Deep within the impassioned watermen and waterwomen of the world, there is an inexplicable urge that is “called” to the rivers, lakes and seas… called out to play in the currents and waves… called to do the sport they love… even if it wrecks their body.

As Dr. Kelly Starrett hopes to show, you don’t have to make that painful compromise. It’s possible to both maintain your health and follow that inner urge out into the water too. But, as so many of us do, he had to learn this the hard way.

Who is Kelly Starrett?

Dr. Kelly Starrett is a game-changer in the fields of CrossFit, mobility and fitness therapy. His simple but radical belief all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves has precipitated a cascade of videos, books and teachings that are changing the way humans think about their pain… and their potential.

Through his books Becoming a Supple Leopard, Ready to Run and Deskbound Starrett has provided practical solutions to myriad aches, pains and musculoskeletal issues that plague human bodies. Through his website MobilityWOD (WOD: Workout of the Day), Starrett has created a massive library of tools and techniques that serve this one foundational belief.

Kelly Starrett and Jill Miller collaborated on the Tune Up Fitness® at-home self-massage program Treat While You Train

Reading this, you may nod your head and agree that, of course, all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. But if you work in the realm of wellness, athletic training or fitness therapy, you know it ain’t as easy as it sounds.

The key to changing a person’s beliefs about their ability to sense, diagnose and treat their own physiological issues, is to speak to them in their own language. When a coach steps into her client’s world–to see through her clients’ eyes and sense through her clients’ physicality–she can change their whole paradigm and thereby give them the skills to heal themselves.

This ability to speak to all different worlds of people is largely how Starrett has broken through the barrier between coach and client… and given the client the ability to maintain and sustain their own health.

This autumn Starrett is entering a new world by speaking the language of the rivers, lakes and oceans. His latest book Waterman 2.0: Optimized Movement for Lifelong, Pain-Free Paddling & Surfing (co-authored with Phil White), takes us into the deep of water sports.

From Injured to Empowered

Starrett is well-versed in the ways of the water. Having grown up in Garmisch, Southern Germany, he was raised next to the Partnach Gorge. This is one of the best-known whitewater spots in the world.

The churning white waters of Partnach Gorge

His mother’s friends were impassioned kayakers who inspired Starrett to slip into kayaking camp at age 12 (when the age minimum was actually 15). Pretty soon he was hooked.

Several years later, Starrett wound up back in the states at Colorado University in the kayak club. Jump ahead a few more years and Starrett had built his life around becoming a professional waterman: He was pursuing a spot on the slalom canoe national team and keeping up a punishing training schedule–paddling five or six hours each day, 300 days a year.

At this point Starrett wasn’t just immersed in his love of the water, he was also well aware of the dangers of water sports.

“Some water sports injuries are caused from catastrophic events such as being rag-dolled by a wave, capsized in a canoe or thrown from a raft, but 98 percent of them result from poor mechanics, tacked down soft tissues and the inability to create and maintain stable body shapes.” (Waterman 2.0, page 32)

Finally, one fateful day, Starrett fell prey to his own poor mechanics. His hopes of making the team were dashed to the ground in a freak accident.

A friend, just goofing around, playfully jumped weight onto a canoe Starrett was carrying on his shoulder. This little incident triggered an avalanche of pain and undeniable symptoms that drove Starrett to seek medical help… and come to a disappointing realization.

“No amount of chiropractic adjustments, cortisone injections or ibuprofen was going to fix my broken down body… That was the culture I’d made my Faustian bargain with. Just paddle more and paddle harder in faulty positions until something breaks, take a bunch of painkillers and keep going or get surgery. Repeat until your body can’t take it anymore.” (Page 29)

On a tight budget, with his future unclear, Starrett was driven to learn how to overcome not just the physical issues, but this attitude of helplessness that permeated water sports in general.

This marked a crucial turning point. Starrett shifted from being a victim of his love of the water, to championing his own path to self-care strategies that brought him to physical therapy school and grew into his empire of teachings today.

