy behind his words, have the effect of making you sit up straighter – even over the phone. And guess what. It’s not cool anymore to be unhealthy. It sucks. Especially for us photographers and filmmakers who have to be on set for 12-15 hours per day, holding heavy sh*t, in extreme environments. So, in anticipation of his cL workshop, I caught up with Kelly over the past two days on the phone as he was driving back and forth from a special training session: Taking a ride in the backseat of a F/A – 18 Hornet with the Blue Angels (US Navy Demonstration Squadron). On his trip down he shared that his goal was to pass out as a result of the G-forces….

CJ: Did you achieve your goal of passing out in the back of a F-18?
KS: Yes! It was awesome. My vision closed in and suddenly I looked down and my hand was twitching a bit. ‘I think I just passed out.’ It makes you realize that [the movie]Top Gun is such bullshit. When Goose is moving his head all over the place, ‘I lost him Maverick,” You cannot move your head like that at 7x gravity! It’s impossible. I have a whole new understanding of that the real test of skill in a dogfight is so much about the physiology of the pilot. The force these guys are under is extraordinary. To be concentrating on multiple things while piloting the plane and coping with the physical stress is crazy. I came close to blacking out 8 times and I was just along for the ride. And…I went SuperSonic. Which I think is very cool. I sort of feel like I’m going supersonic in life right now.

CJ: That’s inspiring. What the single most important piece of advice could you give photographers about their body posture?
KS: Well the first piece is – it is impossible to be photographer and be in a great position all the time. Photography is a physical art. You have to accept the physical compromise in order to perform the art. So you must have some sort of physical practice to withstand this compromise. Or eventually, something fails. You blow a tire. You need to have some sort of physical practice. How can you train to sustain to be a physical artist? You need to be in some strength training, yoga, something that will make it a more robust platform. You need to have the basic principles of support. If you know how to organize yourself physically – you can make the most of the weird positions you have to put yourself in. Part of this is dedicating 10-15 minutes a day to ‘undoing’ the bad positions. You absolutely need to do some maintenance. if you’re spending 2 hours a day all hunched up peering through a viewfinder with a 9-pound weight at the end of your arm – you’re going have to undo that posture. Let’s be honest, photographers are not known for their health, right? With the artists and creatives – we tend to see some of the same basic errors. Bad nutrition, smoking, drinking, poor sleep habits – this makes us more susceptible to the problems. Which really makes us less efficient and less optimal in all things. I remember thinking how sexy photography seemed. Then I went with my friend on a few all-day, all-night shoots. The glam is the grind. Don’t fool yourself kids. You have to have the process in place to support the hard work. We’ve already run this experiment 100 million times. We know how to fix it. And it’s easy fix. Figure out what works for you. You don’t have to be an Olympian. You just have to have a practice. Guess what? It’s difficult to take good pictures when your hands are numb. Anyone at the top of their field. What ends up happening to them – is that the work ends up feeling just like that – hard work. It doesn’t feel transcendent. It feels like work. When Chase is working not the most glamourous job in some great location with models and helicopters… I’m betting it still feels like hard work. The highest expression of art is really craft. And it is hard work. Embrace it. Organize for it. If you’re spending more time cleaning and maintaining your equipment, wiping your lenses and stuff, than maintaining your body… you might want to consider that the ultimate camera support is not that fancy tripod – it’s your body.

It’s really three things to remember:
1) Can you be robust enough to maintain positions? This comes down to doing some sort of training.

2) There are some principles that can really help you. So you have to have an understanding of the best positions possible within your daily movement. How to stand, how to sit, how to shoot.

