Customer Review

311 of 364 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but not the be-all end-all, May 24, 2013
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This review is from: Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance (Hardcover)
Before we start, yes, this is freaking long. I know. I originally wrote this for people at Reddit, and only made a few minor edits for Amazon.

First off, a squabble with how the book was published: I ended up paying 50 euros to purchase the book and get it shipped over here, at Amazon.com, which is a US-based website. This is odd because I live in the Netherlands, so it would've made much more sense to order at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de, but then I would've paid 50 euros for just the book sans the shipping. This is odd and in dire need of correction.

On Amazon, all you read are rave reviews of how the book will change your life and will instantly make you the healthiest human being on the planet and all that... well, I don't believe in magic bullets, and neither should you. Don't take this as me saying the book isn't good; it is and there are definitely a lot of things I've learnt from it. However, I don't think it's the be-all-end-all of fitness books.

Overall, the book is well-written; very digestible writing. However, I can see that if you're new to this, you'll probably have a hard time on some parts, and will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. Because there is a lot of information: there are 32 individual movements described, ranging from a basic air squat to a muscle-up and there are over a 150 pages describing specific mobility techniques.

The book starts of with an introduction, which, as expected, is Kelly banging his own drum loudly for a couple pages; there is no real info there. From there on out, the book is divided up into roughly three parts:

* Introduction to/Explanation of the movement and mobility system: this explains Kelly's general rules for movement, mainly concerning spinal organisation and bracing.
* Movement system details: this discusses how to execute specific movements, as well as spotting mobility restrictions.
* Mobility system details: this discusses how to alleviate mobility restrictions.

The idea is that you can skip to either the second or the third part and start working on becoming a Supple Leopard right away, but that reading the second part provides you with a picture of how to integrate the two systems. That's the idea, at least. Skipping to the second or third part more feels like visiting the old mobilityWOD site: you have a bunch of movements and mobilizations, and you know kind of which mobilization is supposed to improve which movement, but it's not really a system; or at least, it doesn't feel that way. I'd say it's pretty good, but to get the whole picture you really need to read the whole book.

The main problems I had with this book popped up in the first section. It's fine throughout the introduction, but then it comes to a 4-step diagram on how to assume neutral-braced-spinal position, which is the very first thing the book teaches you other than "the gym is your lab". The first step is okay, but then the second step tells you to align your pelvis and ribcage by pulling the lower ribs down. Now, I know pretty well what that last thing feels like, but I had and still have no clue whether I was overdoing it or not. There is a thing called the two-hand rule a bit later on, but that was no help either as it doesn't work if your starting position isn't correct.
Despite these pitfalls, I spent a couple of days as a posture nazi; just hoping my ribcage was aligned well, and it definitely feels pretty good: when I had a symposium on friday and ended up with lower back pain from sitting all days, organizing myself into a neutral-braced position helped significantly. However, I did get a bit sore the first two days from having to brace your abs all the time, and I don't think it's entirely necessary to stay braced every nanosecond of your existence despite the book telling you to. Moreover, I felt like some of my shoulder issues were aggravated during those couple of days, but maybe that was a result of my complete lack of regard for ribcage positioning because I did not know what to do with it.

After the whole spinal organization management ordeal, the book goes on to explain the "laws of torque". In my mind, torque is something to do with forces and lever-arms, so I was expecting something to do with forces and lever-arms, but instead the first rule is: "externally rotate your shoulders/hips to generate torque!" That is, if your legs or arms are in flexion. In extension, you simply "Internally rotate your shoulders/hips to generate torque!"
Now I kind of understand where this came from: force generation at a joint is actually torque generation, in the sense that the muscle attaches to somewhere on the bone beyond the joint, creating a lever, and putting your joints in the right position so that the lever-arms are optimized and torque at the joint is at a maximum and so force at the object you're trying to move is at a maximum. However, no explanation of the sort is present and it starts getting ridiculous when the book starts saying things like "improper movement patterns bleeds torque", and "this is a huge torque dump". Torque this, torque that. It's a buzzword that serves no use whatsoever, you can shove it up your ass for all I care.
Speaking of buzzwords, there's more. Like "mobilizing". "We shouldn't stretch, we should mobilize!" Sounds like something really revolutionary, until you learn that "mobilize" means "stretch and foam roll". Why can't you just call it "stretching and foam rolling"? Because it puts people in the wrong state of mind? If it's truly as effective as you claim it is, it'll be seen by people regardless.
Again, despite the flaws I gave it a shot, and I must say, it works really well. My shoulders feel a lot more stable if I externally rotate at the top of a pushup or at the bottom of a row. However, I also feel it puts the long head of my biceps under stretch if I overdo it (which I tend to do with mobility elements), which is a bad thing because I have been dealing with tendonitis of the head for a bit.

