Have you ever had a flat tire? With anything like regular driving, you’re bound to get one eventually.

The ones that explode on you while doing 80 on the freeway are the worst. In addition to the high-pitched squeal of terror that you swear you will never admit to another living soul, there is the real danger that the sudden loss of control will have more dramatic consequences than a damp driver’s seat.

"No one must ever know"

“No one must ever know.”

A flat can also just appear one day. No loud bang, no perceptible change to drivability, just a slow leak that one day leads to your neighbour stopping by to let you know that your front driver’s side is a little low.

The second type is tricky because it means you’ve been gradually compensating for a loss of speed and list in the steering that you never really noticed. You’ll notice it for sure, however, when you get the PSI back up. A low tire brought true with the others is a good feeling; that tiny little fix momentarily makes your sensible sedan feel just a tiny bit more like something traffic cops keep an eye out for. It’s ok to enjoy it.

Even still, all that time spent slowly losing pressure put small strains on the rest of the vehicle. Nothing major: fuel pump and injectors having to work a little harder to maintain an equivalent speed, bearings straining a bit at the fraction of a degree change in direction that never amounts to much, but is always there and always grows. Its just how cars are: sometimes stuff needs fixin’.

Imagine for a moment that one day you make the usual right turn into your driveway and the steering groans a bit. You’ll make a mental note to take it in and have it looked it, and then promptly lose that mental note until the next time you make a right turn.

This, of course, continues for some time.

Finally, when the power steering fails completely and right turns have started to resemble an 80’s training montage, you suck it up and go to a mechanic. While examining the car, kicking tires and such, you both discover that front driver’s side flat, just as obvious as could be.

"I think I found the problem"

“I think I found the problem…”

Now imagine how strange it would be if the mechanic then turned to you and said, “Well, I recommend a new battery, getting your injectors cleaned and, of course, I’ll keep it here for a few days to overhaul the engine. A turbo kit would also be in your best interest.”


“Um . . . what?”

“But what about the flat tire?” you might reasonably inquire.

“Yeah, it’s a shame. Really drags down your top speed, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, that turbo kit will put a stop to that.”

“But I came in with a steering problem,” you tentatively remind him.

“Yeah yeah, I’ll throw a steering column replacement in with the overhaul, no worries.”

“Ok, so I really feel like that flat tire is an obvious . . .”

“Look, buddy, I’m the expert here, and I have tons of revolutionary tools here for boosting your car’s performance. You do want to boost your performance, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, it’s just that I’m sure the tire is . . .”

“Alright then! Give me the keys and I’ll bill you in a few days.”

Is anyone else starting to get the feeling that this is a giant metaphor?

Is anyone else starting to get the feeling that this is a giant metaphor?

Surprise! We are, in fact, really talking about your body, where a “flat tire” is any one of the minor physical inefficiencies that we all face, no matter our age, physical fitness, or athletic ability.

The only difference between our automotive analog and the real world of fitness and physiotherapy is that no self-respecting mechanic would ever have the conversation above; he’d fix the flat, make a few tweaks to true your alignment and send you on your way.

There’s a different standard in the fitness world. Exchanges like the one above happen all the time:

A woman six months postpartum wants to get back in shape? Build muscle mass! Do “core” work (whatever the hell that means…)!

Chronic low back pain has left a 45-year-old man sedentary for the last four years? Stretch until you sweat! More abs!

A competitive runner is suffering from chronic ankle instability in her dominant leg? Power Plate! Bosu Ball! Single leg squats while juggling kettle bells!

You yourself may have heard this exact fitness advice, but these are all just iterations of the same boneheaded notion that replacing the engine is a reasonable response to having a flat tire.

That new momma? Her low back has been caving in for the last 6 or 7 months (maybe more, if she was lordotic to begin with). All she really needs is to reposition her pelvis a few degrees, shift her center of gravity forward a couple centimeters and voila! Casual movement will take care of the rest.

Sedentary dude with low back pain? Sitting for long periods of time means that, instead of bearing weight on his feet, he’s been bearing weight on his spine; It’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume this has changed the way he walks. Maybe start with that?

I meant, like, regular walking . . . but I like the way you think.

I meant, like, regular walking . . . but I like the way you think.

Competitive runner? Why on earth would anyone train an unstable joint by making it more unstable? In all likelihood, her shoes are locking up her subtalar joint. Get her to walk barefoot in the grass and get a massage once in a while and she’ll probably improve.

