Vital Signs for Physical Mobility: A Review of Built to Move by Kelly and Juliet Starrett

Written by MobilityWOD (mobility workout of the day) founders Kelly and Juliet Starrett, Built to Move presents ten practices to diagnose and improve problems with physical range of motion. The Starretts call these practices vital signs, and there are really thirteen of them, since three of the listed ten have two parts. According to them, achieving these vital signs will make your body work better and prepare it for whatever comes its way by facilitating more and better physical movement.

The Ten Vital Signs (Plus Three Bonuses)

Built to Move by Kelly and Juliet Starrett, a book about vital signs for physical mobility

I’ve been a fan of the Starretts since the early MobilityWOD days. Kelly’s claim that “all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves” helped inspire KineSophy, and I interviewed Juliet for this site in 2017. Plus, I’m a sucker for physical self-assessments, so this book was an easy sell for me. And it delivers.

The content is well-organized and easy to follow, no matter your familiarity with physical fitness or human anatomy. Each chapter addresses one vital sign and includes 1) research-backed explanations for why each vital sign matters, 2) one or more tests to see how you measure up and 3) specific physical practices to help you overcome any deficiencies.

The book concludes with two templates to help readers implement these practices into their daily lives. The first is a calendar for twenty-one days of vital sign tests and practices that offers a helpful guide for structuring these self-assessments. The second is a schedule of a typical day for the Starretts, with an hour-by-hour breakdown of how they incorporate the vital sign practices over twenty-four hours.

For those who read a book like this one and wonder how they can possibly make all these changes to their busy lives, these templates offer a reassuring acknowledgement we are all busy. Together, they provide a helpful guide for how to make slight adjustments to your daily schedule.

More Vital Vital Signs?

I would have liked some explanation for why the Starretts consider these thirteen physical practices more vital than others. Five of the thirteen address some aspect of joint mobility. This focus makes sense, given the couple’s MobilityWOD origins. It’s clear from the included vital signs the Starretts also value other aspects of physical health, such as diet and sleep. Yet hip extension (vital sign #3) has its own chapter, while two diet practices get crammed into one vital sign (#6). Is full hip extension twice as important as consuming enough macronutrients or getting enough protein? And what about proper hydration? One could argue that drinking enough water is more important for survival, durability and mobility than the range of motion of a single joint.

Other omitted physical metrics also factor into healthspan and longevity. There is no vital sign that addresses physical strength, but maybe that’s because the Starretts didn’t feel comfortable including a strength standard for the book’s broad audience, many of whom may be unfamiliar with common resistance training exercises. Likewise, there is no vital sign for cardiorespiratory fitness. Simply breathing through your nose (vital sign #2) won’t make a significant difference on that front. And if walking 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day (vital sign #4) is sufficient, I would have liked to see evidence for that claim in the book.

It is clear that the Starrets value physical abilities not included in their vital signs. The book’s afterword insists “exercise will take you to an even higher level of durability” (279). And maybe having full shoulder rotation (vital sign #5) does more for durability than physical strength. But if so, I would have liked more explanation about why that is the case.

Movement for Everyone

That said, I found Built to Move to be a valuable resource for everyone from mostly sedentary retirees to regular exercisers. The writing is clear, concise and engaging, and the vital signs that are presented are important for good health and optimal movement. But readers should also take this book as a starting point for mobility and physical wellness rather than a comprehensive program.

Rating: 4/5 stars