Welcome back – today we bring you a review of the book ‘Becoming A Supple Leopard‘, one I have made reference to previously in the post ‘How I got rid of back pain while squatting‘. Now some of you may prematurely ask why I am reviewing a children’s book about panthers or whatever – however I can assure you that this book is some serious sh*t!
This book is written by Dr Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza. Starrett in particular has been making significant waves in the strength and conditioning world, with this book becoming a smash hit amongst many of the top strength coaches in the game. In fact, the first time I saw this book was when I attended the world famous DeFrancos gym while undertaking my CPPS course. Flicking through the book briefly, it looked quite interesting (in all honesty, the title drew me in because it was so cool). When I got back to England, I ordered it and began implementing what I could immediately.
Who is this book for?
Weekend warriors, professional athletes, strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers – basically for everyone whose passion &/or livelihood is health and ‘fitness’.
As we age, our bodies tend to accumulate wear and tear. Our joints become stiffer, our muscles less elastic, our faces more wrinkled, and our bones more brittle. Our sedentary lives, poor sleeping and recovery habits take a tremendous toll on us. As athletes and trainees we must remember that negative movement patterns, immobile muscles, and poor joint integrity will follow us from our homes onto the gym or sports field – thus affecting our performance and potential.
Take a guy who sits a lot of the day at his desk job, developing tight hip flexors as a result. This guy will not be able to run as fast as he should. If he can’t move his hip flexors through the whole range of motion for a sprint… he’s screwed. A tight, inflexible muscle is a weak one, period.
Enter Kelly Starrett
‘Becoming A Supple Leopard’ is a book born out of necessity. So many of us, no matter how athletic we claim to be, are more restricted than we think, myself included. I couldn’t even sit cross-legged until about a year ago when I made the conscious decision to address my embarrassingly stiff and immobile body.
Immobility leads to poor form on certain lifts, such as the deadlift. Keep deadlifting with a rounded back and see what happens in the future (I’m not threatening you, I promise). As Starrett so aptly states, “it’s not a problem until it becomes a problem”. Nobody is telling you that you need to be like Dhalsim, but you definitely should work on this stuff if you don’t want to be tight as a.. forget it.
What’s so great about the book then?
The book is written in easy to understand language, while at the same time feeding you enough technical and theoretical background for those who are into that sort of stuff. Personally I like learning the theory stuff, but I cannot stand reading intolerable boring scientific papers and reports, so this is a good compromise. Starrett breaks things down very easily and explains that our posture, the way we move, the way we setup for athletic movements (such as jumps or squats) all contibute to the end result of that movement.
Probably the main concept Starrett emphasises is that of ‘midline stabilisation and organisation’ – essentially that correct organisation of the spine is the key to maximising your power output. This is obviously crucial if you want to generate maximum force and power output when lifting weights (or performing any athletic movement for that matter). Even small things like an incorrect head position can compromise spinal integrity, thus affecting force. Brilliant stuff.
One of the best aspects of the book is the technical breakdown of the lifts – just about every major lift (powerlifting, Olympic, you name it) is broken down in very fine detail, illustrated with pictures. For each movement you can see the common technical problems, fixes and target areas for mobilisation (if you can’t effectively perform the movement).
This may sound like hyperbole, but implementing the simple technical fixes listed in the book instantly improved my big powerlifts (such as the squat). For example, if I wanted to improve my overhead squat, a ‘mobilization target area’ would be the anterior shoulder and chest (examples of which are found in the book of course).
For coaches in particular, Starrett provides numerous tests of mobility and joint integrity, which is great if you have just started working with an athlete and would like to assess them quickly and effectively. Of course, you can do these on a friend or have them do it to you.
The sections on joint restriction and mobilisation are MONEY! There are even mobilisations that use kegs and even barbells, useful for those of the sadomasochistic persuasion. These sections are extremely detailed and I am constantly referring to them for new mobilisation techniques as my tissue integrity improves.
Starrett is known for popularising the use of lacrosse balls for self-massage, and they’re now a regular part of my routine. Cheap but invaluable.
‘Becoming A Supple Leopard’, though a fantastic resource, is not a magic bullet – you will still have to work on this stuff, probably for as long as you live. The book promotes holistic change, starting with the way you move and conduct yourself outside the athletic setting.
The two authors have done a great job, producing an informative, entertaining, and innovative book that will surely be mentioned among the classics in 50 years time. This is a reference guide which I can see myself referring back to for a long time, both for my own training and for coaching others.
The price of the book is a small price to pay and well worth it when you consider the potential cost of seeing osteopaths and physios. Imagine not being able to play your sport or train again because of an injury – unthinkable..
Cliff notes – tl;dr version
Want to become more agile?
Want to become injury-proof?
Want to lift more weight?
THEN GET THE BOOK!
Buy ‘Becoming A Supple Leopard’ here.