Sunday, July 28, 2013

Becoming a Supple Leopard

I'll admit that I've always been a little skeptical of Kelly Starrett. A few years back he came out with a lecture beginning with the inflammatory statement "STRETCHING IS DEAD!". Anyone that's followed this blog for long knows I'm a big believer in "stretching". It didn't help that despite declaring the death of stretching, a year or two later, he was preaching the virtues of stretching quite heavily in his mobility WODs.
Becoming a Supple Leopard
So, when he came out with a flashy hardcover book with textbook price tag of over $60, I wasn't sure what to think. Seeing it in the local book store, I decided to swallow my pride and get a copy.

I'm glad I did.
Kelly has put together a book that you won't be ashamed to have on your coffee table. It is a beautifully bound hardcover book with glossy pages and hundreds of photos illustrating exercises and mobility work. If it were a college-level textbook, it would sell for over a hundred dollars - seriously.

Exercise and Drill Descriptions
The exercise descriptions, full-color photos, and tips are outstanding. 
Quite frankly, most people have no idea what they are doing when it comes to stretching and mobility work. With this book, people will be able to target just about any area that needs stretching/mobility work. Watching random videos put out by CF boxes, sometimes you wonder if there is any competent exercise skill and technique coaching present at all. This book, if followed closely, will give people a lot of food for technique thought and more than enough mobility fodder to experiment with for years.

The chapter on "Laws of Torque" is going to be eye-opening for many people. I've been talking about spiral tension and emphasizing external rotation and it's application in squatting, pressing and overhead work for years, but this is probably the first published work I've seen on the topic other than Pavel's "The Naked Warrior" (another EXCELLENT book by the way).

Kelly Starrett talks about torque and shoulder stability in this video:
Universal Cues for Creating a Stable Hip Position:
*Screw your feet into the ground.
*Spin your feet as if they are on dinner plates.
*Spread the floor.
*Shove your knees out. 
Universal Cues for Creating a Stable Shoulder Position:
*Break (bend) the bar.
*Keep your elbows in.
*Armpits forward (when pressing overhead).
*Elbow pits forward (when doing a pushup).
- From Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett (p. 50)
If there are any criticisms of the book that I have, they would be the following - understand that they are minor criticisms, but I feel obligated to state them:

*I'll admit, I'm not completely sold on the idea of moving potentially injured joints through pain and full range of motion while under compression (called 'voodoo flossing' in the book), and the current trend toward demonization of ice in the S&C community, to me, is silly. Has ice been overused as a restorative tool? Absolutely, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here...

*Tips make you better, but tips don't make you good. Although the book is presented as a system, it often reads like an encyclopedia of tips and techniques - nothing wrong with that, but you might have to kiss a lot of frogs on the way to finding your drill prince charming. Time under the bar and on the mat in the study of movement (and movement under load) goes without saying.

*I think the dichotomy between stretching and mobility is an artificial and grossly overstated one. That said, I think Kelly Starrett presents his argument for the distinction well and it's clear he knows the subject.

If you are a strength and conditioning coach, movement coach, or Crossfit gym owner, trainer, or trainee, I think this book is essential for your training library.


Tom said...

I've benefited greatly from the material that both you and Starrett put out, so first of all thanks.

I understand (intellectually) the importance of torque, external rotation, and stability, but man does it feel weird when I try to squat with my feet parallel, as he advocates. Not sure if it's weird-unfamiliar, or weird-wrong, but I can't let go of the idea that the knees MUST track over the feet or else my knee caps will fly across the room.

So I wonder if you have a position on Starrett's position on foot position in the squat. :)

Paul / Edgewater said...

Boris, you're always on the mark. I shelled out $60 for this thing last week. As a librarian, that almost killed me. But good photography and glossy print really are expensive to produce.

Starrett drives me batty. He has a dense, rapid ADHD speaking style that I can tolerate for about 8 minutes. I'm not even sure how you survived his lecture. I recommend his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast--a sweet pop culture moment when the hyper-caffeinated Starrett appeared with the hyper-stoned Rogan. For three hours.

I thought "Supple Leopard" was going to have longer prose passages to explain the method behind this guy's madness. Note that he has a Ph.D. from a legit institution. But like you say, "Supple Leopard" is an encyclopedia of tips and techniques. I wish he had something deeper and meditative in this thing, but it's not there. Having said that, within one week I've already significantly reduced some upper back pain that follows me around. So in the end, $60 well spent.

Boris said...

Thank you Tom.

I think he's right on the stance issue, and I've always advocated for external rotation of the hips to squat properly. But, width of stance will play a role here too, so while I agree w. it as a general rule, the rule can be bent.

Thank you very much. I like his style of speech (and writing), but it's NOT for everyone.

Niel K. Patel said...

I'm one of those people it's not for. Kelly's a smart guy and I've checked out his material, and still do, but personally I haven't liked it to date.

Anoopbal said...

here is another review: