Book Review: Becoming a Supple Leopard

supple leopard starrett
Kelly Starrett

I finally finished reading Kelly Starrett’s and Glen Cordoza’s book (actually, that’s Dr. Kelly Starrett with Glen Cordoza according to the cover credit) Becoming a Supple Leopard, 2nd Ed, and I have to say that I’m really impressed and somewhat intimidated.

I’m impressed and intimidated by the sheer volume of information this book contains. Starrett’s tome isn’t something you just sit down and shoot through in a couple of hours and when you’re done, you’re done. By rights, I really need to work with this book for some time to get the most benefit out of it.

Unfortunately, it’s a library book and being found in the new books section, I can only keep it 14 days tops (I’ve already reserved it and checked it out twice).

The amount of information contained therein is kind of overwhelming for a novice athlete such as me, but then again, not each and every page applies to my circumstances or goals.

Starrett structured the book in four basic sections.

Part 1: Principles and Theory explains the theoretical and scientific background behind the principles he teaches for body mechanics, both in day-to-day living and when performing athletic activities.

Part 2: Categories of Movement is the section that caught my attention. Starrett provides detailed instructions on how best to approach a wide variety of in-the-gym (or in-the-home) exercises. Since I’ve been looking for ways to improve my back squat and bent leg deadlift, I was very interested in Starrett’s techniques.

Part 3: Mobilization Techniques focuses on activities to improve mobility or heal injuries for different parts of the human body.

Part 4: Mobility Prescriptions leverages part 3 by describing which combination of mobilization techniques can be used for specific problem areas or injuries, as well as offering programs to improve general mobility.

The book is meant to be a self-help instruction manual, which I appreciate. Photos (mainly of Starrett) show from both front and side view, step-by-step, how to perform each and every move in every technique or exercise this author is describing.

The problem for me is that I can’t really take the book into the squat rack at the gym and use it as a guide. Also, I can’t see myself from the side to verify that I’m emulating Starrett exactly (or even approximately in some cases).

I do have to say that I think my back squat has improved thanks to what I’ve read in the book, but it would be better to have someone observe me as compared to the ideal Starrett has presented, and offer some correction.

kelly starrett
Photo Credit: t-nation.com

I’ve yet to try the mobility prescriptions, although a few of them did get my attention. I’ll probably have to return the book to the library soon, but I hope I’ll get the opportunity to work with it a little more before then.

I wish I could convey better what this book teaches. It’s not just about how to improve your back squat or any other lift. According to Starrett, most people sit down and get up out of a chair in a less than optimal manner. For that matter, even how we stand and walk, in most cases, can be improved.

I’m now pretty self-conscious about all of that. Even resting on a bench in the weight room between sets has me thinking that I’m slouching instead of keeping my spine neutral. I know I can do better, but it would take a lot of practice and hard work to integrate everything Starrett teaches into my life.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the book’s official website or MobilityWOD.com which is Starrett’s online guide to mobility improvement. I also found a more authoritative review of the book at BrakingMuscle.com written by fitness professional Jeff Kuhland, as well as Danette “Dizzle” Rivera’s commentary at the same website called How Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Seminar Ruined Me (there’s some satire in the title).

As an aside, my wife bought a DVD and accompanying equipment she really likes called Treat While You Train, made with Starrett and yoga professional Jill Miller. I’ll post a sample of the training video I found on YouTube at the bottom of this blog post to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

But I suppose I should chronicle how I ended week 2 of round 3 of my current mutant strength workout routine.

As usual, depending on the specific exercise and how long I’d been working out, I rested anywhere from 60 to 120+ seconds between sets (rest periods get longer the longer I’m lifting).

Barbell Back Squat in Squat Rack

8x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 160lbs/72.5748kg
8x 185lbs/83.9146kg
8x 185lbs/83.9146kg

wide stance deadlift
Photo credit: t-nation.com

Barbell Close Grip Bench Press

8x 95lbs/43.0913kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg
8x 130lbs/58.967kg
8x 130lbs/58.967kg

Barbell Bent Leg Deadlifts

8x 145lbs/65.7709kg
8x 185lbs/83.9146kg
8x 205lbs/92.9864kg
8x 205lbs/92.9864kg

Barbell Overhead Press

8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
8x 60lbs/27.2155kg
8x 65lbs/29.4835kg
8x 65lbs/29.4835kg

Barbell Standing Curls

8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
8x 65lbs/29.4835kg
8x 75lbs/34.0194kg
8x 75lbs/34.0194kg

Body Hang w/Shoulders Engaged
x20 seconds

Body Dead Hang
x30 seconds

As you can see, I did absolutely no bonus work at all. I toyed with the idea of doing a bonus set of deadlifts or, at the end of my workout, throwing a few sets of zercher squats into the mix, but in assessing my own strength and endurance as my gym session progressed, I felt like I had just enough “moxie” in me to make it through the usual routine.

That said, I did try to make sure I got everything I could out of what I did including getting as low as I could in my back squats.

As I said before, this is where I think Starrett’s book has helped me the most. I’m now consciously going through each part of the squat step-by-step mentally as I perform the actions. I still feel like I don’t have it quite right, but that’s the problem with me not being able to see myself from the side or back.

Just like Monday, warm up sets of the close grip press were pretty easy and I was able to get the bar very close to my chest, but at the working weight, I had to be a tad more conservative. I did lower the bar a little extra which made the effort of pushing it back up all the more “interesting”. Fortunately, it was all still “doable,” but just barely.

arnold squat
Photo credit: outlawfitnesshq.com

At 145 pounds, pumping out 8 reps for the first warm up set of deadlifts was almost easy, but I could feel 185 pounds as I went through the second set. I was winded by this point but managed 205 pounds of working weight reasonably well. The amount of effort it took showed as I was deloading the bar and saw how much sweat I was dripping on the bench and floor. I know I need to go back to Starrett’s book and reinvent my deadlifts. I could be doing them a lot better.

The energy exerted in my lifts up to this point is what I think makes the subsequent overhead press and standing curls harder for me. I’m already pretty wiped out from squats and deadlifts.

At the working weight, I felt the difficulty in pressing the barbell over my head, almost “stalling” on several of the reps in the third and fourth sets.

My standing barbell curls seemed easier than on Monday, although I felt 75 pounds was just about right for the 8 reps per working set I had scheduled for today.

I had just a few minutes left on the clock after I finished my curls, and I was tempted to get in a set or 2 of zercher squats, but decided instead on my body hang exercise, since I hadn’t done that in a while. As soon as pulled myself up and engaged my shoulders, I knew I wasn’t going to make 30 or 35 seconds, and collapsed into a dead hang after a mere 20.

I held on in the dead hang longer than I expected, but I felt my grip loosening and let go at the 30 second mark, ultimately “hanging around” for a total of 50 seconds rather than the desired 60 (or more).

I can feel it in my thighs and glutes every time I get up out of my chair, and my delts, traps, and biceps are all sore. I can even feel soreness in my abs from yesterday’s core work, which just goes to show you I’ve neglected that area too long.

Next week is week 3 of round 3, my 5 rep per set week where the weights go up again. Wish me luck.

And now, as promised, here’s a brief video of Starrett and Miller and their instructions on how to improve mobility and encourage healing with therapy balls. Maybe if I do this long enough, I’ll become a supple leopard, too.

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

Walter Bagehot

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