Next it goes into detailing specific movements, like squatting, pushups and pullups. These are meant as a "movement template". There isn't a description of ring rows anywhere since it's producing force while your body is horizontal, so the rules for the pushup apply. Normally I'd say this is a bad thing, but it actually works pretty well and it cuts down on the content a lot.
The movements are divided into three categories, each one a bit more complex than the previous. The system is pretty intuitive, but I wouldn't have had any complaints if the movements were just put on one big heap.
One qualm I have with this section pertains to a specific movement: the handstand pushup. Most notably, the freestanding handstand pushup. First off, the thing demonstrated is called a "headstand pushup" which isn't a huge complaint because laypeople call it a handstand pushup anyway, but I think the distinction is important. Second, most of the movements have some sort of progression via movements detailed earlier, but this thing doesn't. There's not a word on proper handstands and the only tip the book gives on achieving the freestanding HSPU is to do wall-supported HSPU with your back to the wall, which promotes flaring your elbows and arching your back, which is exactly what you don't want to do. Didn't like this part much. The rest of the section is pretty decent, though.
Only thing I'm not so sure about it shoving the knees out when squatting. It does help me personally because I tend to let my knees cave inwards during a squat, but it looks like the extreme amount of knees-out demonstrated in the book will just hurt your knees, so I don't know what to think about that yet.

It finishes up with the mobility elements. This is about half the book and it's basically a bunch of stretches and ways to foam roll various parts of the body, mostly using a couple of lacrosse balls, but most hard round objects work: I did most of the work using a tennis ball instead of a lacrosse ball and old inner tubing for a bike as resistance band. It's all very decent and yields results quickly, but I have yet to see permanent change that lasted more than a couple of hours. This was also my experience with the stuff I picked up from the mobilityWOD website. When I was having elbow issues ("hot elbow" as mr Starrett calls it) I tried out "elbow voodoo" (just look it up on YouTube) and all my pain went away... for a couple of hours, that is.
It may just take some more time, and I do feel that digging into my posterior shoulder with a tennis ball really helps improve pain, but overall I think the whole magic bullet-image that BASL's mobility elements have is way overblown. Yes, they work for a bit, but after the first couple hours it's back to regular, or at least it feels that way.
Also, I think they understated the rule "if it feels sketchy, it is probably sketchy and you shouldn't do it". The mobility techniques can be somewhat painful at times, and while working on my general knee area, I started getting a weird sensation at the shin while moving my foot around, and after that a weird sensation around the patellar tendon. Instead of backing off, I explored those sensations and ended up with a painful knee, as if the meniscus was displaced for a bit. My knee is okay now, but since then I'm a bit more careful with mobilizing things. It's something I should've kept in mind from the get-go, though.

All in all, I already said it in the beginning: it's decent, but it's not the book written by god because Jesus had low back-pain from not producing enough torque at the hips.

TL;DR: Here's the short version:

* If you live in Europe, it's probably cheaper to order from Amazon.com rather than Amazon.de or Amazon.co.uk. This is weird.
* Easy reading, but there is a lot of info.
* If you don't read the book as a whole, it's kind of disorganized.
* I still don't know what a proper ribcage position looks like and the rule further in the book doesn't help much either, despite this being one of the very first things you're supposed to learn.
* The ideal posture described in the book feels pretty good, but I'm not sure it's as paramount during daily life as the book says.
* The use of the word "torque" is annoying, as is saying "mobilize" rather than "stretch and foam roll" as if it's an entirely different thing.
* Actually doing what the book says about the laws of torque is very effective, though.
* Handstand pushup section sucks, but the rest of the movements are described effectively.
* It looks like the mobility elements are more temporary fixes rather than permanent fixes
* Don't go too hard on the mobility stuff

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: It's decent, but it's not the be-all-end-all like everyone would have you believe.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 18, 2013 11:59:40 AM PDT
Mike D. says:
Is there a "be-all end-all" book on this subject that you prefer? Even after reading your well-balanced review it still sounds like a really good book with helpful information.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 18, 2013 12:07:32 PM PDT
Rik says:
Nah, I don't think there is. It is a really good book with helpful information.

