Becoming a Supple Leopard Book Review

Leopard looking for a meal

Becoming a Supple Leopard is a book with no short amount of rave and popular preachers. Co-authored by the founder of MobilityWOD, Dr. Kelly Starret, it’s stellar 5-star Amazon rating based on thousands of ratings, would lead you to believe that Becoming a Supple Leopard solves all your mobility problems. Despite choosing a title most academics might not have come up with, Becoming a Supple Leopard lies at the academic core of the teachings and implementations of many coaches. The great majority of ratings are of course, amateur. We’re here to cast a professional, physiotherapeutic perspective on Becoming a Supple Leopard as well as determining its virtues to a Calisthenics practitioner.

Basic information about Becoming a Supple Leopard

  • Title: Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance
  • Authors: Dr. Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza
  • Edition: 2
  • Publisher: Victory Belt Publishing
  • Page Count: 480
  • ISBN: 1628600837

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The Authors: Who is Dr. Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza?

Dr. Kelly Starret is the brains behind The Ready State and the Virtual Mobility Coach app by extension. Besides co-authoring Becoming a Supple Leopard, Kelly wrote two other bestseller books on Mobility exercise and workouts. He is a consultant to many nationally performing athletes and teams in the NHL, NBA, NFL and MBL. He also advises and consults coaches and athletes on U.S. Olympic teams. He further advises high-tier military organizations like the U.S. Marine Corps, elite Army units and, albeit allegedly, the U.S. Navy SEALS.

Glen Cordoza is a former professional MMA and Muay Thai boxer who has gone to publish multiple books ranging in subjects from martial arts to mobility exercise. To date, he has more than 20 books to his name, some which co-authored with other experts in his field like Dr. Kelly Starret and Bret Contreras Phd. Some of his books have gone on to become New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.

Our Review of Becoming a Supple Leopard

We would like to preface this review with the two key notions mentioned in the book. These are the core learning criteria of what the book tries to convey. The first is that Becoming a Supple Leopard is highly informative and conceptual in nature. Unlike a Calisthenics Program, it does not deliver a ready-made training program for an end-user to follow. Instead, it teaches broader concepts about human movement and lays a theoretical foundation upon which movement patterns can be developed. Or, 

“Create an all-encompassing, open-ended system for human movement that teaches people how to predict and resolve dysfunctional movement patterns that can impede performance and lead to injury or pain.” – Dr. Kelly Starret et al, Becoming a Supple Leopard

Here is where many reviews by de-facto end users get it wrong; they read the material and are overwhelmed by the level of detail and density of the information presented. They cannot but be impressed by the intellectual and factual correctness of the material and feel obliged to give it a very high rating. 

To put it more succinctly; this is reading material at a college degree level at the least, being read chiefly by people who pursue this information as laymen at best. 

That is not to say that this is theory only. The book is teaching material too, applied science and not just science for the sake of science. The second stated goal makes this obvious:

“Give people the tools they need to perform basic, routine maintenance on their bodies so that they have a model for preventing, treating, and resolving injury and pain, as well as improving mobility (joint and tissue restrictions).” – Dr. Kelly Starret et al, Becoming a Supple Leopard

The practical implication here is that Becoming a Supple Leopard is a textbook teaching you the scientific underpinnings of Mobility exercise from a physiotherapeutic point of view and making that theory practicable in as broad a number of situations as is possible. Examples would be a coach who does not know beforehand the state of mobility of a new apprentice, or a therapist who can’t know what the treatment plan of their next patient is going to be without diagnosis.

For the Calisthenics practitioner, Mobility athlete or enthusiast this means Becoming a Supple Leopard teaches you to teach yourself. 

Readability and Language Used

The text itself is very readable and, to put some counterweight to our earlier claims of it being a textbook, is read from a more practical perspective. Starret makes heavy use of jargon (subject-matter terms), like you would expect from a subject-matter textbook. To fully understand the text, you are required to read this text front to back and become acquainted with the meaning of these terms fairly deeply. It is learning material, after all.

At once, sentence structure is very personal unlike the often more impersonal and neutral language used in textbooks. It also mitigates this knowledge prerequisite by referring to where this information can be found in the text or a reminder (often in parentheses).

