When it comes to strength training, I rely on the mantra, “I want to be stronger than the day before” as motivation to keep me coming back to the gym. It’s my long-term goal you can say. I imagine myself way into my forties and fifties feeling better and being stronger than I am today. But I’ve always coupled that with the idea that everyday my body is different. My energy levels are sometimes higher on some days and lower on others. So ultimately I strive to push myself to 100% of what I can do that day. But I had not considered the importance of mobility in relation to what that 100% looked and felt like. Like many others, I had really only heard and understood stretching as a preventive measure for soreness. It wasn’t of course, until I started to have serious knee pain that I began understanding where things like mobility, range of motion, and tightness play into proper mechanics, and how moving with proper mechanics sets one up for pain free and more efficient movement.
This week I’m reviewing Dr. Kelly Starrett’s new book “Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance.” I first came across Kelly Starrett through his series of youtube videos in which he dubbed the term MWOD’s or Mobility Workout Of the Day. Each video featured common trouble areas for athletes, and focused on reinforcing proper mechanics as well as simple ways to test and retest the areas after employing mobilization and stretching techniques. The idea behind the daily MWOD’s is to give the average person a language they can use to understand proper mechanics but also the tools to assess and treat their problem areas. Kelly’ passion to take advantage of the technological epoch we live in and share the wealth of information behind human movement and physical therapy is what I find most fascinating about his work. He believes “people should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves” and has been passionately sharing what he knows through social media.
I decided to give the techniques a try and see how much range of motion I had in my overhead squat and whether I could improve it. I had an AHA moment shortly after mobilizing my right shoulder that showed a notably difference from my left shoulder as I locked my arms out over-head (without weight). Even though I was not having any shoulder pain prior to this, I did feel a difference in how stable my shoulder felt afterward. I then tried a few more MWOD's and decided it was worth checking out his book that compiled his methods and techniques.
Starrett believes that “By exposing people to a broad palette of movements, by making people express body control through full, normal ranges of motion, we are able to expose holes and inefficiencies in their motor-control and mobility. We can make the invisible visible.” (K. Starrett 18) The book as it relates to his social media strategy becomes a useful reference for those who want to have an overarching understanding of his approach and methods.
The book is divided into seven chapters, the last being the mobilization methods, techniques, programming and tools as defined by body areas. This makes it easy to skip to the different parts of the body which one might like to address right away but it is highly recommended that you read the first half as it sets the stage to understand the body as an integrated system and how to approach it that way. “People need a go-to safe plan so they can take responsibility for their own dysfunctions. And that safe plan starts with position and movement.” Starrett stresses the need to understand the basic forms and functions of body in order to then understand and address dysfunctions. In other words, continuing to mobilize muscles or joints will help to alleviate but not correct what is causing the dysfunctions.
In this sense the book is very comprehensive and easy to understand, which is partly what makes both his online presence and now authorship successful. It also does take on technical information for those interested in this kind of knowledge. The information is supplemented with detailed descriptions and photos for each concept and movement that are clear and include cues to look for. The book emphasizes the reader’s responsibility to determine what’s harmful versus what useful when performing some of these mobilization techniques that can be flat out painful. He reiterates throughout the book to “not go into the pain cave” and to look out for numbness, tingling, or nervy heat. These are clear signs that damage is being done and one should stop performing the technique immediately. But what I would found, as a person who does not have a background in fitness or physical therapy, is that this can often be a blurry area. As a reader, I’d like to know more regarding “pain” and how it functions in our bodies both in its typical mode but also in this “self-maintenance” mode. Pain as a concept tends to enter the fitness culture as a brute force that is not always productive or healthy. “No pain no gain.” “Rhabdo the Clown.” Though Starrett does a good job of emphasizing that the goal of these techniques is to improve movement not cause more damage, I wonder what tools could be developed to asses the different kinds of pain we might feel?
Below are a few tid bits to chew on from his book.
Practice makes permanent: Bring mindfulness to how you move, how you behave. When you start to develop better mind and body practices – these patterns of behavior are really skills in the brain. The pathway that you light up most of the time is the pathway that is reinforced physically in the brain. It is important that you realize that you are undergoing practice all of time.
Spine Mechanics First! Prioritizing these eliminates the threat of injury to your central nervous system (CNS). If you herniate a disk or injure a facet join… it’s game over. The whole human mechanical system shuts down. Second, a disorganized spine will lead to mechanical compromises.
Good Mechanics before Mobilization: We prioritize midline stabilization and good movement mechanics over mobilization techniques because often what looks like tight musculature is really the body protecting the nervous system.
For the Deskies out there: For every 30min of sitting take 4min to mobilize [whatever needs attention i.e. hip flexors etc]
The Laws of Torque: There is no getting around the laws of torque. This principle of movement is bedrock to all safe, high yield athletic movements.
The Bracing Sequence for Optimal Spinal Position:
- Squeeze your butt as hard as you can
- Pull your Ribcage down
- Get your belly tight
- Set your head in a neutral position and screw your shoulders into a stable position