Book Reviews

Book Review: Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

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Kelly Starrett (KStar) is a mobility celebrity of sorts, especially in the CrossFit community. He is the brains behind and he brought flossing to the masses. If you ever want to gain flexibility, mobility, or resolve pain/tightness, he is a great place to start. This book represents most of what KStar provided on his posts for about a year. In it you will find stretches, muscle and joint realignment techniques, instruction on how to perform some key exercises, and more.

It also includes some controversial aspects like whether or not to squat with your feet straight or not which are outside the scope of this review. In this regard I think that the second half of the book is where the real value is.

The second half is a body part by body part encyclopedia of mobility information. Got golfers elbow? Turn to the elbow joint section for 20+ remedies. Sore/tight hips? Posterior chain section. He provides simple fixes like stretches and also more advanced remedies like flossing, joint gapping, and more advanced foam roller techniques. This section is worth the price of the book alone, and I’d frankly recommend that most people pick up a copy just to have on hand for when they need to work on a particular body part. I have used several of his techniques with my athletes with great success.

Think of it as a reference resource and have at your disposal hundreds of options for improving almost every joint and muscle group in your body. I keep a copy on my desk at CrossFit Watch City for this very reason, and I encourage athletes to have a look when they need some specialized mobility or soreness relief.

Book Review: Advances in Functional Training by Michael Boyle

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Mike Boyle is very well known and respected in the strength and conditioning world. A Boston local, he works with collegiate teams for BC, BU, and others. He’s a lifetime student and never stops looking for the next way to improve.

Advanced in Functional Training is the culmination of Boyle’s most recent observations and successes in strength programming and conditioning and is an absolute behemoth of useful information.

What I really enjoyed about this book is that Mike has the experience and athlete pool to test and prove almost all of the concept that he posits. For example, in a discussion on the merits of High Intensity Interval Training with circuits, he uses a collegiate hockey team as an example that exhibited remarkable results with the program. But it’s not all anecdotal evidence.

This book is basically a meta study that references countless other authors and works of research. This alone is worth the price of the book, as the reader is able to essentially read abstracts on wide ranging topics from well respected authors like Shirley Sahrmann and Alwyn Cosgrove. This also gives the reader the opportunity to discover new authors and researchers to continue their study.

The one fault I have with this book is that Boyle is quite polarizing in his viewpoints. For example, he states that he only has his athletes front squat (never back squat) because of the risk of lower back issues from the backsquat. There’s no question that injury reduction should be one of every coach’s top priorities, but I think a lot of people, myself included, would question such a cut and dry approach to programming.

That being said, I think that any experienced or well read coach will take these viewpoints with a grain of salt and evaluate for themselves whether or not to implement them. I, for example, happen to agree that every single session should start with foam rolling followed by a dynamic warmup. The no backsquat thing, not so much.

So, if you’re looking to learn a boatload about current and well researched practices in functional training, this is one of the best options out there. I would, however, only recommend it to those who have been studying or practicing in the field for a while, less you get sucked into Boyle’s hard line (albeit convincing) viewpoints on everything.

Review: Never Let Go by Dan John

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Never Let Go is a self proclaimed “Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning.” And that’s actually pretty accurate. This book is all over the place. You’ll learn about everything from the true origins of the Graham Cracker (you’ll be surprised) to strength and power development for Olympic track and field athletes. The thing that makes it all work, however, is Dan John’s no-nonsense and easy to understand writing style.

He organizes the book into a series of vignettes that are all accompanied by stories and humorous anecdotes to help drive the point home. You’ll actually laugh while reading this book, which is saying a lot for a strength and conditioning text. A lot of what he presents seems self-evident, but you never really looked at it head on until you read it.

There are so many small details and nuggets of wisdom in this book that it’s impossible to catch them all on a single read through. I’m currently on read number three and I’m still finding little things to expand my thinking, like the story about the coach who requires that all his athletes work up to the ability to Overhead Squat body weight 15 times unbroken to make them a “solid unit.” Crazy? I dunno. It’s an interesting idea though.

As the title would suggest, it’s also an incredibly motivational book. You will want to take things from the ground and lift the overhead. You’ll want to build a slosh pipe and try Tabata front squats. You might even want to take up a brand new sport you’ve never played before.

If you’re wanting to learn more about strength and conditioning but find traditional texts to dense and laborious to read, try this book. Dan John writes with the entertainment of fiction but you’ll walk away with some knowledge and wisdom from John’s decades of experience.

Review: Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman

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Squat Every Day is one of those books that, at the very least, will cause you to change the way you look at your training. Whether you buy into the “program” (or really, lack thereof) or not, you’ll certainly be motivated to get work done and start moving. Consequently, I read this book while on vacation and worked out every day, details of which can be found here.

The overarching theme of the book is the mind-body relationship. The idea is that psychological stress is generally a bigger culprit in feelings of fatigue than the actual physical stress of exercise.

Everything that we think we ¬†understand about ourselves is in actuality an abstraction of the brain; when we feel tired, sore, and lethargic, it’s usually from something in the infinitely complex system of our lives, rather than actual muscle fatigue. Muscle recovers much faster than we think – generally 12-24 hours.

How often do you get amped up to work out after a really long and stressful day at work? Even though your body has been essentially resting all day, your mind is fatigued, and those feelings affect your perception of your strength, power, and motivation to move. Even if you make it to the gym, those workouts are usually not your best.

But, Perryman suggests that those workouts, where you override your thoughts of fatigue and just get the work done, are what make us stronger. Some (most…) days you will be stressed and some you won’t. The key is to move, in some capacity, every day.

On the days that the stars align and your brain is feeling like going heavy, you will naturally feel that energy and desire, and you’ll perform. On days that you don’t, just get¬†something done, because we are what we continually do. If you try going heavy and forcing it on days you’re not feeling it, that stress will carry over to every aspect of your life and make getting back to the gym harder the next time.

You can do an airsquat every day. Start there, and see if your brain catches up and starts making you want more. It usually does.

This is a science-y book. Unsurprisingly a lot of positive psychology research is presented and Perryman’s writing style is passionate and deliberate enough to make it readable. I’d highly recommend this book to athletes and coaches alike to expand the perspective of training and recovery.