What You’ll Find in Waterman 2.0

Waterman 2.0 is an immersion into self-assessment techniques, posture exercises, self-massage methods and mindset-shifts to serve watermen and women. It features progressions and regressions of classic shapes that show up in CrossFit and athletic conditioning circles. It gives insights into which tissues might need extra attention and care, and how to give it to them.

But most of all, Waterman 2.0 puts the onus on, and the faith in its readers. Instead of becoming victims of their beloved sport, Starrett asks his readers to “commit to lifetime learning and discovery.”

“Your self-care and improvement process shouldn’t stop when you put this book back on your bookshelf. You should be continually seeking to gain greater knowledge about your body, how it moves and what you need to do to reach optimal function on any given day. The journey toward sustainable excellence never ends.” (Page 59)

The book is a beautifully crafted, evocative self-care guide that speaks directly to the free spirit who loves water sports and activities. If you feel most at home amidst the waves, currents and smooth liquid surfaces of this planet, you will certainly find yourself at home in these pages as well.


Liked this article? Read Surf Breaks and Back Aches: Fitness Therapy for Surfers

Ariel Kiley

Ariel Kiley is an NYC-based yoga and meditation teacher, teacher trainer, published author, and IAYT certified Yoga Therapist. Ariel is spokesperson and program designer for Equinox Fitness Clubs Regeneration classes. She created the 2018 "Yoga Fundamentals" program on She is a lead teacher trainer for the fitness therapy system Yoga Tune Up®. Ariel also is co-creator and co-director of the Dou Yoga 200-hour teacher training. Ariel has published numerous posts and articles on the topics of yoga, meditation and yoga therapy. Additionally she co-authored the book Smitten: The Way of the Brilliant Flirt about self-realization and dating (Chronicle 2013). She has been featured on Extra!TV, CNN, NY Daily News and has worked as yoga consultant to the TV show The Affair. Ariel specializes in stress reduction and Somatic Experiencing® trauma resolution.

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I love how our own injuries and career changing ones gives us our mission. As an athlete, or professional, you train and push yourself past your threshold for years and in one tiny little incident, one slight twist in ankle, or sudden movement and that chapter of your life closes without your consent. You can choose to wallow in self pity, or accept the challenge and do all you can to restore your health. You then can share your inspiring story, tips and knowledge gained with all of us! Thank You


This article struck quite the note for me (no pun intended)! I’m a classical violinist, and quite often, musicians will take the same approach of ibuprofen, finding massage therapists, chiropractors, the list can go on-and-on, but I feel the field of self-care, massage and therapy is sorely lacking. How inspiring that Dr. Starrett turned his tragedy into triumph.

Elizabeth Pezzello

The human body is incredible and with the right combination of self-care including self-massage, nutrition, etc. we can really correct and cure a number of things without relying on medicine.

Sara M

Paddling involves a lot of repetitive movement patterns, that compound overtime, and can result in imbalances, leading to potential for injury. Mobility work, including YTU, has helped me improve body awareness, and allowed me to address unhealthy movement patterns earlier on, achieving greater balance within my own body. I enjoy Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD posts, look forward to what additional insights this book has to offer.


My all-time favourite physiotherapist- K.Starr! I love reading his material; he is the inspiration behind the way I practice as a PT. It is all about creating clients who can treat themselves, not relying on you to fix their problems. Education on proper mechanics, strengthening, and stretching/soft tissue techniques go a LONG way with so many athletic populations motivated to be the best physical self they can be so why not give them the tools to make them be those better versions as opposed to letting them rely on the quick fixes of the medical system. Can’t wait to add… Read more »


it is so cool that self care books are being written to specific populations like this. It makes me want to research the other “niche” self care books that exist. What a gift to paddle sport enthusiasts and athletes!

Ella Maghen

We are reminded again the power of self care and self healing. The power of the body and mind to heal through determination is limitless. Very inspirational!

Margaret Rose

Absolutely essential for successfully addressing the injury through self-care is indeed overcoming the feeling of powerlessness.

Phil White

Thanks for the kind review, Ariel and Jill! Much appreciated.