To illustrate, here is the opening paragraph of Chapter 5: Movement Hierarchy,

“Once you understand the basic organizing principles that govern spine and joint stability (outlined in chapters 1 through 3) and the body archetypes (outlined in chapter 4), the next step is to put them to work in a safe and controlled environment (the gym) using full-range, transferable strength and conditioning movements. Let’s quickly revisit why this is so important.” – Dr. Kelly Starret et al, Becoming a Supple Leopard, Chapter 5

A typical textbook would not include phrases like “Once you understand” or “Let’s quickly”, and simply begin reciting the theory or discuss applying the theory in various ways. This is not an isolated paragraph but rather the voice of the author. These additions make the text less concise than it needs to be to convey the information from a purely academic standpoint. However, it does make the text more accessible to a wider audience who might feel benefitted by the small reminders. 

In the cited paragraph, joint stability, body archetypes and controlled environment are all jargon, terms that have a specific meaning in the context of Mobility exercise. The reader is referred to the specific chapter where these terms are discussed or even told specifically what they mean if it can be done concisely enough. 

All in all, Becoming a Supple Leopard integrates the technical languages of physiotherapy and Mobility exercise well into a readable textbook. Readers picking up this book should expect and be expected to read the theory and acquaint themselves with the terminology.

Content Overview and Flow

The book is divided into 4 parts, layering the information in a typical academic line that goes from concept to theory to practice. These 4 parts are:

Principles and Theory (Chapters 1 to 6)

Part 1 imbues the reader with the higher concepts of Mobility Exercise and delves into some of the scientific theory behind it. It is here where much of the terminology is discussed and serves as the jargon basis of the rest of the book. You should understand, again, that this is not a cookie cutter program. If you cannot bring this knowledge in from the outside, you will be hard pressed to understand the rest of the book where these concepts and terms come back all the time.

Basic laws of torque are taught, along with body archetypes and movement hierarchy. These are key concepts in constructing an effective, and, above all safe exercise routine later. 

Categories of Movement (3 Sub-Parts)

Part 2 discusses the theory and ideal execution of several Mobility exercises. Here we see the introduction into the actionable theory of various movement techniques ranging from Push-Ups to Muscle-Ups. The book divides a list of 26 exercises, many of which we are familiar with in Calisthenics, into 3 categories. If you want to fully appreciate this work, it will mean memorizing and practicing many of these exercises yourself. At the least, you need to know what is meant by all 26 of these techniques and know their movements.

Category 1 exercises are those with the most carry over into day-to-day life, while categories 2 and 3 head more towards practicing sports and athleticism. 

Mobilization Techniques

Part 3 presents us with the practical implementation of the techniques taught in Part 2 to solve the issues we identified using the theory of Part 1. Part 3 is where concepts and theory about practice become practical. Here the body is split into 14 chief areas where mobility dysfunctionality may exist or where the subject (patient, athlete, practitioner) wants to become stronger or more agile than they currently are. 

We are also introduced to various tools and aids like rollers and balls and how they can help or reinforce techniques.

We were offered a broad slew of Mobilization Techniques which may alleviate pain, resolve mobility dysfunction or improve existing mobility. All techniques are accompanied by pictures, usually in a 1-2-3 fashion of beginning stance, full flexion/rotation, ending or return stance. 

Mobility Prescriptions

The final part is the administering of a set of Mobilization Techniques after having diagnosed problem areas and selecting the correct techniques for them. It is here where the textbook nature of Becoming a Supple Leopard comes together. You need to know the theory to diagnose dysfunctional mobility or appreciate the current level of mobility and the desired level of mobility. You need to know the tools and techniques of your craft, in this case Mobility exercises and tools. Finally, you need to put together the appropriate exercises and tools to come to a treatment. These are the Mobility Prescriptions.

Multiple prescriptions are given for many common mobility issues. For instance, there is a prescription for people having trouble with overhead mobility (reaching above them), involving stepped elbow extension, shoulder flexion and shoulder rotation exercises until a higher degree of overhead mobility is reached.

Factuality of Becoming a Supple Leopard

How factual Becoming a Supple Leopard is has become a topic of some debate. The techniques prescribed, shown and explained are all sound and valid. There is no technique in this book that should cause controversy from a medical or therapeutic standpoint. We do get where some of the more peripheral critique comes from. Dr. Kelly Starret is not afraid to seek the semantic edges of his terminology, for instance. Let’s explain using a commonly cited technique.

