This book review is LONG overdue. I bought Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett last July. I was dealing with debilitating back injury mostly all of last year and I’m just coming around to being able to exercise again. I had heard of this book due to it circulating among the Paleo/Crossfit world and one day just went out on a limb and purchased it, thinking that it would solve all my back issue problems.
When I got the book, I’ll admit I was a little overwhelmed. It was huge, heavy and looked like a textbook. I started reading and got even more confused. Torque? Internal rotation? Fault tests? I think I got in over my head. I read through the book last year, tried some of the exercises, and when my back wasn’t fixed, I put the book on the bookshelf and nearly forgot about it.
Fast forward to now. I’m at a point where I can strength train a couple of days, do some light cardio and throw in some yoga each week. But I find myself sometimes sore, and have nagging pain in my back as well the muscles in my legs at the end of the week.
This is normal right? We’re supposed to be “sore” and feel “beat up” and have muscle pain after working out, right? Well, not really. The problem is our society is too encouraging of the “no pain no gain” and “push through it” mentality. You should not ‘push through’ something if it hurts. Just no. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the ‘sore’ feeling you get after a workout. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right. But unless it’s just a case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) it’s not really normal. Our society is so “task completion obsessed” as Starrett put it, we are continually pushing through pain that should have been dealt with months ago because of the “no pain no gain” mentality.
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Starrett, in Supple Leopard compares current sports medicine practice to waiting until your engine blows up to get your car checked out, or a marine waiting until his gun jams up in battle before he realizes it needs to be fixed. We’re exercising, pushing ourselves, running, cross fitting, whatever, and then when our back/knee/shoulder starts to hurt we go see a doctor.
This is all backwards! Should we perform “maintenance” on ourselves just like we would a car so our muscles, joints and bones function properly? According to Starrett, when we exercise in a compromised position, like rounding our back when doing a dead lift we don’t feel the pain right away. Instead we go through cycles and cycles of poor position and muscle dysfunction until our bodies simply can’t handle it anymore and start hurting. This is what happened with my lower back. I was swinging a kettle bell improperly for the better part of a year. When you use poor form it’s like your body is “burning through [what should be a normal] cycle at an accelerated rate.” At some point, your body can’t do it anymore pain starts to materialize.
“You can sit all day your whole life until you can’t sit anymore,” he explains.
And just because your ‘knee’ hurts doesn’t exactly mean that it’s your knee that’s the problem. The problem is (most likely) in the mechanics of how you’re moving your body. According to Starret 98% of modern athletic injuries occur because of:
1. Over tension (missing range of motion)
2. Open-circuit faults (moving in a bad position)
Yes, it’s crazy but true (The other two percent is when you have something pathologically wrong with you, or you were in a catastrophic accident). You’d like to think you have some crazy thing going on with your body and that’s why you are in pain but most likely it is because your body has finally given out as a result of thousands and thousands of cycles of movements in poor form resulting in loss of range of motion.
This is exactly what the AMAZING doctor that performed ART (active release therapy) on me told me. He said I was missing range of motion so that’s why it hurt. What the heck does that mean??
Imagine a door that can’t be opened all the way. You keep opening the door every day and it hits up against a dresser or something that blocks its natural path. Soon enough, there will be a small dent in the door where it keeps hitting the dresser. It doesn’t happen right away, it happens over time. If the dresser wasn’t there in the first place (say, if you were using proper form) the dent (or the pain) would never be there.
Since the movement is painful your body just keeps on using the poor form, and it’s a huge cycle that just keeps repeating itself. When I got ART this released the muscles back to the proper form so the pain went away. Unfortunately, that doctor was 90 minutes drive away and not covered by insurance, so I just couldn’t keep seeing him. Enter: Supple Leopard.
example of how to identify faults ^^
This book is designed and set up for you to identify faults in your movement (easy for me since I already knew what it was) and then gives you proper mobilizing techniques in order to improve your range of motion in the affected areas. Last year when I read it I was just so overwhelmed and confused I didn’t really know how to use the book. I thought it would “fix” me. But the key is I needed to be doing these mobilizations EVERY DAY. He literally says in the book you should not be taking ANY days off from the mobilization techniques. It’s that serious. Especially if you’re working out hard, strength training with heavy weights on your own without the guidance of a cross fit box.
example of exercises^^
So why am I reviewing this book now? Because I seriously forgot how important mobility training was until…..lo and behold the OTHER side of my hips started to hurt last week after my gym sessions. I pulled out this book, identified where I was missing range of motion, and started to perform the exercises every day before my workout or in the morning if I wasn’t working out. I immediately saw an improvement.
I did the exercises for an hour and a half Monday. After that I vowed to start doing them regularly every day. And it’s hard! If you’re like me, you’re thinking “I barely have time to exercise, let along spend time on mobility”. But I’m thinking it actually might be MORE important than getting my exercise in, especially since I’m prone to injuries like this. There is no point of working out in poor form. It’s just counter productive. So I am incorporating 3-4 of these mobilizations in my workout and cutting down on the actual workouts. This post is getting really long so I think next post I will outline some of the exercises I do and give you a sample workout schedule.
I highly recommend if you’re strength training on your own to purchase this book. If you think stretching and mobility doesn’t matter, one day you will be sorely (pun intended) mistaken!
Stretching and mobility: how much do you do?
What nagging injuries do you have and think could be helped by this book?
FYI Today is my birthday, so here’s my shameless request for some love!