Posted on Jul 13, 2013 4:29:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 13, 2013 4:31:41 PM PDT
KLW says:
I agree with you about "torque". I am more on board with him on "mobilize", because the activities most people call stretching are useless or worse and they should just chuck the whole thing.

In general, I was very skeptical about Starrett and his book, due to the smell of cult that comes off of Crossfit. However, I think the mobility stuff and exercise technique advice is mostly quite good. I am still skeptical about the feet forward/knees out squatting. It obviously works for him, but my ankles don't go that way and I'm not convinced forcing them to is a good idea.

Your complaint about lack of lasting results sounds superficial to me. You can't just use one technique on a pain area one time and expect a miracle. He goes to some trouble to explain that where you have pain is often not the problem. The pain area is just where whatever chain of misalignments and problems you have ends. In chronic pain situations, it's usually a muscle, joint or insertion that is mostly doing its job, but is massively overworked because it is also helping to the job of other inactive or dysfunctional areas. In addition to "upstream/downstream" you also have to sometimes look at the other side of the body with anything bilateral. If you have elbow pain, it could be the result of any number of joint or tissue or movement mechanic problems virtually anywhere in your upper body. It might take weeks to suss it all out and especially to accumulate enough time stretching to substantially increase the resting length of short tissues, if that is part of the problem.

This is one area where I disagree with him and Crossfit: adaptations like lengthening or strengthening a muscle or movement cannot be accomplished by a random shotgun approach with random frequency. This type of adaptation (supercompensation) is gradual and requires serial and consistent programming. If you need to increase the length of your hamstring, for instance, you need to do the same stretch every day, twice per day is better, for many minutes, for weeks. If you want to press heavier weight overhead, you need to do the same press over and over, with proper training loads/volume and rest time in between sessions, apply measured, gradual increases in load, and avoid too much other work with those muscles and even your whole body systems that can interfere with recovery. For this reason I agree that this book, and Crossfit is not really a stand-alone type of affair. In general is mostly good for people who are already knowledgeable and quite fit. Most of what they do is way too random and high volume/endurance oriented for a beginner who needs to gain strength or workout serious biomechanical issues.

Posted on Jul 27, 2013 3:53:52 PM PDT
Anonymous says:
I completely agree with what you say about "torque" and "mobilize"--those were unhelpful terms, and I found the author's explanations hard to understand because he uses words in really unconventional ways. As for better books on the same subject, I would suggest The Science of Flexibility, and Starting Strength.

Posted on Oct 3, 2013 7:15:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2013 7:16:01 PM PDT
got a link to the reddit thread?

Hoping to fix my posture.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2013 12:57:30 PM PDT
If you're interested in improving posture and use (as opposed to just building stamina/muscle), you might do well to check out the Alexander Technique. Most posture issues have nothing to do with muscle weakness per se. Here's a good site to get you started: www.alexandertechnique.com.

Posted on Oct 24, 2013 1:43:52 PM PDT
hashtag says:
As someone who has read most of the book I totally agree with you about his stupid buzz words- "torque, power, mobility"

Posted on Nov 21, 2013 8:02:52 AM PST
I think you have to have an open mind when approaching this book and I understand the "torque" term is confusing, but the "mobility" term is not that confusing having read the book. I think that when you mobilize in a position it has more things involved than just stretching such as motor control and balance. For instance I have wrestled at an elite level with some of the best in the world and your body gets in weird positions! If I can bend over and touch my toes does that mean I can get in some other difficult positions that require hamstring and low back flexibility? Maybe or maybe not. I still need the motor control and balance to get into the other positions even if I have "flexible" hamstrings. I don't think any book will be a end all be all. It is like saying a photograph is better than a video. It is just one moment in time. But this as a book is a good "photograph".
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