A shocking majority of the aches and pains that we all deal with from time to time—from the minor to the acute—can be addressed through simple mechanical means. Sometimes we need to think, not train: kick a few tires, ask smart questions, look for the simple answers and try those first.

Absolutely get that turbo kit and go rack up a few speeding tickets—just do it with all four wheels pumped up.

Happy driving.


If you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned above and are not sure how to approach recovery, feel free to leave questions in the comments and I will provide information and/or referrals for your area!



12 Responses to “Fix Your Flat”

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    Hi! I’ve definitely got a kephotic-lordotic posture, and have had for many years. I broke several ribs in a car accident 13 years ago, and have had difficulty with my abdominal muscles and posture ever since. Even in bed or lying on the floor, it is difficult for me to get my lower back to lie flat against the mattress. I try to practice repositioning of my pelvis while walking, standing and sitting, but I can only do it for a few minutes at a time because by now it feels so unnatural. I work a desk job (ugh), so I’m also dealing with a forward head posture and my chronic costochondritis contributes to my chest collapse. I do get up and stretch often and walk to realign, but nothing seems to stick and I’m back in pain and bad posture.

    What are some exercises or stretches I might be able to do to help reposition my pelvis? Any other tips or advice for straightening me out?


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      Glute function will be the key here, Ginger. Find me on Skype and I’ll show you some solutions: kevin.smarterstrength

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    Hi – I found your site when I was looking up “wrist pain while doing pushups.” I found that article to be really useful. However, I am still having wrist pain, and I don’t think it’s because of the issue described in that article. If you picture a hand turned palm up, I’m experiencing pain on that side of my wrists. I’ve been doing pilates for about two months but I just started noticing this a couple weeks ago. I first noticed it after I did a lot of tricep dips one time (not during) and subsequently it has gotten irritated while doing pushups and sometimes plank as well. The pain persists for quite a few days after doing those certain exercises, but it comes and goes and my wrists do not seem to be swollen. Any ideas?

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    this was really useful!I’m injured at the minute with an inflammed SI joint.I can only do a bit of cycling.I ‘m receiving physio which is helping.How my injury occured waz exactly how you described the slow process of the flat tyre and leaving it!I have learned a valuable lesson,NEVER ignors any .niggling pain!Always get it fixed ASAP

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    I’d love some advice for finding a trainer for a gym newbie with slightly complicated circumstances. I’m 9 months postpartum, after my second baby, and a pregnancy during which I gained a lot of weight. I’ve been diagnosed with diastases recti, and I saw a physical therapist who helped a lot in terms of strengthening my transverse abdominis and generally improving my posture. I can run without knee pain, which is lovely. But I’ve never been a physically strong person, and I’d like to be. Prior experiences with gyms have led me to believe that personal attention would help, so I’m looking for a trainer. But especially in this era of Crossfit, I don’t know how to find someone who will respect my limits (no crunches or similar movements) and also feel comfortable for an overweight lady. I’m in Portland, if that helps, but at a minimum, I’d love advice on how to hire a trainer. Where do I go? What questions do I ask? I don’t want anything wild; I just want to feel like my body can do what I ask of it, in terms of hiking/gardening/cycling/child-carrying, and I want to enjoy my body’s movements, rather than feeling encumbered by pain and weakness.

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      As luck would have it, Beth, I am from Portland, Oregon! I have tons of great contacts in the area and would be happy to help you find someone to help with the issues you’ve mentioned. I’ll send that information along via e-mail.

      In addition, so that others reading this might also get some benefit, here are some general guidelines for hiring a good trainer:

      The Best Trainers Are Curious

      Look for someone who still attends courses, does continuing education and researches outside their specialties. Cross-certified folks who carry credentials in multiple modalities—Pilate and Personal training, Alexander Technique and tai chi, Pole dancing and Yin Yoga—often fit that description; they’re just interested in bodies and, as a result, are more likely to treat yours with respect.

      Beware of Insecurity/Defensiveness

      I used to see this constantly when I spent more time in the gym environment. A trainer would set a client up doing something stupid, the client would get hurt and the trainer would immediately set about making it clear to everyone in ear shot that it was the client’s fault for not listening/understanding/giving it their all. They get freaked out when their material doesn’t work and they aren’t willing to consider the fact that they might be wrong.