3) Do you appreciate that you have to do some preventative maintenance? You must understand how to fix yourself when you are forced to compromise your best posture and positions to do your job

CJ: Should creatives work out more? Get bigger muscles?
KS: No. Everyone should train for peak physiological health. Look, you’re actually designed to be 110 years old. You need to plan to have the type of function you want when you’re 100. So we train for position and the expression of good human movement. The side effects are: you’ll have bigger muscles, look better naked, have more efficient lungs. These are side effect of being a better and more efficient human. You have to be doing something with progressive loads, something for your cardio respiratory system – there are a lot of ways to skin that cat. Until you have a practice – this is all minutia. People say bigger muscles – I say bigger lungs. You have to have your cardio respiratory system in good condition. There needs to be some heart exercise in your practice. In fact, for the proper expression of human genome you need to exercise hard. For your whole system to organize and work efficiently you must exercise. So what’s your practice? Do we want just functional? Or do we want optimal? The brain evolved to move the human organism through the environment. Cognition and the higher creative processes are actually boot -strapped onto the movement brain. Better movement – better cognition. It’s not an accident that the Yogis understood that better mind practices were linked to better body practices.

CJ: What practice should people do to be better creatives? Meditation? Crossfit? Yoga?
KS: I think meditation and your physical practice can be one in the same. When we speak to artists and creative, it’s also important to note that the creative process in-and-of itself can be a very focused mediation. If you need to meditate on top of that – that’s up to you. Very dedicated exercise is a deep practice. Intense creative work is a deep practice.
So as a creative, if you’re getting that creative focus and finding dedicated exercise that trains, organizes and “undoes” the damage – you’re going to feeling good. What practices should people do to be better creatives? It turns out – eat right, drink enough water, exercise. It’s the same solution for the Olympian as the creative. It simply varies by degree – not kind.

CJ: I hear you drop the phrase, “Practice Makes Permanent.” What does that mean?
That we understand specifically how you can move and organize your creative practices, your craft, so it becomes a wired biological habit. Bring mindfulness to how you move, how you behave. Develop best practices – if you are texting and hunched over on your computer…this might be how you look when you talk to your spouse or your client. Bring awareness and cultivate these practices. If your camera is with you all the time – all day everyday – then how do you organize your posture around it? And when you start to develop better mind and body practices – these patterns of behavior are really skills in the brain. The pathway that you light up most of the time is the pathway that is reinforced physically in the brain. It is important that you realize that you are undergoing practice all of time. Look, I should never be able to identify you by the fact you are photographer – by the fact you are bent over and hunched and look like quasimoto. Finally, search for info graphic “sitting” see the increased risk of heart disease, these are NOT biologically compatible to being an efficient human being. Sitting for two hours is the physiological equivalent of smoking two cigarettes. The health detriments are no different.


CJ: Thanks for your time Kelly. I know I’m thinking a lot more about how my brain and body are organized. Where can we send people to find out how to better manage these things?
KS: Check out my creativeLIVE workshop [happening NOW right here]. Go to our site

26 Responses to Get Photo Fit — How to Properly Maintain Your Body: Interview with Dr. Kelly Starrett

  1. Nicole Young January 30, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    It’s good to see fitness and photography blended together here, thanks for that! I’ve been doing Crossfit for almost a year now, and recently have made great effort to improve my diet. Overall it’s improved my strength and mental energy, and has definitely helped my stamina when it comes to carrying around a heavy camera-bag :)

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    What? So wrong.

  3. Bram January 31, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    Really interesting topic. Especially relevant for photographers who move a lot during a day (travel photographers) but probably anyone will benefit. Plus it’s awesome for the mind as well, takes your mind off things and allows you to see things more clearly. I do a lot of bouldering (4 times a week) and only after reading this article I realize that this is probably excellent for my core strength and general wellbeing.

  4. faisal January 31, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Meditation is a tough exercise to get the hand off

  5. Bret Edge January 31, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I’ve long been a proponent of fitness for outdoor photographers. I see quite a few nature photographers who are so out of shape they simply can’t walk any kind of distance while carrying their gear. I’ve been doing Crossfit for 7 years and it’s by far the best program for me. Functional fitness – that’s what it’s all about.

  6. Jeff January 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Eek! all my varied interests are colliding. Here we have CrossFit being discussed in my brain’s photography context. Last month my favorite internet marketing podcast guys started talking about Paleo diet. I hope I’m not standing in the center of a black hole and everything about me is collapsing inward. KStar is great.

  7. Jason February 1, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Agree with brams comments, A lot of positives come from this and exercise certainly stimulates the mind. Hopefully this will improve my routine when photographing. Thanks a lot

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