Becoming a Supple Leopard proscribes not “stretching” but, instead to “mobilize” your body. In the context of the book, mobilizing simply means “stretching using a foam roller”. For clarity’s sake and if you want to get semantic, that should be the description. Mobilizing can have too many other meanings other than stretching with a foam roller, even in a physiotherapeutic sense. 

As readers, we should understand that Dr. Starret is also laying out the framework of his philosophies which are rooted in the scientific understanding of human mobility. 

This segways us into the second factuality point; you cannot understand Becoming a Supple Leopard completely without understanding its own, unique context. The book was designed so you can skip Part 1 and 2 and go immediately for the remedies. In our mind, this would lead to a severe lack of understanding of what it is that you’re doing. We think that Dr. Starret is trying to market his book to a wider audience here by saying you don’t need to ready the stuffy parts.

Maybe that would work, but it would leave you seriously deprived of some of the unique context in which this book is situated. It is very much so Kelley Starret’s view on Mobility exercise as it is a textbook on Mobility exercise in general. 

The Good

  • Fairly easy to read, does include terminology but refers to it, reminds of it or explains it concisely
  • Very information dense, information is factual
  • Builds up from conceptual and theoretical underpinnings to actionable steps

The Bad

  • You must read the whole book to understand the context and organization
  • Semantics sometimes come in the way of remaining neutral, such as “mobilizing” vs “stretching” only meaning the inclusion of a foam roller

Conclusions About Becoming a Supple Leopard

What is Becoming a Supple Leopard exactly and where does it belong in our Calisthenics Bookscollection? It’s not merely a collection of exercises or a succinct program an enthusiastic but ultimately hobbyist can follow. A Supple Leopard goes much deeper into the subject matter of human anatomy and physiotherapy than that. It takes you on an almost scholarly journey from concept to theory to practice. It manages to do that while remaining very readable and accessible to the average, non-academic and not even subject-oriented reader. An accountant or a truck driver could pick up this book and become quite knowledgeable about the subject of Mobility dysfunction and exercise.

This comes at a slight cost of neutrality, since Dr. Kelly Starret had to choose how to express the meanings of terms and how to weave them into a coherent treatment philosophy. Most of the time he does this well. In some cases, smarter decisions could have been made here. All in all, we must understand that Becoming a Supple Leopard is very much Starret’s philosophy on Mobility exercise from his medical knowledge and expertise. 

We must also not forget that this book was co-written by Glen Cordoza. Mobility dysfunction or, in practical terms, helping someone to pick up a cup above their reach, is something different entirely to fighting a skilled opponent in an MMA cage. A purely academic approach to Mobility exercise, neutral positions and treating dysfunctionality, isn’t soon interested in destroying the mobility of an opponent in a ring.

This creates a book with a philosophy that lives in its own context; applying scientific concepts and utilizing the latest in medical research, nonetheless. Where does this put Becoming a Supple Leopard on bookshelf?

If you want to become more knowledgeable about the scientific and conceptual underpinnings of Mobility exercise, deepen your understanding of how your body works and how you can improve your own mobility, then this book is right for you. If you have a mind that craves to understand and to learn and isn’t afraid to get technical, acquiring new terminology, then Becoming a Supple Leopard is a highly recommended read.

After that, it will serve as a very adequate reference book for both Calisthenics practitioners, sports practitioners and athletes alike.

If you’re looking for a quick guide to make a Mobility Program, you won’t find it here. For that, The Ready State Virtual Mobility Coach would be the right address. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Supple Leopard

A couple of general questions about Becoming a Supple Leopard.

Is Becoming a Supple Leopard worth it?

Becoming a Supple Leopard is worth it if you want to learn about the scientific and theoretic underpinnings of Mobility exercise, if you want to understand and compose a mobility treatment plan for yourself, and if you crave knowledge about what it is that you're doing.

Read Becoming a Supple Leopard Online for Free?

We're sure a savvy internet user could find a free, pirated copy of Becoming a Supple Leopard and read it for free. We don't subscribe to this, not merely out of morality but also from a psychological point of few. Becoming a Supple Leopard allows you to help yourself. If you're not even willing to pay a small amount of money for that, we doubt you'll have the fortitude to improve yourself, book or no book.

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