      We all get it wrong sometimes. Nobody that works with bodies is prepared for everything and, in the occasion that something goes wrong—from a minor, misplaced diagnosis to actually hurting someone—the first response must be contrition, followed immediately by fervent research to answer the question of how and why.

      This is hard to suss out before actually hiring someone, but the first time you run across a defensive reaction to an exercise that did not achieve the result the trainer intended, you should consider finding someone new.

      Ignore Their Physique

      The conventional wisdom might be to look for the trainer who looks like you want to look but there is absolutely zero correlation between what a trainer’s physique looks like and what they know about how bodies work. Listen to them talk; listen for confidence and compassion; listen for listening. You want someone who thinks you’re amazing before you even walk in the door, simply because you have a body.

      You are not weak. Anyone trainer who says otherwise has a poor understanding of what training is for.

      I hope this helps, Beth. I’ll be in touch with some local folks who you can contact soon.

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    Ok, I dunno if this is something you can advice on in a comment section, but I’ll throw it out there and we’ll see.

    I’ve messed up something with my squats. I’ve been trying to follow the advice for stance etc. as laid out in Starting strength and it worked well for a pretty long while. In January I brilliantly had the idea to ignore a pain on the outside of my right thigh during squats because it felt sort of like I was just a bit achey stiff. I had pain after that every time after that I squatted so I rested from squats. Now the pain is gone except that if I push my knees out I can feel it coming back. I’m not in the US so I doubt you can recommend help locally for me but if you have any insight I’d be super grateful.

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      This is actually a relatively simple fix, if it’s what I suspect it is, Keila.

      The issue arises with what we actually do when we practice the “knees out” method of squatting. Remember, the knee is the intersection of two weight bearing structures: the tibia and the femur. When you attempt to move your “knees” what the vast majority of people do is move their tibias, in this case, horizontally apart from each other.

      But the knee doesn’t move horizontally. The subtalar joint, however, does. So when what you see/feel is “knees out” what you’re actually doing is inverting your subtalar joint. This overloads the peroneals, disconnects the weight bearing structures of the feet from the ground and prevents the knee from doing what it IS designed to do: rotate and flex in the sagittal plane.

      To avoid this, forget the “knees out” cue. Not because “knees out” is wrong, but because what you do when you attempt to follow that instruction isn’t what is intended (and is, in fact, a mistake made by most squatters I’ve ever encountered).

      Instead, to prepare for your squat, actively roll your heels in, flattening the arches of your feet (though ideally not to the point of being fully in contact with the floor). This will make the knee joint appear to deviate medially (toward each other) a lot. This is totally ok.

      Next, while maintaining this new heel/knee position, shift your pelvis/center of gravity forward a few centimeters. You will notice that your knees automatically begin to rotate away from each other. If the heel roll was modifying the half of the knee made up by the tibia, this pelvic shift addresses the position of the other half—the femur. Continue this forward shift until your weight is centered just behind the toe box, and equally between both feet with some weight still comfortably loaded on those inwardly rolled heels.

      This alignment will give you all the mechanical advantages of the “knees out” methodology and none of the proprioceptive obfuscation.

      Moreover, as you rise on your squat, imagine that you are not rising straight up, but rising forward, as though the apex of the squat will naturally lead to taking a step forward. As a matter of fact, when not pushing for a PR, take an actual step forward. This will inform your pelvis much more efficiently about how, exactly, the load should be handled.

      I hope this helps! Do let me know how it turns out!

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        Hi Kevin!
        I wanted to give you an update. So I implemented your advice back in April. In combination with some extra stretching I’ve increased my weights over the summer and last week I hit a new 5 rep max of 65 kg (143 lb), my first new max in over a year. I feel stronger and more stable than ever. I really wanted to say thank you for taking the time to advice so thoroughly. You saved my ass (literally!)

        Now working on improving DL’s and getting my first chin-up!

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          Hey Keila!

          I’m thrilled that the advice helped and you’re seeing improvements; you’re clearly bright and body-aware.

          And, as luck would have it, my next video will be directly applicable to working on those chin ups!

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            Oh you sweet-talker you 😉 Looking forward to that video!

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    Scarlett Hepworth

    A brilliant analogy. Boy, if people knew how easy it was to stay in shape, they’d do it! You make it sound so easy, and so obvious. Love this.


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